Love Suffers Long and is Kind
Anne woke up very gradually, so gradually that she did not realize that she had been asleep for nearly half an hour. Her torrent of emotional pain had passed; she felt nothing but the sensation of being warm and protected. Strong arms held her firmly and comfortingly; bringing to mind long-forgotten memories of a time when she was very small. Her father's coat had felt the same against her cheek: scratchy and very slightly cigar-scented. Anne kept her eyes shut, willing time to stand still. She heaved a shuddering sigh and leaned into the embrace; it tightened slightly.
Cautiously she opened her eyes just the tiniest bit; what was she seeing? A brownish overcoat, and showing from beneath it, the dark blue fabric of an officer's dress uniform with its white lapels, brass buttons, and gold braid. Anne reached over to finger one of the lapels. I have always liked these uniforms, so distinguished and handsome. And these beautiful, shiny buttons! She sighed in contentment, studying the row of brass buttons through half-shut eyes; the uniform sighed in return. What a very comfortable uniform; it gives hugs! She snuggled a little closer and closed her eyes once more, smiling just a little as she stroked the cloth. I do believe this lovely coat is alive, for I can feel it breathing. This thought was pleasant, but perplexing. How can a uniform be ... breathing? I ... Where am I? She opened her eyes, blinking in confusion.
All at once she came fully awake. Her head was resting on a man's shoulder; a man who was a naval officer. His greatcoat was wrapped around her, and so were his arms; in fact, she was sitting on his lap, leaning against his chest. Hope surged through her heart, for only one man would hold her thus. Frederick! You have come for me! She clung to him, burying her face in his collar, whispering his name with a little sob.
"Miss Elliot?" The voice was not Frederick's.
Good God! How...? Who ...? Anne sat bolt upright, pulling herself away from him. She blushed to the roots of her hair as she recognized who it was who held her.
"Captain Benwick!" she gasped, stammering awkwardly. "How did I ...? I am so sorry! But what am I ..." Of course this is not Frederick! Frederick is married! This is dreadful! I am so embarrassed, I want to die! Whatever must he think of me?
Captain Benwick looked over at her briefly, then resumed his contemplation of the bushes comprising the hedgerow. "Are you feeling better now, Miss Elliot?" His tone was kind, but decidedly un-loverlike. His shifted his hold a little, but did not release her.
"Yes. No! I ... I mean ... I am sitting ... I ... Why am I ... sitting on ... your lap?
Captain Benwick looked a little uncomfortable at this, but kept his eyes fixed elsewhere as he spoke. " I, ahem, beg your pardon, Miss Elliot. I took the liberty of making a rather desperate choice, because it is so very cold. You were in no condition to return to the party, and there was nowhere else which would be private, without, ah, prying eyes, and awkward questions. Your cloak is too thin for such weather and you needed to be kept warm." He glanced over at her rather shyly. "I did the best I could under the circumstances. I am very sorry."
" I ... thank you, but I ..." Anne's voice trailed out. What could she say?
"When you are ready, we will walk back to the cottage. There is no hurry."
She groaned and hid her face in her gloved hands. "Oh Captain Benwick, I do not know what to say to you! I am so embarrassed!"
"Are you? Whatever for? I am not!" Anne looked up at that; she found herself to be gazing directly into his eyes. "Miss Elliot, consider for a moment to whom you are speaking," he murmured softly. "When first we met in Lyme, I believe I was the one crying into my soup and you comforted me!" He raised an eyebrow and smiled slightly. "I believe we are now even, wouldn't you say?"
Anne blinked, digesting this. We are now even? She looked back at Captain Benwick, but he had resumed his study of the hedgerow. Presently he began to speak.
"In your list of suggested readings was a very helpful essay, based around a scriptural text, do you remember? I had learnt that one by heart as a boy, but had forgotten it. Let me see, how does it go? Ah,' ... that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted by God.'" His eyes met hers once again. "Do you see?"
"Oh." This was clearly unanswerable. "Thank you, Captain ... but I think we are not at all 'even'." She smiled weakly. "I am greatly in your debt!" She buried her head in her hands once again. What a horribly awkward circumstance! If Mary had caught me weeping and had found that letter ... or Charles ... Charles! "Oh," Anne groaned, raising her head, "I do not want to think about what would happen if Charles were to find us this way!"
"Musgrove?" Captain Benwick snorted contemptuously. "Miss Elliot, please do not give Charles Musgrove, or his crude accusations, a second thought. He will not trouble us." He smiled at her as if sharing a secret. "You may not have noticed," he pulled back the left half of his overcoat, "I am armed today, and am entirely at your service." His smile twisted a little. "Shall I run him through?"
Anne stared at the silver hilt of his dress sword in amazement. "Could you? Is that real?"
"Of course I could, quite easily! And yes, it is real."
"Oh!" She looked at him rather uncertainly. He is surely joking, isn't he? "Ah ... I have always assumed that dress swords were not weapons, but were worn as decoration, in order to, um, strut one's consequence! I beg your pardon. Is it very sharp?"
Captain Benwick was not at all offended; in fact, he was rather pleased by her interest. She had forgotten her embarrassment and was beginning to regain her composure; he decided that almost any diversion was a good thing. "Indeed it is! I would be happy to show you, but first you will need to ... sit over here beside me."
Anne moved off his lap; he removed his greatcoat and placed it around her shoulders, heedless to her objections. "No, no, Miss Elliot. I am quite warmly dressed. Now then." The sword rang a little as he removed it from its scabbard, the highly polished blade glittered in the pale winter sunshine. Captain Benwick carefully laid it across his knees, placing the hilt toward Anne. "This type of sword is known as a sabre, Miss Elliot. It has one sharp edge, here. You may pick it up if you wish, but please bear in mind that it is a weapon."
"All right." Anne removed the glove from her right hand, cautiously reached out, and touched the handle. "I have never done this before. Do I hold it here?"
"Yes, at the haft."
She lifted it for only a moment. "It is heavy! But it is rather beautiful, if a sword may be called that!" She fingered the sword knot, with its elegant tassel, which hung from the hilt.
"It is, isn't it? This is the one I use to 'strut my consequence,' at occasions such as this," he grinned. "I bought it when I was posted into the Grappler last year, with some of my prize money. The standard sword I use for, shall we say, 'everyday business' is not nearly as attractive."
"'Everyday business'?" She frowned at the term. "Do you mean 'running someone through'? You haven't actually killed someone yourself, have you?" The question slipped out before Anne could stop it.. "I mean ..."
He regarded her quietly for a moment. "Never a loyal subject of the King, Miss Elliot." Anne swallowed, staring in horrified fascination at the bright steel blade lying on his lap. "And never anyone with this particular sword. But," he added, more cheerfully, "there's a first time for everything! Shall I go find Charles Musgrove?"
"Captain Benwick, no!" She could not help smiling. "I cannot allow you to chase after Charles!" She bit her bottom lip, considering. "What do you suppose he would do?"
" Run like ... Hades, Miss Elliot!" Benwick muttered, chuckling. "Most definitely."
Anne had no choice but to laugh; it was too ridiculous! But her mind was still taken up with the sword, a weapon which could cut a man to pieces! Without thinking she reached out to feel its sharpness with her bare hand.
Captain Benwick saw her intent and caught it back. "Ah, not that way, Miss Anne! Let me show you how. Now where is that ... oh yes. In the pocket of my greatcoat is your letter. If you will just tap the edge of the paper to this part of the blade, like so ..." he demonstrated the motion with his hand.
The letter -- Frederick's letter! Anne found it in the pocket and drew it out slowly, almost reluctantly. Taking a deep breath, she unfolded it and did as Captain Benwick instructed. The blade sliced effortlessly through the paper, making a cut several inches long at the bottom of the page. Benwick smiled at her astonishment. "Charles Musgrove will probably tell you something about an unloaded gun not being a gun at all. The same is true for a dull sabre!" He stood to replace the sword in its scabbard. "Shall we walk a little?"
"Yes, I would like that." Anne quickly stuffed the letter into the pocket of her cloak. She did not want to begin thinking about Frederick Wentworth again; it was safer to talk to Captain Benwick. "Dear me, I must look a sight! My hair ... Mary's flowers!" She stared at a few of the satin rosebuds which had fallen to the ground.
"I see nothing amiss, but your sister might. Perhaps you might wear the hood of your cloak? Oh, and I believe this is yours." Captain Benwick handed her the Bible which had been lying on the bench beside him. When she was ready, he made sure his greatcoat was secured across her shoulders and politely offered his arm. Anne took it gratefully and they began walking slowly along the path. To keep her thoughts from straying into dangerous territory, she quickly picked up the conversation where they had left off.
"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at how easily your blade cut that paper, Captain. Charles told us that one of your jobs on the Laconia was to make sure the swords were sharp, so ..." She broke off as she saw an odd expression cross Benwick's face.
"That I did what? Sharpened swords? That wasn't my responsi ..." His eyes narrowed. "Just a minute! What else did Charles tell you I did?" he asked, rather grimly.
"Well, he told us many different things about the Navy, in general, and that you, um ...." she looked at him hesitantly. "That is, after the fighting was over, you would ..."
Captain Benwick's lips twitched a little. "Go on."
"You counted up the ..." This was too gruesome to repeat, but she found herself biting back a giggle. "You counted ..."
Captain Benwick finished for her, carefully enunciating every word. "That I counted up the dead men's heads and stacked them neatly in a pile?" She nodded. "Oh lord!" He threw back his head and laughed. "Hang that Musgrove! Of all the windbags! I think I shall have to call him out after all!" He looked over at his companion. "I'm sorry Miss Elliot! Charles Musgrove's tongue is hinged in the middle! I didn't mean that piece of information to get back to you; it is not at all accurate! I was attempting to pay him out for teasing you the way he did, about a forced marriage. Harville and I filled him full of grisly Navy tales, some of which were rather embellished, like that one!"
"You ... did?" Anne stared at him in pleasure and surprise. "Oh ... why ... thank you!" These two men had come to her defense, men who were not even her own friends! No one had ever done such a thing for her before. They had actually punished Charles! Indeed, he deserved it, but she thought she should explain. "I'm relieved to know you didn't actually stack up the, ah, the ... well!" Anne smiled awkwardly. "But I hope you and Captain Harville didn't treat Charles too badly. He is an old friend, Captain, as well as my brother. I don't mind his teasing very much, not nearly as much as Mary does. He has joked about finding me a husband for years. It really doesn't bother me anymore."
"Humph! That attitude does you credit, Miss Elliot, and you handled him very well Thursday night. I suppose I am a bit old fashioned in my notions," he grumbled, "but I think a man shouldn't twit a woman about such a thing, 'old friend' or no. If he's so eager to find you a husband, why didn't he just propose to you in the first place and be done with it!"
This remark was met with dead silence.
Captain Benwick was instantly aware that he had made a major misstep. He looked penetratingly at Anne as she walked beside him; her face was flushed, her eyes were downcast and the cheerful demeanor he had worked so hard to encourage was gone. They walked along without speaking for a few minutes; he wondering how to apologize for this unguarded, awkward remark; she wondering how to regain her composure and continue with what had been a very enjoyable conversation. Finally, he broke the silence.
"Please forgive me, Miss Elliot. It seems that nearly everything I have said or done today has had dreadful results for you! I had no idea that this was how things stood." Benwick bit his lip, casting a sideways look at Anne. "He, ah, thought that Mary would do as well, didn't he?" Poor Charles! What a tragic mistake!
Anne winced at his perceptiveness. Somehow, in the course of one morning, this quiet, unassuming man had learned so much! And all about Frederick! I told him everything! Her throat tightened, another wave of shame and embarrassment threatened to overcome her. She walked on, eyes focused on the path. "Captain Benwick, whatever must you think of me? Charles ... and Frederick ... I ..."
"If you mean by 'think of you' that I blame you in any way, no, I do not. There is enough blame, and unhappiness, and pain to go around between you without me putting my oar in." He looked over at her. "Is this a subject you wish to discuss further, Miss Elliot? I have been working very hard to avoid it, but if you would like, we can pursue it."
"Oh, no! No, I don't want to think one thought about that horrid letter! Except that, would it be wrong ... would it be so very bad if I ... well, you see, when I think about that letter now, I find that I am not hurt or sad as much as I am angry. Is that wrong?"
Captain Benwick thought for a moment. "No ... I think not. To be honest, I am a little angry myself, for a few of the sentiments written there would have been better left unsaid! But the letter was kindly meant, and we must remember that. And later, as you begin to forgive him, the anger and the pain will slowly fade away, and you will be left with his kindness. Or such is my experience; I don't mean to preach at you."
"No, no that is very helpful. I thank you." She sighed. "But I must also forgive myself! I am so humiliated by how I behaved today! Like an utter fool!"
"Now that we can do something about right now." He stopped in the middle of the path and turned to face her. "Miss Elliot," he said, smiling, " I propose that we make a pact, you and I! I will agree to forget all about your perfectly natural and understandable behavior today (which you term 'humiliating') and you will please forget my weepy-eyed, foolish melancholy at Lyme."
"Which was perfectly natural and understandable," she added.
He grinned. "Very well, accepted with the addendum! We both agree to forget the bad behavior of the other and henceforth we shall not refer to it in thought, word, or deed, unless we mutually agree to do so." He put out his gloved hand. "Do we have a deal?"
She placed her hand in his. "Yes, indeed! I wholeheartedly agree."
"Good!" He shook her hand firmly, then offered her his arm again in order to continue walking. "And now, have you any objection if I choose the next topic for our conversation?"
"None at all, Captain Benwick. Indeed, I would be most grateful if you would."
"Ah! That is the correct answer! Well, I wish you will tell me, with as much detail as you like, all about your family estate and its history. For it has been a fascinating place to stay and I am frustrated to be leaving so soon, having learned so little."
Not unnaturally, this was a very pleasant subject for Anne. Captain Benwick launched right in, peppering her with questions about Kellynch Hall: its age, origin, size, architectural style, the dates different wings had been added, and about some of the people whose portraits he had seen hanging in the gallery. His descriptions of these (for he did not know any names, and so had to rely on odd facial features, props, or clothing) were very amusing, and they walked slowly along the path, quite pleased to be in company together.
But as they neared Uppercross Cottage, during a discussion of the outlandish customs of chivalry and honor held by some, Benwick noticed that Anne's attention had wandered; she began answering him very much at random, and at last fell silent. He walked along beside her without speaking. It was not difficult to guess where her thoughts had drifted. Such a letter! Frederick, my friend, you are a complete idiot! You have wounded two lovely young women! If you are twice as miserable as you make out to be, it will be less than you deserve!
Perhaps, he stole a look at Anne; her face was pale and sad, if I had known how things really stood between Frederick and Miss Anne, I would have given more serious consideration to ... Benwick sighed and directed his eyes toward the hedgerow on his side of the pathway. But no, it would not have been fair to her. Louisa Musgrove had admired him, she had been grateful for his attentions to her, but he knew this was because she was injured and helpless. He had reasoned it out very carefully, for he had been attracted to her, what man would not have been? She was so lovely and vulnerable; her manner toward him had been completely open and trusting. Louisa Musgrove could easily have been persuaded to believe herself in love with me. But when she recovered ...
Benwick sighed again. He was under no illusions, his eleven years in the social circles of the Navy had taught him that he was not the type of man that women gave a moment's thought to. Fanny Harville had been the lone exception, a complete surprise. High spirited, joyous talking Louisa would certainly come to regret taking him as husband. I would be a profound disappointment to any woman who has loved Frederick! He smiled a little sadly and glanced over at Anne, still lost in her thoughts. Poor Miss Anne. What a dismal state of affairs! I wonder what will become of her now? Will she ever find love again? Will I ...
"He felt he was doing the honorable thing, in marrying Louisa." Anne interrupted his melancholy musings, speaking her thought aloud. "That is ... commendable, to do one's duty, even though it violates the wishes of one's own heart." She lifted her eyes from the pathway to look at Captain Benwick. "Isn't it?"
"It is, Miss Anne," he replied quietly.
"I mean, I can admire that in him, even if I do not understand why."
Benwick nodded silently; his heart was wrung to see Anne's pathetic attempt to defend the man who had hurt her so. She loved him in spite of his failings; that was love indeed.
"I am afraid I have violated our agreement, by talking about this subject again," she confessed. "I am sorry."
"We agreed not to condemn ourselves by remembering our bad behavior, Miss Anne, nothing more. Please continue, if you wish."
"If I wish, yes," she stared down at the ground again; their pace had slowed, now it halted altogether. "What I wish ... is to understand why he did it. Do you suppose he felt responsible for Louisa's accident?"
Captain Benwick hesitated, frowning as he considered how to answer. "Frederick wrote that he had behaved foolishly and unguardedly," he replied, choosing his words carefully. "I think he meant his obvious preference for Louisa, which you had seen yourself; his singling her out. It was rather pointed; even the Harvilles considered them to have some sort of an ...understanding between them." The fact that Frederick had flatly denied an engagement he kept to himself.
"But if he loved me all the while, then why would he ...?" She raised her eyes to meet Benwick's.
" I believe it is a case of a man coming to know the true condition of his heart ... too late." he said gently.
"Oh." Anne's voice was small and sad. She looked back at the pathway and took a step, intending to resume walking back to the cottage. It was quite nearby, its dark form could be seen through the barren branches of the trees ahead of them.
"Miss Anne," Captain Benwick caught her arm and held her back, speaking with warmth and intensity, "before we return to the party and to the ... world of propriety and manners ... there is something I would like to ask you, something that I have been thinking about these past days."
He looked directly into her eyes. "Is there any hope for us? For love?"
Anne's eyes widened. Was this some sort of a declaration?
He saw her dismay and hastily corrected himself. "No, no, not for us, I mean for each of us, individually: for you, for me, ... and for Frederick. We are young; we may well have many years ahead of us. Can we ever find love again? Or ... have we had our one chance at true intimacy with another and now ... there is nothing left?
She stared at him, struggling with the implication of his words. There is nothing left?
Captain Benwick continued, "Can the human heart ever learn to love again? Intimately, profoundly, deeply ... the way you and I have known it? To find another ... how did I put it earlier ... kindred spirit. Could we find that?"
Anne found herself with nothing to say.
"The poets tell us no. There is much written about the anguish and mourning over the loss of true love. The surviving lover wishing to die and join the other, casting himself (or herself) on the beloved one's grave, weeping, wishing to kiss the beloved's 'clay-cold lips,' or else pining away, with nothing to look forword to but lifelong loneliness!" He smiled slightly. "I know, I have read them all, or very nearly so. And you were very right to warn me about the danger, Miss Anne! For there is nothing that I can find to give us hope of loving that way again."
He sighed and looked up at the barren trees ahead of them. "But ... I am coming to understand that while poetry is a wonderful vehicle for describing the passions of the human heart, it is quite unreliable in prescribing what it is that we should do about our despair. And so I wonder, is this all? Or is there more?"
He looked over at Anne, his dark eyes full of compassion. "I am sorry Miss Anne. I do not have an answer for this question; I do not expect to have one from you. You have more than enough to deal with, without me adding to it. But it is something worth pondering about; whether either of us may dare to dream of being happy again."
"I do so want that," Anne whispered.
"And I. And I have been thinking. Perhaps it is not completely impossible. You see, I did not always love Fanny, not at first. I knew her only as Harville's younger sister. And then one evening we began to talk and ... it was magic! Do you suppose that can ever happen again?"
"I hope so, Captain Benwick."
"I do too, Miss Anne. So perhaps we should do just that ... dare to hope for love someday. It will not be the same as it was before, not at first. And it may come from an unexpected source, but ..." His attention was reclaimed by the sound of voices, "Oh ... uh ... good afternoon." He nodded politely to a knot of gentlemen who passed them as they made their way down the path. "Civilization," he murmured to Anne, taking a deep breath; "and the world of propriety. Well! Shall we go on? I believe I am finished with my rantings and can converse more normally now."
"Oh, yes, of course," Anne replied, as they resumed their walk. "Conversing normally ... that is, about nothing in particular." She smiled wryly. "Have we ever done that, you and I?"
"No, I suppose we have not," he smiled at the irony of her observation. "It is only the tragic and heart-rending for us! We seem to prefer the deep water! But we should make the effort, you know." He cleared his throat. "So tell me, Miss Elliot, " he said, with mock affability; "how have you enjoyed your visit here at Uppercross?"
"Very well, I thank you, sir," she countered, "we have had remarkably fine weather these past few days."
He chuckled a little at her quip. She was quite a young woman, this Miss Anne Elliot. To look at her beautiful face, her small frame, and gentle, retiring ways, one would never guess at the hidden strength of character within. It was no wonder that she had caught ... and held, the heart of Frederick Wentworth.
Within a few moments they had reached the paving stones which led to the front door, it was nearly time to say good bye. Captain Benwick wondered how to do this; he found he was very sorry to leave her, even after such a trying morning. "Miss Anne, we sailors are not very good at ..."
"Captain Benwick, I have been wearing your coat this entire time!" she interrupted. "You must be nearly frozen! Would you like to come in and sit by the fire awhile?"
"Ah, do you know, I would like that," he said, rather bashfully. "I am rather cold. And we may continue practicing our 'normal' conversation while we warm ourselves." They turned and walked up to the front entrance together. "Let me see, it is now my turn to think of nothing to say. How is this? Ahem! 'And what do you find to occupy yourself within Uppercross, Miss Elliot?'"
Anne opened the door. " 'I read .... poetry,' Captain Benwick. But not during this visit! Let me tell you about what I have been ..." The heavy door swung closed behind them and shut out the cold of that short winter's day, which had been the longest day of Anne's life. But it was not over, not yet.
Captain Benwick checked his timepiece as he left Uppercross Cottage and headed for the Mansion. Good. There are thirty minutes remaining before Harville and I are scheduled to leave for Lyme. It will be enough, if I can only find Musgrove. He had an important piece of 'business' to see to and he wanted to get it over with as soon as possible.
The Wedding Breakfast had ended; the guests were now departing Uppercross Hall for their homes. Many different types of conveyances were piling up in the drive and yard, from carriages to gigs to farm carts. This was an obviously affectionate family, he could hear the laughter and farewells even before he reached his destination.
He scanned the stableyard as he entered it. Sure enough, there's that windbag now. Charles Musgrove was standing by an outbuilding in the far corner, tankard in hand, talking and laughing with several other young fellows. Benwick stood watching for a few minutes, carefully assessing the situation and waiting for the opportune time to move into position. Within a short time the others went off toward one of the stabling areas leaving Musgrove alone; no one else was within earshot. Perfect.
James Benwick's temper had been at a slow burn for at least the last half hour. As he had spoken with Anne Elliot about the past two weeks and her plans for the fortnight to follow, he had come up with a fairly ugly picture of what her 'visit' to Uppercross had been like. He had not been mistaken, she had looked more tired here than he had remembered her at Lyme, and now he had stumbled upon a major cause of her exhaustion: Mary Musgrove ... Charles' wife. Well, I have a few things to 'discuss' with this man about that, and I am going to do it right now. He made his way over to Charles.
"Ah, Mister Musgrove! Good afternoon. Might I, ah, have a word with you?" Benwick's tone was light, but his voice had an unmistakable edge to it. Quite unconsciously he adopted his 'dressing-down' stance -- chin extended, feet braced shoulder width apart; greatcoat thrown open, left hand resting suggestively on his sword hilt.
"Well! Hello there, Benwick! What've you been up to? I've hardly seen you at all this afternoo ... er ..." Charles turned to greet him, and suffered a mild shock. He was staring into the face of Captain James Benwick, not as he would appear in the stableyard, or in the drawing room, but on the quarter-deck of the Grappler. Charles swallowed convulsively, vaguely aware of the sensation that he was being been called up to account for some gross neglect of duty. This was not a good feeling.
Captain Benwick wasted no time on pleasantries. "There are a few things I've observed during my visit here which puzzle me greatly. I wonder if you might put me in possession of the facts ... without any flummery, if you please."
Charles stared at him. Where was the bookish, soft-spoken, mournful fellow he had met in Lyme? "Uh, right, Benwick." He forced a grin. "What's on your mind?" Surely this man must be jesting, or perhaps he was a bit soused; it would be best to humor him.
"I have a few questions regarding your sister-in-law, Miss Anne Elliot."
"Oho!" Charles' eyes lit up wicked glee. "You old dog, you! I just knew that you would take that trip to the alt..." He encountered a freezing look. "Ah, hah, well! Just a little joke!" Charles dissembled, very uneasy now. "Ahem! You were ... saying?"
"I have heard some pretty fine speeches regarding the exalted position of the Elliot family in this district, most especially from your wife, Musgrove," Captain Benwick began. "I am most perplexed to observe that the honors supposedly due to an Elliot do not seem to extend to Miss Anne. Why is that?"
"What honors?" Charles was not smiling now. "What the devil are you talking about?"
"Let me restate the question, then. I wish you will tell me plainly what your purpose was in inviting your sister-in-law here! Was it to be a guest at the wedding festivities? Or to dance attendance on your wife?"
"Anne is our guest, Captain." His careless drawl had vanished.
Benwick raised an eyebrow at that. "Indeed. May I ask when? For I never saw her as such! Was she a guest at your mother's party Thursday evening? No, she was unable to attend that. She stayed behind, alone, with your children, in your home, working on a last-minute sewing project for your wife -- something which should have been hired out!"
"Yes, she offered to that, as a help to Mary. But she was a guest at the dinner Friday night, Benwick, as well you know." Charles' face was becoming red.
"Ah yes, Friday night! When she ran errands for your mother, fetching items from the pantry, and such. Really, did you not have enough workers to do that sort of thing? And she was prevailed upon, at the very last minute, to play while everyone else danced. Some of that music that she had never seen before, some of it she had to transpose, on sight, to a different key. Did anyone offer to relieve her? Did you notice, Musgrove? She sat at that piano for nearly three hours!"
Charles bristled at that, beginning to lose his temper. "Anne is a very accomplished musician. She likes to play for us."
"Does she also like to dance?"
"No, she has quite given that up! ... that is ..." Charles felt himself to have been maneuvered onto unstable ground. He glared at Benwick.
"So I have been given to understand. Has anyone ever bothered to see if perhaps she might like to change her mind?"
At the same moment, Captains Wentworth and Harville were crossing the stableyard. Having finalized the arrangements for the vehicle Edward would be using to begin his journey home, Frederick had begun to discuss the readying of the Laconia with Timothy.
"I will be in Shropshire for a few days, but will bring ... my wi ... Louisa back here and see that she is comfortable with her family and then will post on to Plymouth. If it is possible, you being onboard in a week or so will bring things to the ready more quickly." Stopping for a farm cart to pass, the men proceeded on at a leisurely pace.
"A week will be a bit soon, but Elsa will understand. She is not looking forward to my leaving them, but she sees the advantages of my being on full pay again. So ... do you know what condition I shall find the old dear when I arrive or will I be in for a surprise?" Captain Harville was not particularly looking forward to rebuilding a ship that had been sitting idle for several months. If the port had not kept a nominal crew aboard, every purser and seaman afloat endeavoring to refit themselves would have had enough time to strip her to the scuppers, leaving her a naked hulk that he would have to begin to outfit.
"I have not recieved a Statement of Condition as of yet. You are the one who informed me that she might go to the knacker's yard. Though I think it more likely that she'd be sold out of service ... she's in wonderful shape for a thirty-eight. Not so practical in these times with the 90's and 100's being the fashion, but still quite serviceable. I have no notion of her condition or crew strength ... if you can, hire as many of the warrants and junior officers as you are able. And please, be kind to my purse. I don't mind offering bounties to good men, but I would rather not break myself before the sail even begins."
Leaning against a wagon, he turned to his friend and said, "Speaking of your wife, I have not yet told mine this ... felicitous bit of news ... that I am to return to duty so soon. I am pondering at which part of the honeymoon one would tell this sort of thing. So, Harville ... as an old married man, is there a proper time designated by ... tradition perhaps, or phase of the moon maybe?" The Captain smiled to his friend with an airy smile, but it belied a genuine desire to know how he might approach Louisa with such significant news.
Harville's eyes widened and after a long low shistle, he began to laugh. "Lord Man! you are breeched before you've begun! As an old married man, I can assure you ... there will be no good time to tell this! Certainly not at such a ... delicate time of becoming ... acquainted." Clearing his throat and bringing himself under control, he looked at Frederick and said, "Seriously, Old Friend. In this there is no time like the present. Telling your new bride that you will be leaving her so soon ... it will be quite a blow to her."
Frederick looked off in the distance. This was precisely what he had feared. The more he did, the more it all turned to hurt the girl. Once he was gone from her ... perhaps all would fall into place and she could begin to live the settled life he had envisioned for her. "I feared that. I shall just have to plow on ahead and do the deed. I hope there are few tears, I am always undone by women's tears."
"As are most of us," Timothy said quietly. He chose not to tell his friend that there would be tears, and if the new Mrs Wentworth was as tender-hearted as he suspected, there would likely be buckets of them. There always were with Elsa.
Suddenly Frederick hissed, "Ho! ... Timothy ... look ... over ... there ...!"
Turning toward the barns, the sight of Charles Musgrove in a rather heated conversation with his former First Officer had caught his attention. What he saw drew a wry smile to his lips; all too well he recognized that stance! It had always amused him to watch the even-tempered Lieutenant Benwick when he finally cut loose and issued a well-deserved, lengthy, and irritatingly precise reprimand to a junior officer.
"Ah, James, engaging in the Sport of Kings again ... the Royal Dressing Down," Timothy said with a chuckle.
Motioning to his friend, Frederick said, "Come, let's move a bit closer and see what the skirmish is over."
Frederick and Timothy carefully picked their way across the yard and stood behind an empty carriage to listen; neither Benwick nor Musgrove noticed their presence.
Unlike most of his naval colleagues, James Benwick deplored cursing; instead, he preferred to fire off long, rather obscure words culled from his extensive reading. He had once explained that by using vituperative, sesquipedalian words (his terminology, Frederick had had to look that one up, later explaining it to Harville), he was able to both upbraid the offender and at the same time call into question his intelligence and education, thus compounding his embarrassment. This was not the case today, but he obviously was very irritated with Charles, and the latter was certainly most ill at ease. While Timothy enjoyed the show, he did not notice the smile fade from Frederick's eyes as he began to catch the drift of the conversation.
"Hang it, Musgrove, the treatment Miss Anne has been receiving here reminds me of a child's faerie story! The Little Cinder-Girl, who slaved away for her selfish stepsisters! Humph! 'Cinder-Elliot,' I should say, who has been slighted, and imposed upon, and over-worked ..."
"Anne is not a slave! If she chooses ..."
"Did she choose, Musgrove? Or did your simply send your carriage to Bath, order her into it, and have her brought here ... in the middle of the night ... because your wife would give you no peace?
Charles was now acutely uncomfortable, for some of Benwick's words had struck home. "Anne is a great help to Mary whenever she comes!"
"Yes, she certainly is! That is a very attractive gown your wife is wearing today! Anne is extremely proud of it; she says she has never done that sort of work before! An interesting way to occupy your guest, Musgrove!"
Charles set his tankard down forcefully; he was balzingly angry now. "But the fact is, Benwick, she is our guest, and you have no right to ..."
"Perhaps my definition of the term guest is at fault, then!" Benwick interrupted. "I had always understood it to mean one who is the recipient of cordial and generous hospitality, freely and kindly given ... " He stopped speaking abruptly and glared at Charles. At last he heaved a large, irritated sigh. "Oh blast!" Taking his hand off his sword hilt, he passed it over his eyes. "And I am your guest." He gave Charles an annoyed look. "And it is rather bad form for a guest to ride roughshod over his host, as I am now doing! I do apologize."
Charles stared at Captain Benwick as if he were a madman.
"The thing is, Musgrove, did you see Miss Anne today, after the breakfast had begun to be served?"
"No," he answered, suspiciously. " I don't recall ..."
"Well, I did." James looked directly into his eyes. You loved her once, you must have a little kindness left in your heart, I hope. He spoke earnestly. "Musgrove, I found her alone ... sitting on a bench in the hedgerow ... sobbing her heart out!" He watched the color drain out of Charles' face. It did likewise from Frederick's. "She is exhausted, worn out! Her nerves are shot, and no wonder, poor girl! And she tells me that your wife intends to keep her here at least fortnight more, to help her work on something or other ..."
"Work? The devil she will!" Charles broke in. "Anne will do nothing but rest!" His anger was now forgotten in his concern for his sister-in-law. "I'm sorry, Benwick, I had no idea that she was done in! I will see to it that she is properly taken care of."
"She needs to go home, Musgrove. As soon as possible."
"Yes, yes, I quite agree with what you're saying but ..." Charles frowned; " 'home' is not much bett ... have you ever met her father and elder sister, Benwick?"
"No, I don't believe I have."
"Ah! Then you do have a treat coming! His Pompous Majesty and Her Royal-Snubbing Highness, I used to call them, before they became my in-laws! And now we have 'Cinder-Elliot,' drudging away while they go to the ball! Hah! That's rich!" But the scornful sparkle in his eyes disappeared as he thought of her situation. He shook his head and sighed. "What a family! Poor Anne. You say she was ... crying ... all alone out there?"
"I'm afraid so. It nearly broke my heart to see it." For a fraction of a second their eyes met, then James looked away. As he did, he noticed a chaise being led out from one of the barns. He quickly checked his watch: Two o'clock. Those stablehands are right on schedule. "Musgrove, I am due to leave for Lyme very shortly and I cannot arrange this. Might I depend upon you to see the thing through for me? Will you send her home as soon as you possibly can?"
"Yes, of course; you can count on it. We should be able to contrive something within the next two or three days without any difficulty."
"We'll do it sooner, Charles." Frederick Wentworth stepped foreword; his voice rather hoarse. "We will rent something from Crewkherne, if need be, but it will be done."
Timothy Harville watched with interest as his captain joined the conversation. While he knew Frederick to be a gentleman, it puzzled him as to why Frederick would put himself out in seeing Miss Elliot home to Bath.
James wheeled to face his friend, an odd expression on his face. Frederick! Where did you come from? "Uh, thank you." He could find no other words to say. Great Heaven! To be having this conversation about Miss Anne with these two men, of all people!
He turned back to Charles; he was running out of time. "You'll find Miss Anne in the room we were in Thursday nigh... ahem! ... in that small, back parlor at your house. She's asleep in the old wingchair; I, ah, pulled it over in front of the fire; she should be keeping warm enough. I also took the liberty of giving her a small amount of your brandy to encourage her to sleep. I don't think she has had anything to eat; when she wakes up someone should see to that."
Seeing Timothy hovering behind the carriage, James gave a hurried glance over his shoulder. "I believe that chaise is ours; your wife will be anxious for our return before dark. I think we should take our leave now." He put out his hand to Charles Musgrove, smiling a little shamefacedly. "Thank you for your hospitality ... and for your help in this matter. I am sorry ... Charles. I didn't mean to rip into you like that!"
Charles shook his hand heartily. "No harm done ... James. I'm sorry, too. I didn't realise things had come to such a pass. We'll, ah, have to have you back this autumn, do a little shooting together, eh?"
"Yes, well ... only after you've bagged all the game you want for the year; my skills as a marksman leave much to be desired!" He smiled sheepishly. "The only hunting I've ever been good at was as a midshipman; we used to, ah, hunt rats below deck."
Charles' eyes lit up. "You don't say! Well then," he grinned; "rat hunting it is! Have a pleasant journey."
Now James turned to face Frederick Wentworth, a little reluctantly. How can I offer you my hand? You have caused so much pain today! But anger melted into pity as he saw the bleak, hopeless expression in his Captain's eyes.
"Well, good-bye, my good friend, and thank you. I offer you my very best wishes for your future life," James said as he shook Frederick's hand. "Indeed, you shall be happy, for Louisa is a lovely, likable young woman. We missed her very much after she left ... and little did we know then that she would be going to you!"
Frederick gave him a stiff, rather wooden smile. James knew that look: the Captain was doing the polite, going through the required motions. May you find love again ... someday ... if only you will only open your heart to it ... love Louisa! He struggled to give voice to his thoughts, desperately wanting to say something encouraging ... and realised that he could not. Frederick had said the same sort of things to him when he had been lost in his grief over Fanny, and James had hated hearing every word. "Let us know when you have ... settled, all right?" There was nothing more to say.
Glancing at Timothy, Frederick said, "Can a sailor ever be truly settled, James? Thank you for coming. Again, I offer my apologies about not spending more time with the two of you. Take care on the journey home -- had I known of your driving skills, I would have taken a bit of time to do some training."
"We shall manage, between the two of us, As the adage goes, 'There's not a moment to lose.' Come, Timothy, we must be off." Touching his hat to the Captain and Charles, James took his leave.
Captain Harville shook hands with Frederick and Charles, wished them well and received the same and was soon mounting the rig, headed home.
Neither of the two left said anything. But Charles was leaning back against the building, watching Benwick's retreating form with a thoughtful expression on his face. "Yes, he'll do," he mused aloud. "He'll do very well, I think. Already looking out for her, protecting her. I like that in a man." He turned to grin at Frederick. "How about it, Frederick? Think Anne'll make a good sailor's wife?"
Shocked, the Captain choked out, "A sailor's wha ...?"
Charles reached over and retrieved his tankard. " I like weddings, don't you? Ah, the pleasure of making an excellent family alliance!" He clapped Frederick on the back. "Well, shall we go in, Brother? We need to make those arrangements for Anne ... yes, and," he grimaced a little, "I need to have a few words with Mary!"
"You go on ahead, Charles. I shall join you in a moment." The words that Charles had so jauntily tossed off had dealt Frederick a blow. The notion of James Benwick and Anne Elliot was one which caused dread to arise in him. All his gallant words to her of finding a new love were suddenly ash on his tongue. A man like James Benwick would love her in a way that Frederick Wentworth only knew of from books. James had loved Fanny Harville with an intensity that had startled those who knew them and a second attachment would have no less care from such a romantic man. Frederick kicked a stone in his path and watched the dust settle. Having made a grand declaration that Anne should be free, perhaps it was time he did the same.
The arrangements for Anne were very easily made; Frederick had handled it himself. The Musgrove's traveling carriage was made available for her use anytime that afternoon or evening, at her convenience. She would be taken home to Bath, where she would be able to recuperate in peace and quiet.
The one remaining task, for which Frederick did not volunteer, was to let Mary Musgrove know about the plans for her sister. This was more easily said than done; Charles was now spending time pacing the length of the recently emptied carriage house, thinking over how best to accomplish it. This bit of news would certainly not sit well with her; he knew she would be sure to mince no words in informing him of her displeasure. Then I will grin, and tease her a little, and joke, to lighten things up, and that won't work. She will whine, and complain, and contradict me ... and I'll end up being tongue-tied and blisteringly angry, while she assumes that frosty Elliot attitude! And in the end, I'll walk out!! He swore under his breath as he took another turn around the interior of the building. The scowl on his face rendered him nearly unrecognisable as the cheerful, light-hearted man who had so well entertained his family's guests earlier that day.
It had not been easy for Charles to learn to live with his wife. She had a great deal more sensibility than any woman in his family and very little sense of humor. And the irony of it all was that Mary was quite a pleasant companion when things were going well, that is, when she had a generous allowance and was given plenty of social deference. But when not ... ! Charles had found it easier to give her a free hand and oppose her only rarely.
As the youngest child of a privileged family, Mary's upbringing had only served to reinforce her tendency toward self-absorption. She had been alternately spoiled as the little darling of the Elliots, and then ignored and treated as a bothersome pest. When thwarted or left out, she would pout and complain so much that the others would capitulate, just to have quiet in the home. Charles had learned to capitulate, too, but he was not very happy about having to do it.
Mary. Charles kicked at a some loose hay on the floor. As time goes by, you are becoming more and more openly disdainful of me, my financial provision, and my social rank! You refuse to believe that you are no longer an Elliot! Benwick was right, you go on and on about the honors you should be receiving." He heaved a sigh of disgust ... and resignation. I have had to work very hard these past days to try to undo the harm you've brought on with your very pointed snubbing of some of the lower members of my family! D-mnation!! And we'll have it all again for Etta's wedding in April!
He stooped to pick up a currycomb which was lying on the floor and chucked it forcefully into a corner, listening with satisfaction to the twang it made as it hit the wall. What am I going to do? He resumed his pacing. I suppose this is the 'worse' part of 'for better or for worse'! If only ... Charles' jaw tightened, if only you could be contented without always needing to have the upper hand! If only you would have more common respect for me! He came to a halt at the large open doorway at the south end of the building and stood staring blindly at the rolling pastureland in the distance as he wrestled with his feelings of frustration and disappointment. Much to his annoyance, he found his eyes to be watering. It must be the dust out here. He moved away of the doorway in order to prevent any more of it from getting into his eyes. He likewise moved away from thinking anymore melancholy thoughts about the state of his marriage.
Now speaking of respect ... He'd had a rather interesting example set before him this afternoon in the person of James Benwick, and he began to spend some time thinking about this encounter. Here, in my own stableyard, he made me feel like a blundering schoolboy, backed against the wall, gaping like a common saphead! How did he do that? Charles took another turn about the carriage house, considering the difference between Benwick's actual appearance (short and rather ordinary-looking) and the presence which he had communicated: a powerful, commanding man who had better be obeyed immediately, no questions asked ... or else! Could I do that? He smiled to himself, a little wickedly. Could I do that with Mary?
Benwick's uniform helped give him an air of authority ... and that hat ... Charles removed his own flat-topped, brown hat and grimaced at it in disgust. It was one of his favorite hunting hats, a little squashed and creased in places. It was serviceable and comfortable, but did not inspire respect, as Benwick's had. He had clapped it carelessly on his head before going outside. Whom do I need to impress here? Everybody knows who I am: Charles Musgrove, the young squire and heir to Uppercross Hall. But ... He decided to leave the hat off when he had his talk with Mary.
Next his overcoat came under scrutiny. It was almost as bad as the hat, stained and a little wrinkled; another piece of hunting attire, thrown on in haste for his trip to the stables. Very well, no overcoat, either! But Benwick had looked rather dashing with his greatcoat thrown open like that! Charles practiced assuming different positions, deciding that one fist on the hip was best. What I really need is that sword! And by the look in Benwick's eye, I could swear he would have positively enjoyed cutting me to pieces with it! But I do have a better overcoat than this. He had a new charcoal gray one, made up at Mary's insistence, for his trips into town. It would look rather well with the dressy clothing he was wearing.
But not as well as a uniform would! Charles left the carriage house and headed for home, walking briskly as he thought. It's a rotten shame that old gudgeon Dick was the one to go to sea. Now if I had gone in place of him, I would not have made a mull of it! Perhaps by now I would be Captain Musgrove of the Royal Navy, with a ship of my own to command, and an estate to inherit ... wearing a handsome uniform with all that gold on it, and a sword ... and that look in my eye that Benwick had!
He smiled to himself. And how all the ladies would sigh! The Musgrove women's frank admiration of the men of the Navy had not escaped his notice. Even my own wife was positively in awe of Wentworth that first time he came to dinner! The devil take it, she's in awe of him now! If he gave her an order, she'd jump! The more Charles thought of this, the angrier he became. Five years and a half ago, when I first came courting, she was in awe of me. He let himself in through the kitchen door and headed for the wardrobe where the coats were kept. Well, Mary, my dear, it appears you have gotten abominably out of hand! I'm going to give an order, and you'd best be prepared to jump!
And so it was, some twenty minutes later, that Charles was standing in the empty dining room in Uppercross Cottage, studying his reflection in the mirror over the mantelpiece. He liked what he saw. The dark overcoat was the perfect compliment to the rest of his fine clothing and gave him a mysterious, rakish appearance. He ran his fingers through his dark blonde curly hair. Yes, I do look rather well, quite the gentleman, in fact. Charles Musgrove, the young squire and heir to Uppercross Hall.
Presently he heard the slam of a door; Mary was home. He had dispatched a servant to the Great House to summon her to meet with him; obviously she was not pleased. Charles smiled to himself; so far everything was working according to his scheme. He had carefully gone over his encounter with Benwick step by step, word by word to help in its making. It was a good plan, if he could only pull it off. He took up his position facing the fireplace and waited.
"Charles? Oh, there you are! Well? Dodson said you wanted to see me!"
Charles turned slowly to face her in the semi-darkness of the room. "Ah, Mary. Thank you for coming so soon. I wonder if I might I have a word with you." He spoke quietly, as Benwick had, carefully assuming his lecturing posture: chin out, feet braced, overcoat thrown back with one fist on the hip, his face expressionless.
"Well, it had better be important, for I am quite put out with you for making me walk all this way, and in my best shoes, too. Honestly Charles, how could you expect ..."
"Would you mind closing the door, please?" His tone was light, but his voice had an unmistakable edge to it. There was no hint of a smile on his face.
"Goodness, Charles, I cannot see any need for ..."
He raised an eyebrow, and gave her Benwick's freezing look.
Mary's eyes widened. She closed the door.
"Thank you," he murmured. "Would you care to sit?" He made a slight gesture toward a straight-backed dining chair facing him, but made no move to assist her into it, as he usually would have done. Mary sat.
Charles turned back to the fireplace, drumming his fingers impatiently on the mantelpiece as he went over the next phase of his plan. He stole a look at Mary in the mirror. She was staring at his back, open-mouthed, with an odd expression on her face. Yes, I can tell what you are thinking: Where is my husband, that rattle-brained idiot, the farmer? He smiled a little to himself, a sardonic, twisted smile. God forgive me! I'm no longer imitating Benwick, I'm behaving exactly like Sir Walter! Hah! His eyes met Mary's in the mirror; she had seen the smile and was looking at him a little fearfully now. Good. Charles turned to face her.
"My dear, I have asked you here to inform you of a little change in our plans which will affect you somewhat." He paused to brush away a speck of dust on the sleeve of his coat, then looked at Mary, and spoke very deliberately. "Anne will be traveling back to Bath this evening." He waited for her response; she did not disappoint him.
"Anne? To Bath? Nonsense, Charles, it is quite impossible! No one consulted me! I intend to keep Anne with me through the remainder of the winter, at the very least, for Henrietta will be ..."
"I did not ask for your opinion, Mary. I am informing you of my decision." His tone brooked no opposition. Mary opened her mouth and closed it again. He continued.
"Anne is unwell and will be leaving for home today, as soon as she awakens and feels able to travel. I was hoping to have your assistance in helping her to prepare for the journey, but I see I was mistaken." He turned back to the mantelpiece, carefully keeping his face expressionless. When he spoke, his voice sounded bored rather than angry. "Very well, you may go."
"I may ... what?"
He turned back to face her, a little contemptuously. "You may go ... back to the party, or to wherever you were before I summoned you . I will arrange matters another way." He smiled slightly. "I am sorry that you will not have the opportunity to say good-bye to your sister. That is all."
"You will please excuse me now, my dear. I need to speak to Dodson about the packing of Anne's trunk." He walked toward the door without another look or word to his wife.
"Charles ... wait! I ..."
Charles gave himself the luxury of waiting to turn around until his hand was on the latch. When he did, he met her gaze directly and simply raised his eyebrows inquiringly.
"Charles ... what was it you needed me to do?"
"Anne! Anne!" Mary hissed. "Wake up!" She shook her sister's shoulder urgently.
Anne opened her eyes at once, staring about her, completely disoriented. "Captain Benwick? Wha ...? Where is ...?" She blinked in surprise. "Mary?"
"Anne! The most dreadful thing has happened! It's Charles! He's gone mad, Anne! Absolutely mad!" Mary yanked off the blanket Captain Benwick had spread over Anne's lap and began twisting it nervously as she spoke. "Charles ... oh, Sister! I have never seen him this way!"
"Is he ill, Mary?" Anne wearily rubbed her eyes; they were stinging, for she had been sleeping very soundly.
"No! He is quite well, he looks very well." Indeed, he had looked well, Mary thought to herself; he had looked quite astonishingly handsome! And so severe ... and cold! Mary shivered a little in awe. What had come over Charles?
Anne started to speak but Mary dropped the blanket and grabbed her by the shoulders, pulling her out of the chair. "Anne, he says you are unwell and need to leave for Bath right away! He had decided it and there was nothing I could say to change his mind!"
"Leave for Bath ...? Now? But ..."
"Yes, immediately, dear! Your trunk is all packed and is being loaded on Father Musgrove's traveling carriage as we speak. Are you able to stand?"
"Yes, but Mary! This is so sudden! I ..." Anne looked around her a little wildly, she snatched up her Bible from the table by the armchair. "I may have left some of my things scattered through the house ... my gray bonnet ... my other pelisse ... "
"Oh no, dear! Remember? We had all that picked up for the wedding. It was as simple as could be to load up your trunk. Come along, now. Are you well enough to walk?" Mary began pushing her sister toward the door.
"But Mary! I have taken leave of no one! I should pay my respects to Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove, at the very least, for their kind hosp ..."
"No, indeed, Anne! Charles will do that for you! You are most unwell! I will explain it and everyone will understand." She hurried Anne along.
"Oh! And Charles said I was to serve you supper when you woke up; but I'm sure that it will do as well for you to eat while you are traveling. Here." She picked up the basket she had brought with her and shoved it into her sister's hands. Mary smiled brightly. "Charles will be pleased that I carried out his orders so promptly, don't you think?"
"Good bye, dear! I wish you a pleasant journey!" Mary smiled and waved to her sister. Anne waved back, rather mechanically. Fifteen minutes ago she had been sound asleep in the old armchair in front of the fire in the parlor; now she found herself in the Musgrove's traveling carriage, bumping and jolting along toward the main road to Crewkerne, and then on to Bath. She was exhausted, bewildered, and utterly miserable to be leaving Uppercross in such a fashion, without having had a chance to say good-bye to anyone.
As the coach rumbled along, she could hear the voices of Mr. Musgrove's two men outside, complaining about 'another cursed trip to Bath.' I am so sorry! Anne wanted to put down the window and shout up to them. I did not mean to cause you so much inconvenience! I did not choose to make this trip! Having worked for Mary as a seamstress and nurserymaid, her sympathy for the laboring class was greatly heightened. Why do I seem to be a hindrance and a bother to everyone? I try so hard to be helpful! I do not mean to be a nuisance!
Her throat tightened, she reached into the pocket of her cloak for her handkerchief. She found instead the crumpled letter, Frederick's letter. Tremblingly, she drew it out. Her anger toward him had not survived long; in its place came an overwhelming sense of sorrow and remorse. Would she ever be able to forget what he had written? I have loved none but you ...
Oh Frederick! Anne pressed her face against the glass window of the carriage to see if she could catch a final glimpse of Uppercross; she could not. Oh Frederick, my darling one, farewell! I have loved none but you, too! Why did you not tell me of your love?
She removed her gloves and smoothed the letter on her lap, paper which his own hands had touched. It had suddenly become very precious to her. Tears filled her eyes as she read once again the searingly painful words, the cry of his anguished heart.
Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.
She pressed the letter to her heart. Oh Frederick ... weak and prideful I have been! Weak ... and prideful ... and silent! For I did never tell you of my love, either! I was so frightened and afraid of being wounded by you ... were you so, too, of me? She lowered the page, stroking it lovingly. His own pen had written these lines, his hand had folded the creases in the paper.
Frederick, I would have forgiven you. I do forgive you ... anything ... if you had only ... if I had only ... A tear fell onto the letter, causing the ink to run a little. Anne found her handkerchief and hastily blotted it. There was now time, and privacy, to carefully consider what he had written.
What I do today is from duty and honor; I alone will suffer the consequences for my foolish, unguarded behavior.
Anne winced at these words. Your behavior! What of mine? I had not one happy smile for you, not one cheerful word, beyond what was absolutely required of me! The smiles were all Henrietta's and Louisa's! I gave you no indication of what my true feelings were. You may have been foolish, but I, too, am to blame! Wretchedly to blame! For you were unguarded, I was much too guarded! Anne bowed her head in shame.
I cannot bear the thought that you will 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.
She covered her face with her hands. I did! Oh, Frederick! I have held myself back! I have waited! For there is no one else like you ... no one! I suppose I thought there would be another, but there never was. There never could be. Truly I have loved none but you!
Anne leaned back against the squabs of the seat, wiping away her tears. Already she was very weary, and she was beginning to realise she would have a new battle to fight, for heart and conscience were wrestling together over the impropriety of her grief. In a few minutes' time ... as long as it had taken him to exchange the marriage vows with Louisa ... everything had changed completely. There was now a great gulf fixed between them, and there was no way to cross it.
'Love suffereth long and is kind' ... But not our love, Frederick. I can no longer patiently wait for you, or cherish hope of any kind. It would be very, very wrong. You must go on with Louisa and I must go on ... alone ... to Bath. Anne looked at the paper in her hands. She must fold up her love for him, together with the letter, and put them both away forever. She could never love a married man. I am so sorry, Frederick.
She mopped her eyes with the handkerchief, and as it was damp with her tears, she unfolded it to find a dry spot. To her surprise, it was quite large, much larger than those she usually carried. She held it up. Embroidered in one corner were three small initials: JCB. Anne groaned. James Benwick. I have stolen his handkerchief. Her eyes traveled back to the letter, and to the cut at the bottom of the page. That poor fellow. Why did I show this to him? Now he is angry with Frederick; I have ruined their friendship, perhaps forever! Oh, Captain Benwick, please forgive me! Anne felt her face grow hot with self-condemnation. Yet in her mind she could hear Benwick speaking in his quiet way.
"But the letter was kindly meant ... and as you begin to forgive him, the anger and the pain will fade away, and you will be left with his kindness."
Anne thought about those words as she watched the passing scenery through the carriage window. He did not sound as if he bore Frederick too much ill will. He was certainly very kind to me. He could understand what I was thinking and feeling ... and he did not leave me to suffer alone. No, at least I was not alone today, thank God. She tucked the thick lap robe more securely around her. As the afternoon shadows lengthened it was growing colder. And here I am, on my way back to Bath ... and to all my troubles at home ... the very last place I want to go! Whatever shall I do?
She looked down at Benwick's handkerchief in her hands; it was full of wrinkles made when she had twisted it earlier that day. What does the future hold for me? Is there nothing left to hope for? Or do I dare to dream of finding love again, as Captain Benwick suggested? Or ... she smoothed the handkerchief on her lap as she thought, is love truly necessary? After all, Frederick married out of duty and honor. Perhaps I should consider ... She began to fold Benwick's handkerchief into a neat, but rumpled, square. But who? No, there is no one. No one else for me.
Anne had been scrupulously avoiding the last sentence in Frederick's letter, the sentence in which he wished her well and renounced all of his claims upon her heart and future. She picked up the letter, forcing herself to read the bittersweet words.
When you have opportunity to love another, my sincere wish is that you shall give your heart as completely to him as I know you have to me.
Her hands shook as she held the paper. He was abandoning her once again, this time leaving her without even a shred of hope. Captain Benwick thought that the letter had been kindly meant, but Frederick's kindness hurt as much as his anger had eight years and a half ago. He wants me to love another ... to give my heart completely ... to someone else. But I have no heart left to give, Frederick. I gave it to you. She stared out of the window once again. And I am not at all certain I want to love again. I am not at all certain I can.
Anne put Benwick's handkerchief carefully into her pocket. If I ever do marry, I must not expect to be able to love. She re-folded the letter; it also went into the pocket. But it may be that I have been wrong about the importance of love. Perhaps it is possible to maintain a marriage on the strength of a husband's love and admiration; I need only be kind, and pleasant, and personable, without needing to give my heart. She picked up her gloves from the seat beside her and began fingering them absently as she thought about this. It is not altogether inconceivable that I could marry a man whom I admire, without love.
Admiration. Anne turned the word over in her mind, reflecting on what it meant, and wondering how much of her heart would be involved in the act of admiring another. To esteem, to approve, to be pleased with. Admira .. A gentleman's face floated across her mind just then: a rather handsome, well-dressed man with the easy conversation and gracious manners of the well born. One whose glance of earnest admiration had been noticed at Lyme, even by Frederick. My cousin. "William Elliot," she said aloud, stroking the beautiful fur lap robe with her bare hand. He has been rather pointed in his attentions. I wonder ... She again directed her attention the scenery outside. No, surely not he.
All at once, Anne realised that she was very hungry. She eagerly retrieved Mary's basket from its resting place on the floor of the carriage and rummaged through its contents to find something to eat. But the questions about her future persisted; during her meal she pondered again and again her options. To live with Lady Russell? To live with Charles and Mary? To wait until her father had outstripped his income so thoroughly that there would be no alternative but to live as Mrs. Smith? Or ... perhaps ... to marry?
William Elliot would have been quite gratified had he known how much time his fair cousin spent in musing over him.
Anne's arrival late that night was quiet and uneventful. Fortunately, the family was engaged elsewhere for the evening and Sir Lucas was gone. The butler, Burton, was on hand to supervise the unloading and conveying of her trunk to her room.
Burton sniffed a little at the sudden, unexpected appearance of the younger Miss Elliot. While the new tenant was undoubtedly a gentleman and conducted himself with meticulous propriety in the care of his elder daughter, his indulgence toward this one was outrageous in the extreme! She came and went without proper escort, she was allowed to racket about the countryside at all hours, without any female companion. And tonight! Her hair was disheveled and falling down around her face, for her hood could not hide her appearance from him, oh no! She was actually wearing rumpled party dress at this late hour! Miss Anne Elliot was quite well behaved and gently spoken while at home, but this was so often the case with hoydenish women! Nothing but trouble could come of such wanton conduct; Burton was thankful he did not have to answer for it.
Anne entered her bedchamber as the men who had brought up the trunk left it. She sat down heavily on her bed, still holding Mary's basket, a little bewildered to be home again. The room was empty; all of her personal articles were still in the large bureau drawer where they had been placed nearly two weeks ago. She felt as if she had been ushered into an hotel room, such as that inn at Lyme. Then she had been excited and expectant, and looking forward to a short, but very pleasant stay. Now she felt only resignation and hopelessness. And my stay will be of an unknown duration. She stripped off her gloves and began to massage her aching temples.
Well, Father and Elizabeth, I am here! Please do not offer my room to a guest tonight or you will have a surprise! She moved over to the bureau, pulled open the drawer, and began to replace her few trinkets around the room. The Bible was taken out of the basket. "Well, my friend," she said as she held it, "you and I have seen a few things since we last were in this room. 'Love suffereth long and is kind.' I certainly have suffered ... and it does not look as if Frederick's marriage will be the end of my troubles."
She reached over to pull the bell for the maid. A bath, a little supper, and then to bed, she decided. And tomorrow will be another day. She gave her Bible a pat as she put it back in its place on her bedside table. "'Yet man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward,'" she said aloud. "Woman, too. What a day this has been."
Authors' Note: While there are some who would say that seventeen chapters is a bit excessive for a prologue, we would not. Now the story really begins . . . we invite you to come on along!
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