Beginning, Section II
Posted on 2013-02-23
Fifty-three hours after departing from Bristol, longer than Cleary had hoped but still quickly enough for their purposes, the Queen of Heaven dropped anchor at Siloth, a port town in the county of Cumbria on the southeastern shoreline of the Solway Firth. They were still in England, but the town of Gretna Green, just over the Scottish border, was less than twenty miles away. By Wentworth's reckoning, MacMiann and his captive bride were still at least twelve hours, and very likely more, from the tiny border community known throughout the Kingdom for its quickly consecrated "anvil weddings." Figuring at least four hours, and possibly as many as six, to get to Gretna Green on horseback, that would give them six to eight hours to get the lay of the land, and prepare for the arrival of the Earl and his reluctant future countess.
In fact, it took about eight hours, given that the road from Siloth to Gretna Green was not precisely a straight line, and that it was already getting dark by the time they set off. Cleary insisted on accompanying Wentworth, and he had recommended that his first mate, Mr. Philip Marryat, also join them. Marryat was, like Cleary, a veteran of service in the Royal Navy, and had risen to the level of a boatswain on a ship of the line before leaving the service to go privateering with Cleary. He was not tall, but was thickly built, giving the impression of immovable strength. The trio, armed with swords, daggers, and pistols, were off as soon as horses could be obtained.
They arrived some time after midnight.
"Sure, Captain darlin', they'll be slowin' down for the darkness," Said Cleary. "I think we can count on six more hours. Let's find an inn, take a room, and try to get a bit o' sleep."
"I was hoping to ask questions of the townspeople."
"And what, pray tell, were ye goin' t'ask'm?"
"If anyone had information about a wedding that was planned."
"Lad, we're in Gretna Green! Sure, there's always a weddin' planned. And many besides a-takin' place that aren't planned a 'tall. Besides, everyone's asleep. Who were ye goin' t'question this time o' night."
Reluctantly, Wentworth agreed. They found an inn on the main street and entered.
The innkeeper greeted them as they entered, and asked what refreshments he could provide.
"Sure, a pint of ale'd be just the thing," Said Cleary. "And three rooms if ye have 'em, or at least three separate beds."
"A glass of wine for me," said Wentworth.
"Ale," said the taciturn Marryat.
The innkeeper served the three men their drinks and left to prepare their quarters for the night.
When he returned, Wentworth asked him if he was one of Gretna Green's famous "marrying men."
"Spliced many a couple in m'time," replied the innkeeper, in a lowlands burr that was somewhat easier to decypher than the highlander dialect. "Course, anyone can officiate at a marriage in Scotland. But, I do try t'give value fer money. I'm the preacher at the local Baptist chapel, licensed and ordained by m'congregation, so I can give 'em an actual religious service. Use the Book of Common Prayer. Though I'm no' Church of England, I find most o' the couples feel more comfortable with it. I also provide th'couple with th'two required witnesses from among m'staff or family, and a signed matrimonial certficate. To say nothin' of a private bedchamber t'seal the marriage. All fer one low price. Hae ye a lassie in mine, Captain?"
Impressed that the innkeeper recognized his rank, Wentworth asked if he was a veteran of naval service.
"Did a few years before th'mast," replied the innkeeper. "Served under a fine captain. Made enough in prize money t'buy this inn."
Wentworth stood up and offered his hand.
"Frederick Wentworth," he said. "Always pleased to meet another naval veteran."
"Ian Guthrie," the innkeeper replied. "A great honour, Captain. Yer reputation precedes ye. I see they made ye post. I presume it was fer capturing that Frog frigate."
"Let us say that was the act that finally convinced the Admiralty," said Wentworth. "To answer your question, we are here for a wedding that will probably take place tomorrow. We were just wondering if any arrangments had been made. If, perhaps, you have been retained to do the honours."
"I hae no such arrangements," said Guthrie. "But I do know of a weddin' planned fer tomorrow. Ye might hae noticed a pretty lttle cottage on yer left as ye passed over the border. Some great man as wishes to be anonymous has rented it fer his weddin' night. The marriage'll take place as soon as he and his bride arrive from England. As I understand it, though, he already has a marryin' man of his own retained."
"Faith, and where did ye hear about all this?" asked Cleary.
"The gentleman as is a-getting' hisself spliced ordered two servants from his estate up north t'meet him here. They're to be th'witnesses. One of 'em heard that I give a certificate of matrimony after performin' th'office. It seems his gentleman is very particular about wantin' his marriage properly documented. The servant said he wanted t'buy a blank certificate from me, and offered twice as much as I would've charged for marryin' 'em myself, complete with witnesses, and bedchamber. Just for a piece o' paper I had printed up."
"Did you sell it to him?" asked Wentworth.
Guthrie looked at Wentworth as though he were daft for even asking the question before saying, "Aye. I may be a Christian preacher, but I'm also a Scot."
"Leave it t'th'lucky Freddie Wentworth to find th'man with all th'answers on th' first roll o' th'dice," said Cleary. "Remind me never t'play cards with ye, Captain darlin'."
After instructing Guthrie that they were to be awakened before dawn, the three companions retired.
The cottage was a charming two-story domicile with a thatched roof, constructed in the "ornee" style that had become so popular in recent years. Undoubtedly, it had been built specifically for the purpose of being rented out to newly-wedded couples looking for a romantic, and private, place to spend their wedding night.
Just before sunset, Wentworth, Cleary, and Marryat had posted themselves on the other side of the road, where they could keep the cottage under surveillance, while remaining hidden behind the trees and bushes growing there.
They kept their vigil for two hours before a large, black coach, pulled by a six-horse team, turned into the property, where the coachman expertly brought the conveyance to a stop by the front entrance.
He immediately descended to the ground, unlocked the side door of the coach, and opened it.
Cleary reached into his pocket, pulled out a spyglass he had brought along, and passed it to Wentworth.
"Here ye go, lad. Get a close look and make sure."
Wentworth brought the glass to his right eye and focused on the coach. The first person to emerge was MacMiann. He stretched as though just awakened , then reached inside, lifted Anne out of the coach, and lowered her to the ground. She was bound, gagged, her hair down, her dress torn giving her a deshabille appearance that, in spite of himself, and in spite of the circumstances, Wentworth could not help finding rather appealing. Her beautiful, liquid eyes, were sadder than he had ever seen them. Even when he had spoken the angry, cutting words on the occasion of ending their first engagement, her eyes had not had that desperate, anguished appearance.
It was an appearance in which MacMiann seemed to take great pleasure. He looked her up and down, as he had in Sir Walter's study, only with a greater sense of possessiveness, seemed to chuckle, turned and said something to the coachman, then lifted Anne over his shoulder, and carried her into the house. He gave her bottom a light pat as she came to rest on his shoulder. She squirmed and twisted to no avail.
Frederick, an enraged growl escaping his mouth, started to rise. Cleary put his hand on his shoulder and held him down.
"Now's not the time, boyo," he said. "Sure, we don't know precisely who else is in there, and when we make our move, it's got to be with the absolute maximum o' surprise on our part, and full knowledge o' just what odds we're facin'."
Lord Eucoir carried Anne up the stairs, walked into one of the rooms there, placed her on the floor, leaning against the wall, and turned to the burly woman waiting there.
"Get her ready," he said. "Quick time, fer I wish the ceremony t'commence as soon as can be."
"Yes, M'Lord," she answered, custseying as he left the room.
There was a tub in the room, already filled with steaming water. The burly woman went over to Anne, removed her gag, and untied her.
"If ye scream, or try t'run, I'll slap ye silly," she said. "No one'll hear ye in here, anyway, and ye'll be too stiff to run wi' any speed. Now take off yer clothes, an' get inta that tub. Quick now or I'll rip 'em off myself!"
Anne disrobed as hurriedly as her stiff limbs would allow her. As she prepared for the bath, she looked closely at the woman MacMiann had identified as the cook on his estate. Tall, particularly for a woman, thick-set and powerful-looking, with the same reptilian-porcine features MacMiann had.
"Ach, ye've noticed the resemblance," said the woman. "I'm not just Master's cook. I'm his baby sister."
"Sister?" whispered Anne hoarsely. Her mouth was still too dry for her to talk comfortably.
"Half-sister, anyway. Master's da, the Fourteenth Earl of Eucoir, he liked to dally with the help. I was one of th'results of his dallyin'. Master's got lots of brothers and sisters, and cousins, and even a few bairns of his own workin' on th'estate. We're loyal to'm, not just as tenants and servants, but as family. Officially, ye'll be mistress of th'manor. But, in truth, yer only function be to pleasure Master whenever he wants, and to give him some bairns born on th'right side o' th'sheets, and that be all. Ye'll count less than any of us, for we be blood, an' ye be just a high-born sassenach stranger he took a fancy to. Ye'd do well to remember that. M'Lady."
She chuckled as she said "M'Lady," giving it an ironic twist.
Anne stepped in the tub, too weak with hunger and thirst and stiffness to do more than submit as the cook roughly scrubbed her down and dried her off. She then washed and dried Anne's hair, brushed it out, and combed it, but left it down.
"Master likes a lady t'wear her hair long and flowin'," said the woman. She stroked Anne's hair as though she was petting a puppy or a kitten. "Especially such pretty hair as this. A shame t'be wearin' it up.
While Anne was still undressed, the cook fastened a ruby pendant, suspended from a golden chain, around her neck.
"This be one o' the Eucoir family jewels. Been in the family for hundreds of years. Somethin' old."
She then helped Anne to dress. A short chemise, ending just above her knees, over which the cook laced Anne's stays. A thin petticoat with ruffles at the hem. And a white muslin gown that fit perfectly. The hem of the gown was cut just a bit higher than the hem of the petticoat, so that the petticoat's ruffles showed when Anne stood up.
"Master got yer measurements from yer dressmaker," explained the cook. "The undergarments and gown are brand new."
She then placed a lace scarf atop Anne's head.
"That's a piece of lace as belongs t'me. Only time I wore it was when I was spliced t'm'own man. Somethin' borrowed."
Anne found herself wondering what kind of man would have married this harridan, but decided not to ask the question.
She sat down and pulled on the stockings draped over the arm of the chair, then a pair of new slippers.
While Anne was still seated, with her gown still pulled up over her knee, the cook pulled out a length of white cord from an apron pocket and tied Anne's knees together.
"No, please," said Anne.
"That's how Master wants it," said the cook. "I'm not tyin' yer ankles, so ye'll be able t'walk, but not t'run." Then she pulled out another length of cord and using it to tie Anne's wrists in front of her.
"But why?" asked Anne, almost sobbing. "It is as you have said. I am too tired and hungry and stiff to run. What purpose can tying me up serve?"
"Pleasures Master t'see a woman he fancies helpless. Some men be like that. And, since ye're so determined to speak when Master likes his women t'be seen and not heard . . . "
She pulled a long blue, silk kerchief from another pocket and tied it around Anne's mouth.
"Somethin' blue," she said, as she tightened the knot.
A few minutes after MacMiann carried Anne into the cottage, Wentworth and his companions stealthily moved closer. Still using the surrounding trees and bushes for cover, they took up a post close to the entrance, and used Cleary's glass to observe the activity inside through a picture window to one side of the front door.
MacMiann had donned the regimentals he had been wearing the night he first met Anne. He wore a wide leather belt around his waist. At his right hip was a leather holster which held a huge pistol. At his left was a sword so long that, tall as MacMiann was, the bottom still dragged along the floor.
The coachman had changed into the cassock and surplice of an Anglican clergyman. Could the coachman be a genuine clergyman? Could McMiann have so corrupted him that he would actually agree to conduct this vile office?
A third man, wearing a servant's livery, was standing behind MacMiann. Large, and powerful-looking. A footman perhaps. Apparently selected to be one of the two required witnesses.
Wentworth perceived movement on the stairwell and focused on it. A large, ugly woman, presumably the second witness, was assisting Anne down the stairs. Anne, for all her distress, nevertheless looked exquistely lovely in the white muslin gown. Just the way he imagined she would have looked on their wedding day. She moved with great difficulty, as if her legs were still under some sort of restraint, but that might have simply been stiffness after being tied up so long. Her hands were bound, but in front of her.
He closed up the glass and handed it back to Cleary.
"Besides Anne and Eucoir, there are three others," he said. "The coachman's changed clothes so that he looks like a parson. There's also a male servant of some kind, and the ugliest woman I've ever seen. The absolute minimum needed to perform and witness the ceremony."
Cleary nodded, and said, "Let's move closer. Sure, they're all intent on what they're doin'. It's likely they won't notice if we move up now. If we can break in while the ceremony's in progress, we'll take 'em by surprise."
With that the three moved to the front door. Cleary drew a two-barreled pistol from his pocket, cocked back the hammer for the right barrel, and aimed it at the lock. But, as he heard the words being spoken on the other side of the door, he paused before squeezing the trigger.
"What are you waiting for?" whispered Wentworth.
"Listen to 'im, lad. He's readin' the wedding service from the Book of Common Prayer. If we wait 'til he gives us our cue, we'll be able to make a most dramatic entrance. Sure, ye must agree, after all we've gone through t'get here, we're entitled to a dramatic entrance."
"Wait. Ye'll recognize it when ye hear it."
MacTusan had gotten past the "Dearly beloved" introduction and was well into listing the reasons that God had instituted the sacrament of matrimony.
"Secondly," he intoned. "it was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body."
MacTusan was not so lacking in understanding that he was unaware of the sheer hypocrisy in speaking of marriage as a way of avoiding sin, when, in this particular case, it was doing nothing but putting the appearance of respectability on what was perhaps the most sinful thing a man could do to a woman. But he was long past the point of caring about that. His career as a clergyman had been singularly unsuccessful. And it was not as though he had any actual vocation for the calling. He had entered it simply in the hope of eventually getting a reasonable living that would allow him a certain amount of security. But that had not happened, so he had turned to other occupations to earn his daily bread. The Earl paid him a good salary, gave him a place to live, and food to eat. If he wanted MacTusan to take up the long-abandoned post of a minister of the Gospel so that the ravishment of his pretty young victim had society's imprimatur, MacTusan was more than willing to oblige.
"Thirdly," he went on, "it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can show any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace."
Almost as soon as the word "peace" had been spoken, a large explosion was heard, the front door was slammed open, and Wentworth, Cleary, and Marryat burst into the cottage, weapons drawn.
Posted on 2013-02-26
Anne could not believe her eyes. Frederick here? His presence was nothing less than the embodiment of an answered prayer. So impossible did his timely arrival seem that, first, she considered that her crushing fatigue might have finally overpowered her, that she had finally fallen asleep and was now dreaming. Or that the days of travel with no food and little water had caused her to have visions of things that were not there.
But then Frederick started talking, and she was sure that no dream, no hallucinatory vision, could speak with such resonance and purpose.
"Reverend sir," said Frederick, with more than a hint of irony at the address, "I have four such 'just causes' to present to you. First, that this lady was abducted from her home and family and taken to this place against her will. Second, that, as any fool can see, she is bound and gagged and is in no way able to freely enter into the vows of matrimony. And before I get to the third, I note that you, sir, are vestured as a parson. Have you in fact taken orders according to the Anglican rites?"
"Aye," replied the flustered MacTusan.
"Then, third, that, by your intentional participation in an obvious sham of a wedding, in which one of the parties is clearly here through no choice of her own but only present by physical constraint and compulsion, you, an ordained clergyman, are knowingly and willfully violating the canon law of the Church of England, and, that, therefore, this whole ceremony is invalid. And, finally, fourth, that the prospective bridegroom is an infamous abuser of women, and is responsible for the murder of at least one, and possibly more, ladies who have been so unfortunate as to become the objects of his desire, and that, therefore, to conjoin this lady to such a man in the bonds of matrimony would be to consign her to a fate of physical and mental misery that must inevitably end in her death."
"Sure, ye forget one, Captain darlin'," said the squat man in the eyepatch standing to Frederick's right. "But faith, ye've never been one t' worry about yer own rights when one who's weak and helpless is bein' abused. So if I might, fifth, that this lovely and refined young lady, who, leavin' aside the obvious clue of the ropes and gags, no one with a lick o' sense could believe would willin'ly choose this ogre of a man as her husband, is already promised to another, specifically to the young officer a-standin' beside me who has ever been her true love, that she entered into this engagement with a full heart and of her own free will, that her family and friends approved the match, and that, therefore, forcin' her to marry the Earl when she has no wish t'do so is a vicious and sinful act that victimizes not only the lady, but the man who is her actual betrothed."
Could Frederick still, Anne wondered, truly want to marry her after her ruination at the Earl's hands? His coming to her rescue was more than she could have hoped for. But that he still wanted to share his life with her, wanted her to share hers with him? She had known Frederick was special. She realized that she had not truly known how special until this moment.
Dougal MacMiann, the Sixteenth Earl of Eucoir, late Lieutenant-Colonel in the Black Watch, was not giving up without a fight. Looping his left arm around Anne's neck, he pulled her toward him, while, with his right, he drew the enormous pistol from its holster, cocked it, and pointed the barrel an inch or so from Anne's temple. Only a few ounces of trigger pressure stood between Anne and sudden death.
"I told ye once, rosewater pilot, I'm no' a man t'be trifled with. Nor a man used to no' getting' m'own way. And m'mind is made up. This chit'll be mine or she'll be dead. The choice be yers."
Cleary cocked back the hammer on the left barrel of his pistol, and aimed it at MacMiann's head.
"Sure, she's too tiny t'make an effective shield for ye, Yer Lordship. Let th' poor darlin' girl go now, and maybe I'll decide not t'blow yer ugly, sinful head off."
"If I even blink, it's her head that'll be blown off."
"Bedad, is that so? Then it may just be that ye won't even blink," growled Cleary, slowly squeezing the trigger.
"Belay that, Mr. Cleary," said Wentworth.
"Faith, but I've got him dead to rights, Captain darlin'. And Marryat's got the other three covered, so it's no trouble we'll be havin' from them."
"Liam, I said belay that! I have no doubt you would kill him instantly, but I did not come all this way to see the woman I love murdered by a reflexive pull of the trigger at the moment of death. Keep him covered by all means, but do not fire unless he does." Then, to MacMiann, "Do you understand that, Eucoir. If Anne dies, you die. If you move that pistol from Anne's head and bring it to bear on any of us, you die. If you try to move toward the door, you die. You can stand there, and keep us from making a move, but we've got you checked as long as we stand here. Any move you make and it will go from check to checkmate. The only way for you to get out of this alive is to surrender. So you're the one with the choice to make. Do you lose the game but live, or do you lose the game and die?"
"The woman I love."
Frederick had called her "the woman I love!"
Anne, half-choked by the pressure of the Earl's arm around her throat, nevertheless was not so overcome by MacMiann's rough handling that she was unaffected by Frederick's words. Indeed, despite the desperate situation, she was now filled with hope. And as that hope surged through her, she suddenly realized she was finally in the position for which she had been praying these last three days, that she was now able to do something about that desperate situation. Though her hands were tied, the Earl had ordered that they be tied in front of her, presumably to make it easier to slip the ring on her finger during the service, and, while this still impeded movement, it made her much less helpless than she had been during the three-day journey. Turning her face to her left and ducking down as far as she could with the Earl's arm around her neck, she moved her bound hands up to the barrel of the Earl's pistol and pushed it toward the ceiling, hopefully deflecting it enough so that the shot would be directed away from her.
The roar of the pistol exploded next to her ear.
The ball chunked harmlessly into a wooden beam of the ceiling, but the powder blast singed the left side of MacMiann's face, burning off a layer of skin, and blasting a tattoo of powder particles into the tender dermis. Involuntarily, he clapped his lift hand to his face at the sudden pain.
Anne, suddenly free after three days of captivity, scurried toward Wentworth and his two companions as quickly as she could with her knees still hobbled.
"Ye filthy baggage!" screamed MacMiann. "I'll cut yer heart out fer that!"
His rage overcoming his pain, McMiann reached for the huge sword at his left, which Wentworth could now see was a Scottish claymore, a two-handed cruciform-shaped weapon, similar to a medieval broadsword.
"You shall have to have to come through me first, Eucoir," said Wentworth, his hanger gripped in his right hand, while his left held the dirk. "You told me that my day would come. I am holding you to that."
MacMiann, screaming an unintelligible oath, charged at Wentworth, swinging the mighty sword as he ran. Wentworth stood his ground, took a half-step to his right, parried the Scot's downward blow with his dirk, and slashed across MacMiann's stomach with the hanger, cutting a deep gash.
To the best of Wentworth's knowledge, claymores had not actually been used for military purposes since the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689, well over a hundred years earlier. To the degree they were used at all, it was generally for ceremonial or display purposes. But they had special significance to most Scots. The primary weapon of the great Scottish knight, William Wallace, had been a claymore. It had also been choice of the legendary highland outlaw Rob Roy, the Scottish "Robin Hood." It was likely that MacMiann carried it whenever he wore his dress uniform, but it was less likely he had ever actually used it in combat.
By contrast, Wentworth was thoroughly familiar with his hanger, and had used it in battle more often than he could remember. It was a slashing weapon, ideal for shipboard fighting, since the rolling deck of a man o' war made thrusting weapons, like the rapier, which depended on precise moves, less useful. Wentworth was an expert at dealing out slashing wounds, injuries that wore down his opponents, making them more apt to leave an opening that would allow him to finish the fight with a stab at the heart or a slash at the throat.
Moreover, Wentworth was younger and fitter than MacMiann. If he could avoid the Scot's claymore attacks, and could continue to draw blood with his slashes, he should, in theory, emerge the victor.
But there is theory and there is practice, and Wentworth knew that MacMiann, for all that he was older, less athletic, and not as well-trained, had what could be called, in pugilistic terms, a "puncher's chance." In other words, while a well-trained, skilled, scientific boxer should always prevail on points against an opponent whose only fighting advantage is a powerful straight-arm right, nevertheless, that opponent only has to land that straight-arm right once to score a knockout, while the scientific boxer must successfully avoid that same right and stay on his feet for as many rounds as agreed upon to win on points, or else hope that the multitude of less forceful punches he is able to land will eventually have the cumulative effect of leading to a knockout.
Similarly, Wentworth had to stay untouched by the claymore while continuing to inflict slashing wounds until MacMiann eventually bled to death, whereas MacMiann could decapitate Wentworth with a single lucky swing.
Further, MacMiann, in his fury, had a berserker-like strength that the controlled Wentworth could not match. It made the Earl's blows less accurate, but more powerful.
MacMiann would wildly swing, Wentworth would duck, or parry, and counter with a slash at any part of the body that was exposed. The huge Scot had multiple wounds, and was losing prodigious amounts of blood, but, like the Viking warriors for whom the term "berserker" was coined, was showing no sign of weakening.
The Earl drove Wentworth toward one of the cottage's supporting timbers. Wentworth slipped deftly under a powerful swing that chopped deeply into the beam. As MacMiann tried to backswing so as to dislodge it, Wentworth brought his hanger down on the Scot's right hand, gripped tightly around the foot-long handle, and sliced off three fingers, while, at the same time, plunging the dirk deep into MacMiann's right side, all the way to the hilt. As Wentworth twisted the dirk attempting to maximize internal bleeding, MacMiann continued to try to dislodge the claymore using only his left hand.
Wentworth pulled the dirk free, and, with his hanger, slashed under MacMiann's kilt at the upper inside left thigh, cutting a deep gash. Wentworth knew a major artery was located there, though he couldn't have said what it was called, and that a wound in that spot was almost impossible to survive. He then turned the blunt side of the blade up, and swatted between the earl's legs, turning the blade side toward the inside right thigh just as the blunt side found its target.
MacMiann, sustaining a painful blow that registered even through his sense-blunting rage, slammed his legs together, as Wentworth had known he would, as he had known any man would when such a blow is inflicted. The blade side of Wentworth's hanger was driven deep into MacMiann's right thigh by the earl's own reflexively protective movement. Wentworth slowly drew the hanger out from between MacMiann's legs, deepening and lengthening the gash. Now the Earl was bleeding from both inner thighs.
MacMiann was finally slowing down, but he was not yet out. Finally dislodging the claymore, he lifted it, one-handed, over his left shoulder for a downward slash that would have split Wentworth's skull, but, weakening from the continuing loss of blood, and having difficulty with the weight of the sword when using only his left hand, almost lost his balance and fell backward. Taking one step back, he braced himself, regained his balance, and again started the downward slash.
Wentworth, stepped slightly to his left to avoid the Scot's blow and thrust his hanger into the wide open torso of MacMiann, as the latter started forward to add force to his slash. The young captain shoved his hanger deep into MacMiann's chest, piercing the heart, while simultaneously drawing his dirk across the Scottish lord's throat.
That finally did for the Sixteenth Earl of Eucoir. Wentworth withdrew his hanger from MacMiann's chest and stepped back. MacMiann fell forward, dead.
"Sure, I know what ye ought to be namin' that sword now, Captain darlin'," said Cleary.
"And what is your suggestion, Mr. Cleary?"
"What else can ye be callin' it but Ascalon?"
"And why is that?"
"Sure it's what St. George, the patron saint of warriors, called his sword, as ye well should know inasmuch as St. George is also the patron saint of England, and ye, for all yer Irish blood, are an Englishman born and bred."
"And why should I name my sword for that of St. George?"
"Sure that should be obvious. Haven't ye just used it to slay the dragon and rescue the fair maiden?"
A local magistrate was notified, MacTusan, the cook, and the footman all placed under arrest, and the remainder of the morning spent answering questions.
Wentworth, being the only one who had actually killed someone, whatever the justification, answered the most questions, but Anne, Cleary, and Marryat, each spent a considerable amount of time under interrogation as well.
Wentworth was still being questioned, while Anne and Cleary sat across from each other at a table in the inn, where the magistrate was conducting his investigation. Cleary was drinking a pint of ale. Anne had just finished a bowl of fairly weak broth, unwilling to trust her stomach to anything heartier after three days of no food. She was now sipping from a tall glass of spring water. Marryat had gone upstairs to his room as soon as his questioning was completed, and gone to sleep.
Anne marveled at the man's ability to put the events of the morning behind him and retreat into slumber with such ease. She, though bone-weary from days of being deprived of meaningful rest, was too keyed up to sleep.
"Sure, that's Marryat for ye," said Cleary. "Faith, if there was a competition for hours spent asleep he'd win it hands down. Still, awake, there's no one ye'd rather have at your side in a tight situation."
Anne nodded, looked at the piratical figure seated across from her, and said, "Forgive me if I have not attended, but everything has been moving so quickly. Can you tell me, who you are exactly, and how did you and . . . Mr. Marryat was it? How did you happen to be with Frederick?"
"I'm master of a merchant ship in Bristol," said Cleary, and proceeded to tell her how he knew Wentworth from his days in the Royal Navy, and how Wentworth had commissioned him to bring him to Scotland in that ship in an attempt to overtake MacMiann.
"Did he pay you for this?"
"Well, he offered, but I was well behind on a debt I owe the lad, so I insisted on doin' it gratis."
"What debt is that?"
"Bedad, it's quite a debt. I've gone some length to clearin' it today. But I may never be able t'pay it off completely. I was sailin' master on the lad's first ship as a middie. We'd gone in t'battle against a French ship of the line. We were just a frigate. Now frigates are grand ships, and if a man's inclined to independent action, like Cochrane, it's a grand way to make a career, but they're small compared to ships of the line. On the other hand, they're easier to maneuver, and Captain Croft was a deft ship's handler, and we were givin' better than we got. Now this was the lad's first time in battle. He was a-standin' next t'me. Tall for his age, he was. Not near tall as he is now, but tall for a lad of 13 years. That short blade he was a-carryin' in his left hand today? That's called a dirk. Kind of a traditional weapon for a midshipman. He's carried it ever since, though, as he's grown, it's become less of a sword and more of a dagger. He gripped that dirk like grim death. Now, he was a-shiverin' somethin' fierce. Scared of all the death he was seein' around him. Scared that he wouldn't measure up. Scared o' bein' scared. I was a-thinkin' I'd have t'try t'buck the lad up, y'see. So he wouldn't disgrace himself."
"It's hard to imagine Frederick being fearful after seeing him today."
"Any sensible man's fearful in battle. The trick is in controllin' the fear, not denyin' it's there," said Cleary. "Just at that moment, a round of French chain-shot smacked in t'the mast we were near. Splinters everywhere. One of 'em went into m'eye, takin' it out fer good and all. Sure I fell down fer the pain of it, and lost consciousness. Just as I fell, a hunk o' riggin' came loose from above the damaged mast and landed right next to me. M'left hand was spread away from where I lay, and the riggin' landed on top of it. Sure, that brought me t'consciousness. Th'eye was bad enough, so it was, but I've never felt a pain such as I did when that riggin' landed on m'hand. The lad rushed t'me and called fer help t'move the riggin', but in the fog of battle, he could get no one to lend a hand. Now a piece of riggin' is, beggin' yer pardon, Miss Anne, damned heavy. And sure Frederick was no more than child really, shoved in t'th'grown-up business of fightin' a war. Big fer his age, like I said, but not that big. Somehow, though, he found the strength to lift that riggin' off m'hand all by himself, lift me over his shoulder, and carry me t'the surgeon. Sure the surgeon couldn't save m'eye or m'hand, though he did his best to save m'life. And faith, he certainly did his part, and that's truth of it. Meanwhile, young Wentworth returned to battle, and, accordin' t'what I heard, with nothin' more than that dirk, did for four of the enemy by himself, so he did."
Tears were streaming down Anne's face. "13 years old, and he personally killed four men. When Frederick was 13, I was 9. I was still playing with dolls, while Frederick was fighting wars. I have really had no conception of the kind of life he's lived."
"It hasn't been a bad life, Miss, for all the death he's seen. He's had the satisfaction of protectin' the country he loves, and its people, from the ravages of a tyrant. He's earned the loyalty of the men he's fought alongside. And, in some sense, if we're honest with ourselves, the danger of the profession is part of the attraction."
"So the debt you owe Frederick is that he saved your life."
"Saved it twice, so he did. As I said, the surgeon did his part, but there was more t'do, and young Frederick did it. Visited me every day, while I was a-healin'. Read t'me. Novels, poetry, the Bible, Shakespeare. When an infection set in, he said the 'Prayers for the Sick,' from the Book of Common Prayer three times every day 'til I recovered. I remember wonderin' what th'Almighty would think on hearin' protestant prayers offered on behalf of a Catholic, but I suppose th'Good Lord hears the prayers of all who seek Him with a sincere heart, fer the prayin' seemed t'do the trick and I recovered not too much the worse fer wear. Since then, I can't look on this hook, nor put on this patch when I wake up in the mornin', nor take it off at night, without thinkin' of the debt I owe yer man."
"There's so much about that part of his life, and that part of his life has really been his whole life, that I know nothing about."
"Well, the truth of battle is not somethin' a soldierin' or seafarin' man wants t'share with th'woman he loves. Particularly if she's as gentle and mild a lady as ye obviously are."
"I've loved him for so long, and now I can't be sure I'm really the right woman for him."
"Bedad, and why is that?"
"You said it yourself, Mr. Cleary. I am, by nature, gentle and mild. Too gentle and too mild for a man like Frederick. These past three days I was scared every second. How can a man like Frederick expect to share his life with someone so timid and fearful?"
"Miss Anne, ye're exactly who he thinks about when he thinks on who he's protectin'. Th'sailors on the ships, th'soldiers marchin' on th'battlefield, them as have wives or sweethearts, those wives and sweethearts are home to 'em. Those wives and sweethearts stand for everything they're fightin' fer. To yer man, ye're England. And as fer bein' scared, any woman who wouldn't be scared goin' through what ye've been through, abducted from yer home, unspeakable liberties taken, facin' a lifetime o' violation, would be a fool, so she would. But ye didn't panic. Ye kept yer head. Ye looked fer yer chance. And when it came along, ye were smart enough t'recognize that it was yer chance, and ye took it. Miss Anne, feelin' fear is nothin' but feelin' a good, healthy emotion that God gives us so we'll know to avoid doin' dangerous things unless they're necessary. But He also gives us courage t'fight the fear when we need to, and determination t'do what we have to when th'time comes. Ye showed great fortitude durin' yer ordeal, Miss Anne, and great courage and presence of mind when an opportunity to escape presented itself. Never think differently about yerself. I promise ye, yer man's as proud o' ye as he can be."
Wentworth joined them shortly afterwards. He would, he told Anne and Cleary, face no charges.
"In fact, the magistrate said it was just as well that MacMiann was dead. Had he lived, it would have meant a trial in the House of Lords, and it was to avoid just such an eventuality that the Army decided to simply let him resign quietly. This way, the story can die in obscurity, and some distant male relative will, presumably, be found to be the next Earl of Eucoir."
"That's grand, Captain darlin'," said Cleary. "And what of the three servants?"
"Transportation to the penal colonies for life, in all likelihood. And that will be the end of it."
"I was just a-sayin' t'yer lady here how proud ye must be that she found a way t'fight back at the crucial moment when it was most needed."
Wentworth took her hand and stared into her eyes.
"No one so capable as Anne," he said. "I'd be proud to command a crew of men who showed half her courage."
"I showed but little courage, Frederick. Just a tiny bit of resolution when the occasion presented itself, but I was scared to death the whole time."
"That's the point, dearest. It takes no courage to do that which you are not afraid to do. The more scared you are to do a thing, the more courage you show when you actually do it."
"Sure that's exactly what I told her, Captain," said Cleary.
"Mr. Cleary, you've likened me to St. George. Is there a martial saint whom you think might evoke Miss Elliott? Michael the Archangel, perhaps. Sebastian, the Centurion Saint. Or perhaps a female saint like Joan of Arc."
Like many Irishman,Cleary, possessed a streak of mischief that never really died when adulthood was reached. In consequence, he was tempted to say St. Ignatius Loyola, the Basque soldier who found a vocation for the priesthood after being wounded in battle, and went on to found the Society of Jesus. But, after what both the young people had gone through, he decided that would be teasing too much. Frederick Wentworth was generally tolerant of Catholicism, but, as with most Englishmen, he could not stomach Jesuits.
"Joan of Arc's not a saint, Captain," Cleary said instead, "or at least hasn't been declared one as yet. And sure she was a French general, wasn't she? I'm surprised an Englishman like yerself would even suggest her. Faith, though, even if Joan was a saint, I think Miss Anne's patroness'd have t'be St. Barbara, for didn't Miss Anne use that thunderin' great hand-held cannon of MacMiann's t'make her escape?"
"Who was St. Barbara?" asked Anne.
"Sure, she's nothin' t'worry about, Miss Anne, for she's pre-Reformation, and bein' identified with her is no threat t'yer protestant credentials," he said in a good-natured manner that made it clear he meant to be gently teasing, not insulting. "She was an early Christian martyr durin' the Roman persecutions who was beheaded fer her devotion t'the Faith. 'Twas her own pagan father put her to th'sword. The legend is that the Lord, angered at the persecution of His faithful servant, sent His own natural artillery, thunder and lightnin', t'strike down the sinful father, thus avengin' the poor, darlin' girl. Since then, she's been the patron saint of artillerymen, sappers, and, appropriately, since ye're about t'become a Navy wife, of Navy men."
"Why Navy men?"
"Bedad, Miss, isn't it obvious? Fer what's a man o' war but a floatin' artillery platform?"
Anne, with a reluctance born of feeling it was inappropriate at the present time, nevertheless found herself laughing heartily. Had she been more concerned for her own peace of mind, and less concerned for propriety, she would have known that laughing heartily was something she needed to do. Liam Cleary, an immensely charming and entertaining man, as well as an insightful one, both realized this and had the talent to coax it from her.
"Well, after three days," said Cleary, "I'm sure th'two o' ye have much t'speak of. I'll sit at the far table there, in the office of chaperone. But I won't be particularly energetic about it."
A wave of shyness came over Anne, finally alone with the man she loved, the situation she had so hoped for, yet so feared, for the last three days.
"Anne, dearest" said Frederick, "you seem reticent. I fully understand if you have no wish to revisit your ordeal of the last three days, but I have found, thanks to a faithful friend, that it helps to talk about the worriments that plague us."
"I am trying to find the words."
"Speak plainly then, my love, for I am a plain man, and between us there should be no need for flourishes of speech."
"I . . . I am forever grateful, sir, for the efforts you made to extricate me from a horrible state of affairs that, as you said, would have ended in my death. I owe you my life, and, in justice, I must return yours to you."
"What can you possibly mean, dearest?"
"I am releasing you from your promise."
"You would do this again?" said Wentworth, fighting down the anger that immediately surged into his heart, knowing she was in no state to withstand that anger after the past three hellish days. Forcing himself to be calm, he said, "Anne, we have been given a second chance. We mustn't be so cavalier as to throw it away. I cannot believe that God will grant us a third."
"You misunderstand, sir. I have no wish to retract my own promise. I mean only to give you leave to retract yours. I know you to be a man of honor, who would never renege on a commitment once made. But I also know that being tied to me, after all that has occurred, must be giving you regret."
"My own dear Anne. How very like you. Always so willing to put everyone's needs and desires ahead of your own. Or what you believe to be everyone else's." He paused to take a breath, and went on. "Regret? Anne, the only thing I regret is that I was not there to give protection when that beast dared to lay hands on you. But I have no desire for a break, dearest. My only wish is to share my life with you, and for you to share yours with me."
"How can this be?" said Anne, managing to keep a sob out of her voice, but unable to keep the tears from her eyes. "Do you not see that I am now a compromised woman, ruined in the eyes of the world?"
Wentworth, sympathetic pain in his eyes said. "I have not asked precisely what he did to you, fearing it might be too painful for you to speak of. I had hoped, though, that he might have refrained from actually . . . having you until after his sacrilege of a wedding had taken place. But, dearest, you were in no way responsible for this violation."
He moved over to her side of the table, took her in his arms, and began to tenderly kiss away the tears streaming down her face.
"I still love you above all other persons," he went on. "What he did to you was awful beyond words, but it is in the past. Do not let it ruin our future."
"He did not . . . violate me. Not in the final sense, at least. You were right, he was saving that until . . . 'until the words were read' as he put it. But the liberties he did take stopped just barely short of the final consummation of his lust. But even if he had never laid hands on me at all, we were locked together in that coach, alone for three days. Can you not see how compromised I am? Can you truly be so sanguine about tying yourself to a woman so ruined?"
"You speak as if your abduction was, somehow, your own fault. But, my dearest Anne, you were not a willing participant in your own victimization. You were a prisoner. Is a man whose pocket has been picked to be blamed for the theft of his own wallet? Of course not! How then can a woman who has been attacked by a man, larger and stronger than her, be regarded as, in any way, blameworthy for the assault she has suffered?"
"And you were willing to marry me even when you thought he had violated me," said Anne, not so much to Wentworth as to herself.
"Not just willing, Anne. Anxious."
"How could I have been persuaded to let you go two years ago?" she wondered. "Frederick, you are truly the best of men. And I the most fortunate of women."
"I suspect we could spend the rest of our lives, dearest, arguing over whether you are the best of women or I the best of men, and which of us is the most fortunate of his or her sex, and still never come to an accord. So let us simply agree to disagree. You shall be allowed to think me the best of men so long as I may regard you as the best of women, and you may think of yourself as the most fortunate of women so long as I may regard myself as the most fortunate of men."
Where Cleary had provoked laughter, Wentworth had provoked a gentle, somewhat tired smile.
"Even after you rescued me, Frederick, even after you survived your fight with the Earl, I was still so full of anxiety about what the whole ordeal must surely mean for our future together, so sure that I would lose you again, that my nerves have been stretched to the breaking point. But now I am finally composed. I slept but little during my captivity, I was so fearful the entire time. Now that I am more tranquil, thanks to your assurances, the slumber I have fought so long is finally starting to overcome me."
"Of course, my love. I have arranged for a room upstairs. One of the maids will show you the way."
When Anne had retired, Wentworth joined Cleary at what Cleary was calling the "chaperone's table." Ordering a glass of wine for himself and a refill of Cleary's ale, he again thanked his old friend for his aid.
"Sure I was more than happy, lad. But I hope ye know it won't end here. She'll carry this around with her for a long time. It might never truly be finished for her."
"I have told her I love her and assured her she is not to blame."
"And I know ye mean that, lad. But, faith, ye're not all o' society, but just one man. Ye're the man she loves, and that'll weigh heavy with her as she heals, while the views of society'll weigh light. But sure, this is an epic story and it'll follow ye all yer life. A beautiful damsel in distress, abducted by a peer of the realm, rescued by her lover, a handsome King's officer, all endin' in a grand piece of o' swordplay. Sure, they'll be writin' novels about this two hundred years from now. And as long as people remember, that poor, lovely creature whose love ye've been fortunate enough t'win, will relive it over and over again. She'll need yer strength to stand up to it all."
"She shall have it," promised Wentworth.
Just then a scream echoed from upstairs.
Posted on 2013-03-01
Wentworth was the first through Anne's door, followed by an upstairs maid, and then by Cleary.
Anne, dressed only in her chemise since she had no nightgown, was sitting bolt upright in the bed, her eyes full of fear. Wentworth rushed to her side. She threw her arms around him tightly, as though to keep from drowning. He pulled her to him more gently, trying to ease her panic with comforting words.
"Oh, Frederick," she said. "I was at his castle. You had not arrived in time to prevent the ceremony, and I was now his countess. But he kept me locked in a dungeon, chained to a bed, so he could come to me whenever he wished. The door to my cell opened and he came toward me. I screamed and screamed but he just came closer and closer."
"It was just a dream, Dearest. None of it was real. He's dead and you're safe here."
"Frederick, don't leave me again. I can't stand to be alone. Please stay with me."
"Dearest, there's nothing I want more than to stay with you. But you know it cannot be until we marry. I cannot dishonour you as Eucoir did."
"Faith, Captain darlin'," said Cleary, "are ye forgettin' where ye are?"
"What do you mean?"
"Ye're in Scotland, man. Ye've got everything ye need for lawful weddin' right here at th'inn. I can stand up with ye. Miss Guthrie here can attend Miss Anne." He turned to the maid and asked, "Ye are Mr. Guthrie's daughter, aren't ye?"
"Aye, that I am, sir," the girl answered.
"There ye are," said Cleary triumphantly. "And Mr. Guthrie downstairs is a preacher. He's private dining room in the establishment that he uses as a weddin' chapel when th'occasion arises. Ye're already engaged. Given the exigencies of the situation, no one could blame ye if ye just went ahead and did the deed as long as ye were here and it could be accomplished with so little trouble."
"But I was hoping to have my brother officiate."
"Ye can renew the vows in a proper church once ye're back in England, if ye're so inclined. Many a couple as comes to Scotland fer a quick weddin' repeat the ceremony back home when their recalcitrant parents no longer have any choice but t'acquiesce."
"I have no ring to give her."
"No sooner said then mended, Captain darlin'," replied Cleary. Reaching into a waistcoat pocket he pulled out a gold ring.
"I thought, if we were successful in our quest, it might possibly come t'yer decidin' t' marry without delay, so I brought this along, just in case," he said. He went over to the bed and handed it to Anne. "'Twas m'mam's. She had no daughter, y'see, so it came t'me. And I've neither chick nor child. 'Twould be m'honour if ye'd accept it as a weddin' present."
Anne looked at it. The encircling loop was fashioned so that it looked like two hands meeting in the middle to support a heart topped by a crown.
"'Tis called a Claddagh ring," said Cleary. "The claspin' hands mean friendship. The heart means true love. The crown means loyalty."
"It's beautiful, Mr. Cleary," she said, "but I couldn't possibly accept your mother's ring."
"And who else should have it, then? Sure, as the lad's part Irish, it's right ye should have somethin' that reflects that bit of his heritage."
"He gives a powerful argument, dearest," said Wentworth. "We have both waited so long. And I would be able to stay with you here, then."
"I started the day almost marrying a man I despised and feared," said Anne. "I think the best way to put that behind me is end the day marrying the man I so love and respect. I thank you for your suggestion, Mr. Cleary. And for your most thoughtful and appreciated gift."
Mr. Guthrie opened his Book of Common Prayer and began to read.
"Dearly beloved," he began, "we're gathered together here in the sight o' God, and in th'face of this congregation, t'join this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony, which is an honourable estate, instituted b'God in the time o' Man's innocency, signifyin' unt'us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his People."
Anne noted that the actual words were "betwixt Christ and his Church," but allowed for Mr. Guthrie's slight revision, inasmuch as he was a Baptist preacher, and, as such, might not regard the England's Established Church as truly being "Christ's church."
She looked around the parlour that could, depending on the need, be arranged into either a private dining room or a wedding chapel. It was, she admitted to herself, really quite tasteful. Nothing ostentatious, but nicely arranged as a simple, dignified place of worship in which couples could start their lives together with a fitting sense of pride. Yes, she thought, this would be treasured memory, not an embarrassing one.
The wedding gown that MacMiann had arranged to have made for her was, now that she came to look at it, really quite lovely. She felt a little odd wearing something that had been forced on her by such a villainous man, but it seemed poetic justice that she was now wearing it to marry the man who had visited ultimate justice on the Earl for his crimes.
During her reverie, Mr. Guthrie had, as the rite prescribed, listed the reasons the Lord had instituted the sacrament, asked if anyone present was aware of any impediment, paused for a moment, just in case anybody offered an objection, then turned to Frederick.
"Frederick Wentworth, wilt thou hae this Woman to thy wedded Wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate o' Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsakin' all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?"
"I will," said Frederick, with all the strength and conviction so typical of his decided character.
Turning to Anne, Guthrie said, "Anne Elliot, wilt thou hae this Man to thy wedded Husband, to live together after God's ordinance in th'holy estate o' Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsakin' all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?"
"I will," replied Anne, more gently, but no less sincerely.
"Who giveth this woman t'be married t'this man?"
Marryat, who'd been awakened from a comfortable sleep, was not altogether happy to be acting in the stead of Anne's father, but he performed the office with tolerable good humour, handing Anne's right hand to the preacher, who then placed it in Wentworth's right hand. The couple turned toward each other and recited their vows.
"I, Frederick, take thee, Anne, to my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, 'til death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth."
With Frederick's hand still grasping hers, she replied, "I, Anne, take thee, Frederick, to my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and obey, 'til death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth."
Mr. Guthrie then placed the Cladagh ring on the book and turned it toward Frederick. Releasing Anne's hand, he took the ring, and slid it onto the fourth finger of her left hand, with the point of the heart pointed inward, toward her wrist, to signify marriage.
"With this ring I thee wed," said Frederick, "with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
Both Anne and Frederick then turned toward Mr. Guthrie, who said, "O, Eternal God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, th'Author of everlastin' life; Send thy blessin' upon these thy servants, Anne and Frederick, whom we bless in thy Name; that, as Isaac and Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep th'vow and covenant betwixt 'em made, (whereof this Ring given and received is a token and pledge), and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live accordin' to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
He then rejoined the right hands of Anne and Frederick, and concluded the rite by saying, "Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. Foreasmuch as Anne and Frederick have consented together in holy Wedlock, and have witnessed th'same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth each to th'other, and have declared the same by th'givin' and receivin' of a ring, and by the joinin' o' hands; I pronounce that they be Man and Wife together, In th'Name of the Father, and of th'Son, and of th'Holy Ghost. Amen."
Guthrie then filled out a marriage certificate, had Frederick and Anne sign it, then Cleary and his daughter. He then signed it himself as the officiant, and handed it to Frederick.
"Thank you, Mr. Guthrie," said Frederick, shaking the innkeeper's hand.
"A great pleasure, Captain, and a great honour, as well. Ye hae captured the heart of a most bonnie lassie, sir. Never in yer Naval career will ye ever capture a more valuable prize. Cherish that prize as ye should."
Turning to Anne, Guthrie said, "And, Mrs. Wentworth . . . "
Anne's heart filled with pride at being addressed by her new name for the first time.
" . . . ye hae captured the heart of a hero of th'nation, known throughout th'service I had the honour of bein'a a part of for several years. He'll go far in his profession. All the way t'admiral now that he's been made post at such a young age. It'll require sacrifice on yer part, and all th'help ye can give him, a willin'ess t'endure long separations, and frequent moves t'new homes. I know how much ye hae endured th'last three days. I know ye're capable o' th'fortitude bein' married to such a man'll require. Thank ye both for allowin' me the privilege o' bein' part o' th' beginnin' o'yer lives together."
Anne's bedchamber, to which they now both retired, was simple, but comfortable.
Captain and Mrs. Wentworth looked at each other and smiled. There was a time when the objections of family or friends to their union was all they thought they had to overcome. And, two years earlier, those objections had seemed insurmountable. Now they knew their love was strong enough to withstand much more than that. Two years after their separation, after all they had endured since their reunion, they had emerged more fixed in a knowledge of each other's character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting.
But there was one more obstacle in the way of their complete happiness. Anne knew it, and Wentworth suspected it.
"Frederick, we moved so quickly, after Mr. Cleary made his suggestion, that I scarce had time to think. There was something I should have told you, but did not. And you had a right to know before we exchanged vows."
Frederick smiled, and said, "You wish me in your bed, but you do not, as yet, feel ready to be a real wife to me."
Anne's eyes suddenly took on the anguished look Wentworth had seen when Eucoir carried her out of the coach. "You knew this before we exchanged vows, yet you went through with the ceremony anyway."
"I didn't absolutely know it, and, I will be honest, I was hoping I was wrong. I have dreamed of our wedding night, well, our wedding afternoon, for two years. But I suspected you might not feel capable of consummating our union."
"You needed me next to you, dearest, and next to you I shall be. No decent man could expect you to be looking forward to the physical sealing of a conjugal union when you have spent the last three days dreading that very act. We will work ourselves up to it gradually, my love. In time, you will know, deep within you, what you must surely already know in your heart and in your head. My arms are for protecting you and loving you, not for holding you prisoner and forcing you to surrender your favors against your will. Though, I don't pretend it will be easy lying down alongside a beautiful women with whom I am in love, and to whom I am respectably married, and not be able to express that love, and consummate that marriage, in the customary way. But I can be patient."
"I don't know how long it will take, Frederick."
"Not long, I should think, for I know you love me as much as I love you, and a woman has desires, too. Soon enough, you will grow comfortable with the knowledge that the physical intimacy between husband and wife can be a mutually enjoyable experience that enhances their emotional bond and strengthens their promise of fidelity. And it will be the act that will give us God's greatest gift, the children who will be the result of our love. In the meanwhile, I will wait patiently, and help your sleep to be peaceful."
Who can be in doubt of what followed? When two young people marry, she sweet-natured, reserved, gentle, and mild, yet passionate about the man she loves; and he bold, passionate, decisive, and strong-willed, yet considerate and tender to the woman he loves, they are pretty sure to eventually find great satisfaction in the intimate facets of their marriage, despite the differences, and indeed, to some degree, because of the differences in their temperaments. I believe this to be true no matter what impediments have been put in their way to cause one or the other to regard those physical aspects with some distaste, as long as the one is patient and the other is willing. How, then, could this not be true of an Anne Elliot and a Frederick Wentworth, blessed, as they were, not only with a deep attachment that had successfully bore down every familial opposition, but with the advantages of maturity of mind, consciousness of right, and at least one independent, if not staggeringly large, fortune between them?
Over the next few nights, as Anne fell asleep in her husband's arms, and as she began, just as he had predicted, to feel herself protected and loved in those arms, she grew more and more, not only to take comfort in her husband's touch, but to enjoy that touch and look forward to it, to feel her heart beat a little faster when her husband held her close and gently kissed the back of her neck.
In her heart, and in her head, she had always trusted Frederick, but, deep, deep within her there was a tiny flame of fear, an irrational fear and loathing of the entire male sex, a flame of fear that Dougal MacMiann had lit, a flame of fear that had not instantly gone out upon her rescue. But once she began to be convinced, in that same tiny spot deep in the marrow of her soul, that Frederick would never force her, notwithstanding the conjugal rights he was now in a position to insist upon, that flame started to burn out until finally it was completely extinguished.
And on their fourth night together, after that flame had completely flickered out, as Anne and Frederick lay together, her back to his front, his arm around her, she pulled his hand up to her lips, kissed it, and said, "I am ready to be your wife, Frederick. Ready in every way."
There was awkwardness, for it was their first time together, and Frederick was not all that experienced, and Anne not experienced at all. And because it was Anne's first time ever, there was also pain, though of short duration.
But the the pain was soon followed by such pleasant sensations as Anne had never even imagined.
"Heavens," she said when they were finished. "I never realized it could be so delightful. No wonder some women decide not to wait until marriage. Had I known it was such a pleasurable sensation, I might have become a fallen woman myself. I truly think not, and I certainly hope not, but such a temptation would have been difficult to resist, had I known the temptation to exist."
"I am glad to hear you say so," said Frederick. "For it is a compliment to my superior skills as a lover, which I find quite pleases me given my own inexperience. But, more importantly, it is a sign that Eucoir has receded into the past and no longer haunts your present. You should know, dearest, that not every married couple enjoys this as much as we just did. Since not everyone marries for love, but for other considerations, some couples inevitably find they do not suit. You and I are among the fortunate. Another proof that our falling in love was the arrangement of Providence."
"Another blessing, my love?"
"A blessing indeed."
From then on, their lovemaking was as marked by passion on the part of the gentle Anne as it was by gentleness on the part of the passionate Wentworth, for their differences in temperament complemented each other, just as the differences in their bodies complemented each other.
And this was indeed, as Wentworth so devoutly believed, very much the arrangement of Providence.
They stayed in Gretna Green about a week. Expresses had already been sent to Anne's family, and to Lady Russell, notifying them of her rescue, and explaining that, under the circumstances, since they would be traveling together, it seemed prudent to get married in Scotland, but that they would be renewing their vows upon returning to England.
Cleary and Marryat had already returned to the Queen of Heaven several days earlier, but Cleary assured them that, when they set a date for the renewal of their marriage vows, he would be there.
Instead of returning to Somersetshire, the Wentworths made their way to Shropshire, where the Captain's older brother, Edward, was a curate at a smallish parish. The vicar whom Mr. Edward Wentworth assisted was quite elderly, and, little by little, Edward had taken on more and more of the duties of running the parish. Since the vicar was a widower, whose children had long since grown and moved away, Edward also lived in the vicarage with his mentor. It was a reasonable arrangement for all concerned, and Edward had been assured that he would eventually succeed to the living when the old vicar retired.
The Wentworths were greeted with great joy by the curate who was pleased to see his brother after the passage of two years, and even more pleased that the sweet and gentle lady who had graced the parish that employed him during his curacy in Somerset was now his sister.
They rented lodgings near the vicarage, and began living there quietly. To avoid the reading of the banns, since locals were bound to wonder why banns were being read for a couple who were already living in the community as man and wife, they obtained a common license from Bishop Cornwallis, who was in charge of the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry, which included Mr. Wentworth's parish.
Then, after having lived in the parish for a little over a month, they went to the church one late summer morning to be married by Edward Wentworth.
Sir Walter, Lady Russell, Miss Elizabeth Elliott, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Musgrove all came to the ceremony, a simple but dignified affair. So did a dear friend of Anne's school days, Mrs. Jane Smith, who had been Miss Jane Hamilton. Having been tracked down and notified, she came with her husband. The Smiths' close friend, and Sir Walter's heir, Mr. William Elliot, did not appear, still not on speaking terms with the head of his family.
On the captain's side, there was little of actual family, other than his brother who was officiating. His sister, Sophia, and her husband, Admiral Croft, were still in the East Indies, and they were all the family Captain Wentworth had, excepting the curate. On the other hand, though there were few blood relatives of Wentworth present, a prodigious number of his Naval family came to the celebration. More than two thirds of the crew of the Asp, all in their best uniforms, along with the wives and children of those who had families, came to wish their captain joy. There was also a Scottish innkeeper who had once served a few years on a Naval vessel some time back, present with his wife and daughter; and a taciturn first mate on a merchant vessel in Bristol who had once been a boatswain in the Royal Navy, both wearing the uniforms of their former service for the occasion. Though apparently neither had ever served with Wentworth, they were both said to be very dear friends to the happy couple on account of some particular service the two men had rendered to them.
Anne, once more wearing the wedding gown made for her by her at her abductor's behest, was attended by her two sisters and Mrs. Smith. Captain Wentworth was attended by Captain Robert Harville (promoted to commander in the weeks since Frederick had last seen him, making him ineligible to serve as the Laconia's first lieutenant), Lieutenant James Benwick, and Sailing Master (retired) Liam Cleary, all resplendent in their "number one" dress uniforms.
Captain Wentworth had obtained his own ring to give to Anne, a gold ring with five tiny red garnets that formed a cross at the top. During the ring portion of the ceremony, he slid it up the fourth finger of Anne's left hand where the Claddagh ring already nestled. For the rest of Anne's life, she would wear the two rings on the same finger, side by side, the one a gift from a dear friend, the other a gift from a beloved husband.
The wedding breakfast was held out of doors, and all counted it a very pleasant occasion.
Sir Walter, knowing most of the details of the story of Captain Wentworth's pursuit of the villainous Earl of Eucoir, and his rescue of Anne, had started to recognize that there really was something to be said for independence and personal initiative. All in all, he had decided that he would consider this a good match. Still, Wentworth continued to show a lamentable disregard for personal appearance in others. Two of his groomsmen were well-looking enough, but the third, a one-eyed, one-handed cripple, looked absolutely frightful. Loyalty to friends and colleagues was all very good, but what could this horrible looking fellow have possibly done to deserve be the honor of attending the bridegroom at the wedding of a daughter of a baronet?
Lady Russell, on hearing the story of Anne's rescue, began to regard Captain Wentworth as much the son of her heart as she regarded Anne the daughter, about as extreme a turnabout from her original opinion as it was possible to make.
Elizabeth continued to be resentful that the mousey Anne, shut away in the country, nevertheless, without putting forth any effort, seemed to attract rich, attractive, and powerful men like honey attracts bees, having been the first choice of the heir to a prosperous local estate, the lustful obsession of a peer, and the true love of a ruggedly handsome, and now comparatively wealthy Naval officer. And today Anne was become a married woman. Elizabeth had always regarded herself as the beauty of the family. Why was it that both of her younger sisters were married before her?
Mary Musgrove, née Elliot, initially indifferent, now thought Anne's new husband very well-looking, and thought the title "Captain Frederick Wentworth, R.N." very well-sounding. If they could have somehow contrived to obtain assurances that, on no account, would Captain Wentworth ever be elevated to the rank of baronet, or, worse yet, baron, her joy for her sister would have been unstinting.
Now married for the second time, which made them very married indeed, Captain and Mrs. Wentworth were off for London. Though the Season was over, there were still plays, museums, operas, and musical performances to enjoy.
From there, it was back to Portsmouth, where the refitting of the Laconia was almost complete. Wentworth set up a comfortable but unostentatious establishment for Anne and himself, in which Anne, by nature quite economical, could live comfortably, while he was at sea, on his fortune and pay supplemented by her modest but not insubstantial dowry and a wedding gift of five hundred pounds given by Lady Russell.
The war could not be ignored forever, and the day came when Captain Wentworth had to sail off to do battle for King and Country. Anne said a tearful goodbye to him on the docks before he walked up the gangplank.
"I remember you telling me that your sister traveled with the admiral when he was at sea," said Anne.
"Yes, dearest, but those were on peaceful waters. The Laconia is going off to fight a war, and I will not put you in harm's way. Someday, you will travel with me. But not until Napoleon is vanquished."
They gave each other one last, passionate kiss. Wentworth boarded his ship. Within a short time, it had weighed anchor, and was underway.
Anne watched until the Laconia had disappeared beyond the horizon, then went home and wept.
This was the first of many sad goodbyes that would occur between Anne and her husband until Napoleon's final defeat. As the war dragged on, and the years went by, she had her growing children to take her mind off her worry. But the worries never disappeared completely, and the goodbyes never got easier. Still, she took great pride, fully justified pride, in her husband's profession, and in his success at it.
Indeed, for all that she feared for the lives of her husband and his comrades, she nevertheless gloried in being a sailor's wife. Her tender nature made her fear for the captain's safety all the worse, but she would not have changed it. She regarded those fears as the tax she paid for being so privileged as to belong to that profession, that of military spouse, that is, if possible, more distinguished in its domestic virtues than in its national importance.The End