Posted on Thursday, 24 April 2008
There had been a marked difference between before her wedding and after, Anna Croft reflected. Henry had been as kind as before, but he seemed more self-assured and less prone to saying scandalous things. Of course there had not been many visitors he could shock, except some curious busybodies whose parlours had a clear view of the church. Anna was in retrospect very glad that Sir Walter had been coaxed into attending the wedding. The busybodies in the village would think him above reproach because he was a baronet and if he lent his approval to the match, so must everyone else.
Henry had been different afterwards, she thought as she studied him. He had been proud and confident, only because he was married. She had not felt the same. When she examined her feelings she encountered relief and excitement most of all. There was much to discover when they were alone and it was now all perfectly acceptable. She had to tell herself that many times a day, as well as that nobody would ever find out, because she could not surrender herself so easily to any kind of passion.
What Henry would do with her when he took Sophia back, she did not know. Would he take Sophia back at all? She did not have the impression that Sophia was eager to go back to the Crofts. Sophia's reluctance and some of Henry's stories did not make her very eager herself, but she was fair enough to feel she could not have an opinion unless she had spent at least two weeks among them and as the eldest son's new wife, she was forced to do so. She would submit to that duty without complaining.
And what about Anne indeed? She had committed herself to taking care of Anne, but two things had happened: she had married and Captain Wentworth was back. He might not be back for long -- there was no telling that with a sailor -- and Anne would be on her own again if she abandoned her now. It would certainly feel like abandoning, unless she left Anne well-provided for, such as at Kellynch Lodge all by herself. However, Anne and Sophy's allowance would not allow for that, so Henry would have to approve of giving them a little more. Perhaps Anne and Sophia could manage together, but that meant that she would have to move in with the Crofts herself. Anna did not know what she preferred.
Henry had still not answered Sophia's question, but he was gravely contemplating his plate. "It would be easier if we did not each have people to look after," he said eventually.
"Whom do you have to look after?" Sophia wondered.
"Me." This surprised her and she remained silent.
Anna had never realised that Henry considered Sophia his responsibility while his brother was away and apparently Sophia had not realised it either. She hoped Sophia would not protest and say she was perfectly capable of looking after herself. Henry might feel hurt. Although his intentions had not been visible, they were good.
"And Anna has to look after Anne," he continued.
"But Frederick will be back," Anne said very quickly.
"I do not think that makes a great difference to her," he replied with a look at his wife. "Therefore we cannot decide very much before consulting you and possibly your husbands. I cannot possibly take all of you back to Minehead. Too many women."
"I do not see how you could leave your wife here when you go home, which must mean you plan to leave Anne here all by herself," Sophia remarked. "In that case, could I stay with Anne?"
"But Frederick --" Anne began to protest.
"Would you rather live somewhere alone without him? At least I can afford a nursery maid."
"Precisely what is wrong with Henry's family?" Anna finally dared to ask.
"Nothing," Henry answered.
Sophia was struggling for a tactful reaction. "Perhaps you are not as strange as I am and you will have no trouble. I never thought I was strange until I met them, but my opinion of myself matters little if I have to live with their opinion of me. They are also like the people Anne and I met in Plymouth, who were all too apt to think that every time a woman has a child half of her intelligence is passed on. My having twins means I have only a third of my understanding left, when really, of course, we are now much cleverer because we have babies."
Anne made a noise that could either be assent or amusement.
"Well, to be fair, Sophia!" Henry cried. "The first reason you gave for Anne not to live alone is that she would be able to make use of your nursery maid."
"That was clever of me."
"But it shows how your focus has narrowed if you can only think of nursery maids."
"That is only your ignorance and distrust of anything to do with infants, Henry. If I had approached the matter from the financial angle, taking a great detour past all kinds of learned terms, I should still have ended up at the nursery maid. But Anne and I are so clever we do not need such an elaboration. We can say 'nursery maid' and see instantly what it all entails."
He gave her a doubtful look. "Perhaps you understand why they think she is a little strange, Anna."
"I shall have no opinion on them until I meet them for myself," Anna said, but she smiled. "Which I know I must, but I do not know whether to do so before or after Captain Wentworth comes here. I do not expect you can stay here that long, Henry, but I think I ought to see the man before he is sent away again."
Since she considered herself partly to blame for Anne's situation, she could not rest without having spoken to Captain Wentworth to clear the air. She would clear the air; Anne had spoken favourably about him. Whatever she had thought of him before must be forgotten. He would be a part of their lives from now on and she had best get along with him. Her duty to Henry's father must be postponed for a little longer.
"Perhaps Henry could go home and warn his family, and then bring back all my belongings that are still there. I am not looking forward to travelling again with the twins. They spit on the way back. I am sorry about the upholstery," Sophia added in the same breath.
"It is is of no consequence," Henry gestured indifferently. "I married a woman with a carriage of her own. The carriage with the baby spit can be used by the rest of the family."
"Oh, you simply bought independence..." Anna said softly. She did not want to tease him very much and she did not know whether she wanted him to hear or not.
"Indeed. I was attracted to your material assets."
The smile that accompanied his words made her blush. She hoped Sophia and Anne had seen neither of their faces. As Henry was often desirous to remove certain material assets -- which was not the same as succeeding in it -- she could not think he cared for them at all.
Anna felt she had to remind him of his words that evening. "Why do you want to throw everything out of the bed? I thought you were attracted to material assets and not to me."
"I cannot even feel you for all the material assets you are hiding under and behind," he complained. "Surely you could do with one pillow and one nightgown only? Or none?"
"In a cold month like January I like to be ensconced in a little nest," she said gravely. No nightgown! He must be insane. "You did not complain before."
"Well, it was at first exciting enough to be near your little nest. You are not wearing two nightgowns to make my life more difficult, I hope."
Anna explained how it mattered little, but before he would try that out, she spoke on. "Are your family really very strange?"
"No, of course not. They are simply not used to women and part of their reaction to Sophia is entirely her own fault. It would not have happened had she had babies straight away."
She did not understand why that was so. The only reason she could think of was rather shocking. "Do they think they are not your brother's?"
Henry was surprised by the question. "No, is that an option? I suppose so, but they do not think that. They would have thought her less strange if she had appeared in a Navy uniform herself. But with babies..."
At that same time, Sophia was speaking to Anne. Contrary to the others they were not in the same bed, but Sophia was equally well ensconced in many nightclothes. "We shall quibble if we live together. I suppose it cannot be avoided, although there will be many rooms to hide from each other. I do not know if you could live with me," she said to Anne.
"I never quibble."
"Yes, you do."
"I do not."
"There," Sophia said in satisfaction. "You do. But could you live with me?"
"Of course I could live with you. I know you are only temporarily annoying because Captain Croft is away. But what if he comes back? I shall feel quite superfluous." It would be better than being alone, but the moment the captain returned, he and his wife would do everything together again. Unless their current time apart had altered their habits sufficiently. Anne contemplated that. If they could grow into doing everything together they could grow out of it.
"I do not want to think of when he comes back because it involves thinking of his going away again. I am trying to forget the man."
"Oh, do not!" Anne cried in shock in case Sophia was serious. "Because I am sure he is thinking of you every day."
"Well, I am thinking of him day and night and I cannot take it anymore," Sophia said tersely. "I must forget about him to preserve my sanity."
"You know you will neither forget about him nor lose your sanity. You are being very dramatic and it does not suit you." She wanted to knock Sophia over the head with a pillow, but that was a very juvenile thing to do, as well as very cold if she got out of her bed.
"I am not at all dramatic; I am trying to be practical about our living arrangements. Do not bring that man into it. I should prefer not to live with his family if there is an alternative. If Henry took Anna to live with him, this house would be empty. Would Anna charge you rent?"
"It is my father's house. I do not know. But perhaps they want to stay here."
"We can stay here with them in that case. Oh!" She held her head to one side and strained her ears. "Have they caught on that I am gone?"
"It sounds like a howling cat outside," Anne said dryly. She did not think it was a baby. "But perhaps we had best speak of this in the morning, in case they really find out you are gone."
She pondered the situation when Sophia was gone. Her mother's sudden marriage could be a complication, but it had been a relief that she would not be on her own. It was also a relief that her mother insisted on speaking to Frederick.
Although his first impulse had been that he wanted her to be away, she did not think he really believed that solved anything. He was too clever for that. It was better indeed to speak to each other and it sounded as if her mother was not going to aggravate Frederick too much. Perhaps loving somebody made her more understanding of others who loved.
Anne hoped she would in time be capable of suppressing the desire to giggle at the idea of older people in love. How could she raise her child if she was still such a child herself? She might benefit from the wisdom of the older women. For that reason it might be good to have them near, although Sophia was at times very silly when she was going through one of her spells of missing her husband.
She hid herself under the warm blankets and imagined Frederick coming home and being warmly received by everybody. He would then be charming in return and win them all over the way Sophy did. He would also be surprisingly rich and never have to go to sea again and they would live happily forever with their children. Anne could not decide on the number. If he stayed here there would be more than if he went to sea, she supposed. Half a dozen would be nice, with all their best character traits evenly distributed over the boys and girls and they would play peacefully with their cousins, of whom she wished there could be a few more as well. Some boys to play with her boys, at least.
Sophia for her part fell asleep wondering why she had not chosen to live alone in the first place and why she could not do so now. She must have a great need to have people around, because she believed she could certainly afford a house of her own. They had saved enough money over the years by not having one. When it came to company, however, she found the Crofts sorely lacking. She would prefer the young Anne or the stiff Anna, who were now both her sisters. It was interesting to have such different sisters, but of course the two were not married to brothers.
Henry amused her. Anne and he were well matched in stiffness, but they seemed to be relaxing already. They could be decent company if she chose to live with them, wherever that would be. Anna was a trifle more sensible than Anne, but the latter also had a child. A playmate for her girls and another mother to speak to were important considerations. Perhaps she would like all of them to remain together so nobody had to choose anything.
Posted on Tuesday, 29 April 2008
For a few days life continued uneventfully. Mr Croft left for the north of the county to speak to his father and the ladies were left by themselves. Edward had visited as soon as he had heard of their return and he had been very happy to hear everything had gone so well. He had only stayed briefly because other matters needed his attention, but Anne understood that men with a profession were not always free to do as they liked. Her father was and he had visited more often, sometimes alone and sometimes with his eldest daughter. Elizabeth had done her duty to the newly-married Mrs Croft, but she had not liked it. Calling on a Lady Russell was always more interesting than calling on a mere Mrs Croft.
It would have counted in Elizabeth's favour had she displayed any interest in her niece Sophy at all, but she had not. Mary and she had been appalled that their sister had given up her life and prospects for a sailor and a child, and this feeling had united them while Mary had still been at home. Now that Mary was at school, however, Elizabeth had no choice but to visit sometimes and feign politeness. That Sir Walter had not given up his frequent visits to the Lodge must be a great horror to her and she did not always accompany him. Anne had not been sorry to see so little of her sister, although she wished they were better friends. She felt she was almost better friends with Sophia already and that was merely her sister by marriage. As long as there were many rooms and distractions, there was no need to aggravate each other, even if it had been very slightly during their journey.
The new Mrs Croft displayed very few signs of missing her husband, which astonished Anne and Sophia alike. Sophia had even gone so far as to inquire cautiously if she was perhaps glad he was gone.
This question had surprised Anna considerably and she had needed an entire day to come up with an answer. "I suppose you think I am indifferent to Henry's absence because I am not worried about his return. But he is not at sea."
"Worse; he will be diving into it," Sophia replied.
This was a strange remark and she frowned. "Diving into it? What can you mean?"
"They live on the coast. They are fond of sea bathing."
"Not in January, surely." Anna was confident. Henry was not as foolish as that. It was cold. He was a gentleman besides. She knew nothing of sea bathing where he lived, since she had only been to the fashionable towns herself, but it could not possibly be a wild affair.
"There are things you do not yet know," Sophia said ominously.
"I cannot be worried by such a remark, Sophia."
"Perhaps you mean to put an end to such practices. I wish you luck. I never managed, but I was more persuadable than they were."
"Sophia," Anna said with a distasteful look. "You know that makes it sound as if a group of young men enticed you in."
"Yes, that is exactly how it sounds," Sophia agreed and she chuckled. "I wonder why."
She was still thinking of it when Sophia had long left the room. "Tell me, Anne. Would that be the influence of that family or of a sailor?" In other words, would it happen to her or not? There was much to which Henry could persuade her, but none of that had been of this nature. He would not want her to behave in an unladylike manner, if only because he would know she would feel uncomfortable.
"Oh, the family. She spoke in the plural," Anne said with a grin. "But I doubt they would try anything with you." She also doubted that Frederick would try anything of the sort with her, although she was of course still young and silly enough to follow him of her own volition.
"Persuading Henry to live here is starting to sound more appealing by the day," Mrs Croft mused. "I do like my independence here. His father, I suppose, decides everything." It had been a long time since she had lived with a man who decided everything. She was used to deciding things on her own and Henry had not shown signs of wanting to interfere with that.
"Fathers tend to do that."
"I wish yours would decide more," she said a little sharply. "He kept coming here to ask me something or other. But do not worry about that," she said when Anne began to look concerned. "He has not asked me anything in a few days. Having only Elizabeth with him helps, I think."
Anne did not look as if she thought having only Elizabeth would help anybody in the least, but she wisely kept silent.
The next to visit them was not Sir Walter, fortunately, but Edward. He apologised profusely for not having had any time sooner, but he explained that he had been very busy with parish business and writing articles. He made up for that by displaying the appropriate interest in his three nieces.
"I wonder if Frederick minds speaking to somebody if he comes back," he said at some point.
"I hope he will speak to somebody," Anne laughed, but she knew him too well to doubt such a thing. He enjoyed talking. "We should all think him very boring otherwise."
"I meant somebody in particular. I happen to be acquainted with somebody whose son wants to join the Navy, but she is worried about it. Her son has the wrong impression, she believes. She would like to speak to Frederick."
"I am sure he will not mind." Anne thought of it for a second. "Perhaps this mother could also speak to Sophia, because Sophia will probably understand better what a mother might fear. Frederick might not."
"Frederick would not indeed. But I do not know about Sophia. I think she has shot people." He had lowered his voice and now looked around furtively, but Sophia was busy elsewhere and would not hear him.
"Really?" Anne's eyes grew huge. She could not imagine any woman shooting people, not even Sophia.
"I do not think it would be in my best interests for the wife of Dr Greene to find out that my sister has been fighting like a common sailor -- if she has, which I have never dared to ask, but I rather fear she is more familiar with guns than she ought to be."
"If she has never told you, why should she tell the wife of Dr Greene?" Anne asked very reasonably. She hoped it was merely Edward's fear and not the truth. She could neither imagine Sophia shooting, nor Captain Croft allowing it. "Is he someone important?"
"I am his curate."
"The sins of the sister will not be visited upon the brother, I am sure. Is he a reasonable man? Did he forgive you for Frederick's...er...elopement? Does he know about that? He does, does he not?" She thought she had seen the man when she had been living at Edward's house. Now that she remembered the man again, she also remembered he had a daughter.
"I think he is reasonable. Perhaps you are right. Nobody would think of blaming you for your family's faults either."
"Edward!" Anne was not sure whether to be shocked or amused that he said such a thing. "I never knew you thought my family had faults."
"Their treatment of you was a fault. I am glad it is all coming right. Will you live here?"
"We are not yet sure. There are so many possibilities and now that Mama has married..."
"Yes, yes, I am all for people marrying, as you know," Edward said very seriously. "And in their case I was especially glad that they were persuaded to marry, since they were carrying on very shockingly."
Anne was shocked indeed. "Oh Edward, I am sure there was nothing of the sort. They are older."
Edward betrayed some cynicism. "Older only means more shameless."
She did not want to know anything about things she could not imagine and Lady Russell carrying on shamelessly was too much of an impossibility. It was best to speak of something else. "What are those articles that you wrote?"
"Very tedious ones, but I am hoping to make some money by getting them published."
"Published! Oh, that would be very nice. If you make some more money you can save up for your marriage."
Edward gave her a piercing stare. "My marriage? Why do you say that?"
"It would be very nice if you got married," Anne said brightly. "Do you not think so? Your brother and your sister are both married now. Do you not know a nice girl you could befriend?" The only girl they both knew was Miss Greene and she was nice. He could not deny knowing nice girls.
He was appalled. "I hope you are not seriously advising me to befriend a nice girl for the purpose of marrying her. Why is everyone thinking I am thinking of marrying?"
"I know you are not thinking of it, so I was trying to make you think of it," Anne corrected. "But who else?"
"Old women in Monkford."
"Perhaps it is your age -- and your not really being as poor as you always claim to be. I made an estimation of the costs of having a baby yesterday. Would you like to see it? You might be pleasantly surprised."
"Anne, I believe you instantly. There is no need for me to see the figures. Besides, I do not think babies cost so very much -- wives do!"
"That is why you can only have one," she laughed. "But if you want I can make an estimation of those costs as well. I should take myself as example, not someone like Elizabeth. Our costs will vary."
"Do not trouble yourself on my account," he said stiffly. "I know I cannot afford a family."
Anne had not interpreted his words very literally, however. "Edward is considering marriage, but he does not want to admit it," she said to Sophia.
"Do you not mean you are considering marriage for him?"
"I should never do such a thing if I did not have a clear suspicion that he can in fact afford a wife," Anne defended herself.
"Being able to afford a wife is not exactly the same as considering marriage," Sophia pointed out very calmly. She hoped she would not have to tell Anne she was being ridiculous, but at some point that might be inevitable.
"He is afraid."
"Anne, my dear. You are getting carried away. Why should he be afraid of getting married? There are many things that are much more frightening."
"I know he is your brother, but that does not mean he should also be able to make up his mind about marrying a girl he has just met. He may be afraid his feelings are not returned."
"But one knows when they are!"
"No, one does not know. Not always. Not immediately. Mama?" Anne applied to her mother for help.
Anna sighed. She had hoped to stay out of it. "No, one does indeed not immediately know, not without help, but I am not at certain that Edward can afford a wife or that he is even thinking of marriage. He seemed unchanged in that regard. There. Both of you are right."
"Mark my words," Anne threatened, but in a good-natured tone.
It was almost a fortnight since they had left Plymouth and although Anne was growing increasingly excited, she was not really expecting Frederick yet. She counted in fact on closer to three weeks than two, since there were always unexpected delays coming up. He had written once to let her know what he was doing and he had not written of any difficulties then, but they could still occur.
Captain Croft had written as well and Anne was still feeling happy for Sophia as she dragged Sophy about outside. Sophy was crawling over the dry ground and Anne was doubting whether she should allow it. It might be cold and dirty, but so far it did not seem to deter her daughter at all. Since she had to keep her eye on the ground to make sure Sophy did not eat anything, she paid no attention to her surroundings.
Suddenly Sophy squealed and increased her pace.
"Sophy! Frederick!" She would like to run towards him, but she could not leave Sophy where she was. Because Sophy had no intention of remaining where she was either, they would have to progress slowly, unless Frederick joined them -- which he did not appear to want. "Frederick!" she cried again, but now with a vexed undertone. He could be a little more helpful.
"What is it?"
"No, I like that." He pointed at them and grinned. "Come here."
Anne supposed it must look different from his angle and she resigned herself to reaching him very slowly, especially when Sophy spotted a twig that was suddenly more interesting than her father. "Sophy!"
Sophy looked stupid.
"Where is your father?"
Although Sophy had been excited about him moments before, she no longer seemed to care. She sat back and unhurriedly examined her twig.
"She is very dirty," Frederick observed.
"But she likes it so much outside," Anne said defensively because she had had the same comment from the other women in the house. She lifted Sophy up and walked towards him.
Posted on Tuesday, 6 May 2008
When Frederick had greeted them -- in a most satisfactory manner, Anne would say -- Anne took him and Sophy inside. He had hardly anything with him, which surprised her, but he said it was still going to arrive on a cart. She was pleased he had felt in a greater hurry than that.
After washing Sophy's hands she first took him to see Sophia because that was easiest, knowing that a conversation with her mother would take much longer. He knew it too and kept his greetings to his sister short on purpose. "You had better take me to Lady Russell now," he said to Anne in a very serious and courageous tone. This was the woman's house; he must see her. It was something that could not be avoided and it had best not be put off.
"Yes," she answered, but a little fearfully, as if she was the one going into a difficult meeting. "I have to tell you, however, that she has married while we were in Plymouth."
"Married?" That was absolutely the last thing he would have expected. He had reckoned with her being away or being unwilling to see him, but never with this. Of course she might still be unwilling to see him, he realised a moment later. He did not expect that having a husband would lead to her suddenly embracing everybody else's husbands as well. "How does that affect matters?"
Anne wondered if it affected anything at all. "Well, she is no longer Lady Russell, but Mrs Croft and you should probably address her accordingly -- although I am sure she would not mind if you did not."
"Croft?" he cried. "Who did she marry?"
"Captain Croft's brother."
"But -- but are his brothers not all very much younger?" He frowned as he tried to recall what age Lady Russell might be. He had always thought of her as middle-aged, a period in life Captain Croft had not yet reached, as far as he knew, and neither had his brothers. Was Lady Russell then younger than he had always assumed? He had always tried to pay her little attention.
"A few years," Anne shrugged. "Not enough to matter, I suppose. Do not ask me about her marriage. It may make more sense after a few days. It does not yet make complete sense to me, but I have accepted it. Let us go and see her now. Would you like to speak to her alone or should I come with you?"
"You seem more nervous than I am -- if I were nervous," he corrected himself. "Which I do not think I am."
"Of course not," Anne smiled. "She has no weapons. Perhaps you and Sophy should go alone. Or you could go without Sophy, if you prefer."
"But you think we make a good impression if we go together. I shall try, but if she is too much of a distraction I shall call for you." He took Sophy from her and looked left and right. "Where is the woman? I am ready."
"Lady Russell," he said with a bow. "Mrs Croft." It was strange to say that. The appellation had always belonged to his sister and to no one else. Sophia had been the only Mrs Croft in existence. That there were now two of them so near was very odd. People might get confused. He could now see she was not extremely old. Perhaps she was indeed only a few years older than Captain Croft's brother, although of course in manners and behaviour she was ancient.
"Captain Wentworth. Anne told you, I see," she replied.
"Please accept my best wishes on your marriage," Frederick spoke, but he felt she could hear his insincerity. He cared nothing for her happiness and he could not feign it. "I hope you and your husband are in excellent health."
"Thank you. We are. I hope you are in good health yourself." It sounded equally stiff.
"I am." He wondered if it was up to him to broach the difficult topics if she only kept replying, but he was not afraid. He could not like the woman, but by now he could not feel much anger anymore. He had got what he wanted, despite her machinations. He had triumphed, thanks to Anne. "I was surprised when Anne came to see me."
"You had not expected her to come," she stated.
"No, I had not expected her to come. I had no reason to think she would defy conventions, given how we parted. I did not know about Sophy," he said, looking at the infant in his arms. Sophy had given Anne a reason to seek him out, thankfully. She would otherwise have waited for him to come to his senses, something Lady Russell would want him to admit would never have happened. He did not know; it had never come that far.
"Did you not?"
He did not like her scrutiny and he winced. "Of course I did not know about Sophy. I know how it must have looked. I took advantage of a girl, without the intention of taking any responsibility for the consequences. But I never knew it would have such consequences."
Lady Russell -- no, Mrs Croft -- looked unconvinced.
Frederick knew Anne had spoken to her. Anne must have persuaded her that he was not as guilty as he appeared, yet she gave no indication of having changed her mind at all. But this was not the moment to leave matters untouched. If she had not yet changed her mind, he must give her a reason to do so. Anne would want it. "I reached the mortifying conclusion that I was not as informed as I would have liked," he said coolly. "Will you be wanting the details, madam?"
Contrary to his expectation she nodded. "Yes. Anne would not give them."
He explained himself, but she did not laugh or look disapproving. She remained very serious and he was glad for that. It was so much easier to explain if he was not instantly mocked or considered a rake, something that no doubt cost her considerable trouble. "And that is the truth," he concluded.
"Your brother has a book," Mrs Croft said. "You may benefit from reading it. It covers some of this topic in detail."
Frederick did not know whether to be more surprised at the advice or at who was giving it. "A book? My brother? How do you know?"
"He came to me with a question about that book. I examined it."
This was all very difficult to follow. He did not want to speak of a book. It distracted her from the more important matters. "Never mind my brother's book. Do you believe me?"
"Nobody could have invented such a reason," she said slowly. "But it does not entirely acquit you. You were not supposed to have done anything at all."
In theory that was of course the truth and he could not deny it. He could, however, explain the circumstances that had led him -- them -- to ignore these rules. "She had accepted me. There was no reason to think our marriage was not going to be very soon." His sister had married quickly. His observations of others and his own disposition were all in favour of a similarly quick marriage. Even Anne had initially been in favour. There had been no reason to fear anything might go wrong.
"If you did not think you had to wait long to be married, Captain, why did you have to hurry in taking what would have been yours in a very short time? When you could easily have been patient?"
Frederick coloured. "I did not take what was mine. That is not how I viewed it -- nor is it how I view it now." He had not taken anything from Anne. She had given him something, but more adequately they had shared something. "You could just as easily accuse her of taking what would have been hers in a short time."
This reversal of the matter sounded rather odd to Mrs Croft, for she stared. Apparently her marriage had given her no insight into love and Frederick sighed in frustration. "Do you understand love at all?"
"I love Anne," she saved herself.
"But not Mr Croft?"
"He is not relevant to this discussion," she said stiffly.
"If you think so you will never understand me." He wondered if she understood. There was a slight blush, if he was not mistaken, but it could mean anything. She could simply be wanting to annoy him.
She said nothing for a few moments and turned away. When she turned back, her face was expressionless. "Very well, Captain. You did what you did because you loved Anne and she loved you. Why did you not come back to her instantly if you loved her so much?"
He supposed she was referring to his letter to Edward, of which she undoubtedly had some knowledge. If Edward had brought it here, everybody had probably been allowed to read it. He had not been honest in his letter, but he could be honest now. "I was afraid. I did not want to be rejected and doubted again. Although my circumstances had improved, I did not believe those ought to matter more than love. I have revised my opinion. I could never unfeelingly have left Anne in circumstances that were beneath her, no matter how much I loved her. It would have weighed upon me." He had not been able to look far enough ahead, which was difficult to admit. He disliked making such mistakes, being very confident of his ability to think and reason. But even with his abilities it happened, it seemed.
"And now? In which circumstances could you leave her now?"
He could describe them, but he was not entirely sure. Besides, anything he described would likely not meet with her approval, used as she was to wealth. "My lieutenant has a wife and child. I saw how they lived. Anne would have fewer problems with living modestly than I should for her sake, but I can afford something better." He paused. "I thank you for taking care of Anne until now."
"But you will take it from here."
"It is my duty." He did not doubt she could provide a better home, but he felt compelled to say this. It was his duty and he should be prepared to do it. He should at least let her know about that, whatever the arrangement they would eventually settle upon. "And you are married now."
Mrs Croft shook her head. "That should not play a role. I am not going to abandon Anne simply because I chose to get married, but I will not fight you for the privilege."
That would be ridiculous. "It is my wife and I am able to take care of her."
"I have settled money on your daughter." She looked as if she expected him to disapprove.
"It is very generous of you not to let my daughter suffer for my mistakes." There would have been some uncertainty about his return and providing for the child herself would have been the best option. He could not help but admit that. "But I cannot help but wonder why you did not offer this money when I was engaged to Anne."
"It did not occur to me," Mrs Croft said honestly. "And would you have accepted? I doubt it."
"That is likely. I should then not have considered it a gift to Anne and Sophy." He would have thought it insulting, perhaps, but at the very least that it questioned his abilities and character. It would not have been easy to accept assistance. Now, he could see it for what it was.
"You have been very good to them," he continued. It occurred to him that she might have sacrificed much of her time to take care of them. She had not only provided money and a room in her house, but she would have spent much time in their company as well. "I wonder that you had time to get married. Or did the baby give you ideas?"
Mrs Croft was in the process of of smiling, which went rather slowly, but at these words she stopped. "What does a baby have to do with my marriage?"
"Oh, and you blame me for not having made the connection!" Frederick cried instantly.
"I do not want our conversation to veer off in that direction, Captain," she said in a brisk voice. "I did blame you at the time, although I believe your reasons now. If you prove yourself to be an excellent husband and father I may even come to regret my interference in your engagement."
"It is my intention to be an excellent father and husband," he said with a nod. "By my and Anne's standards. Perhaps you and Mr Croft employ different ones."
"He is not relevant to this discussion," she said again. "But Anne's happiness will be indication enough for me. We are all different. What some of us were taught may influence us in later years and it may be difficult to change -- but not impossible."
"I hope Mr Croft will be an excellent husband and father as well." He wondered why he said so. He had earlier told himself he cared nothing for her happiness. The opportunity for mischief could not be passed up, he supposed, and clearly the idea of Mr Croft as a father unsettled her. He wondered why. Had he been told which brother it was? He had met them all once upon a time, but he remembered very little.
"I was thinking of letting Anne and you live with us, but I see this is going to be quite vexing. I shall let Mr Croft put you in your place." She gave him a brief smile and left him and Sophy alone.
Frederick scratched his head. "Good? Bad?" he asked Sophy, but she only grinned. He supposed it was good then. They were to live here for the time being and Lady Russell was not going to put him in his place. The future could have been worse.