Posted on Thursday, 18 May 2000
(This is after Anne reads THE NOTE and starts for home. )Charles, in his real concern and good-nature, would go home with her; there was no preventing him. This was most cruel! But she could not be long ungrateful; he was sacrificing an engagement at a gunsmith's to be of use to her; and she set off with him, with no feeling but gratitude apparent.
They walked in companionable silence as the neared Gay street. It was however, not in Charles' nature to be silent for long. His amiability and concern for Anne led him to chatter pleasantly about the weather, Bath, the gun the smith had promised to show him which was like the double-barrel he had...
For her part Anne paid scant attention to Charles. He was, she knew, only chattering to fill the void and allow Anne her privacy of thought. How good of Charles to sense this, she mused. How unlike his regular attitude towards Mary whom he delighted in teasing through her many moods, trying as they were. In this case with Anne, Charles Musgrove seemed to understand she was agitated not ill and he was glad to be of service to his sister. She tried her best to listen and be grateful for his consideration, but oh, how she wished to be alone with Frederick's letter, or even Frederick himself!
Anne's attention was fully commanded with Charles next statement...a hunting party in the fall. Charles was still chattering.. Certainly Benwick, Wentworth, and maybe even Harville would join him. It would be a splendid time.
"Are you all right Anne?" Charles asked.
"You do seems out of sorts today. That's not like you."
Anne smiled tenderly, "Really Charles, I am well. Please don't concern yourself."
Charles was puzzled. What had disturbed Anne so? Suddenly, in one of those rare but delightful moments, Charles Musgrove had an illuminating idea. He remember the conversation Anne had with his mother just before they left. Anne had been so very concerned that Capt. Wentworth and Capt. Harville come to the party tonight. Why? He knew Miss Elliot had been very pointed in her invite of Wentworth, Mary speculated over it all that evening. Captain Wentworth and Miss Elliot. Was Anne matchmaking?!! And why Frederick and Miss Elliot? That seemed a dashed unlikely pairing. Where did Frederick stand on the matter? He was close mouthed about romantic stuff. Oh well, still waters. Quiet, deep feelings underneath. Very much like Anne. Anne? Anne and Frederick?? Perhaps....But her cousin...they're engaged ...aren't they?
Charles didn't like to speculate about others, but this idea of Frederick and Anne together, "I say Anne, I never took the opportunity to thank you for your presence of mind in Lyme, when Louisa...Anyhow I am pleased with how things turned out. Benwick's a good fellow."
"Yes he is. I enjoyed my conversations with him."
Charles smiled slyly, "I confess I'm glad my idea of him liking you never came to much. He and Louisa will do quite well together. Besides, I always thought you could do with someone a little more lively. Maybe someone like Frederick."
Anne turned crimson. Charles knew about Frederick!
"Well then your cousin is lively enough, from what others say."
Anne recovered she power of speech with some difficulty. "Charles, I don't think you should speculate about Mr. Elliot. I can safely promise I will never be attached to him." She confided.
"I thought as much." With that they reached Anne's home. "Well good day to you Anne. Get your rest. I'm inclined to think this evening will be quite entertaining. Perhaps I won't even mind missing the theatre."
How much did Charles know? Or suspect? Anne, in a state of shock, pondered these questions as she entered the house and, after disposing of her bonnet and pelisse, made her way, she hoped, unobtrusively, to her chamber. She needed solitude, reflection. This morning had been composed of so many events: her conversation with Capt. Harville, Frederick's letter, and then Charles being more aware that she ever really suspected. "Yes," she thought, "this day has been quite interesting. I wonder then what tonight will bring forth?"
Withdrawing the letter from her handbag and smoothing it, she read those exquisite sentiments once again. "You pierce my soul . . . " Not even the great poets had ever written such beautiful words.
Anne's delicate hand trembled and tears came unbidden and unrestrained. He loved her. She had, of course, realized this earlier, at the concert, but now here was proof in his own hand, his own words.
For Anne, who had restricted herself to a sensible facade, not emotional showings which received only censure from her family, not allowing herself to be overcome, with grief more than eight years ago, or with the agitation and dismal apprehension of Frederick's return, this letter, this marvelous testament, released the floodgates and Anne savored every tear of joy and expectation, every hope, every thought of future felicity. Anne began to hope.
"He must come tonight. What if he doesn't? How will I let him know? How will I let him know if he does come? I can't very well throw my arms and kiss him as he walks in the door. Though the idea has, it's . . . merit." Anne blushed, amazed at her own forwardness. "Well now, none of that. I know we shall find a way to speak tonight. If he does not come, then I shall send a message or park myself outside of his house tomorrow and wait for him to come out. So, what should I wear tonight?"
Anne rifled through her wardrobe muttering, "no...too severe...ugly...uncomfortable...maybe..." Briefly she considered asking Elizabeth's opinion but decided that Elizabeth would hardly give her approbation much less her assistance to Anne.
She settled on a lovely gown and called for Emily to have the gown freshened and pressed. And then Anne read the letter again, and again.
A maid interrupted her reverie. "Pardon me Miss, but your sister sent me to fetch you. Mr. Elliot has arrived."
Oh bother, she thought. "I'll be down momentarily."
"Miss Anne," exclaimed the gentleman upon her entrance. "How good to see you. I was just telling Miss Elliot and Mrs. Clay about my trip. I have only just returned and felt I must call upon my most honored and intimate family members to see how they are fairing with preparations for tonight. Your sister tells me all is well. I am sincerely looking forward to tonight."
"Indeed sir. And how was your journey?"
If Mr. Elliot was surprised or distressed at Anne's air of indifference and her direction of the conversation, he did not show it. He went on at length about the roads, the weather, and his delight at returning earlier than anticipated.
Anne realizing he had not mentioned what his business had been, little believing that he would be honest anyway, decided to have some amusement. As innocently as possible she looked up him.
"Mr. Elliot, I must thank you for your courtesy and gentlemanly assistance yesterday," Anne said.
"Yesterday?" asked a flustered and confused Mr. Elliot.
"Yes, I happened to see you and Mrs. Clay as I was at the White Heart visiting the Musgroves."
Mr. Elliot paled.
Anne continued, struggling to feign a look of innocence in the face of his annoying duplicity. "It really was most considerate of you to delay your journey to escort Mrs. Clay on her errand. I dare say there aren't many gentlemen like you."
"Yes Mr. Elliot," Mrs. Clay broke in, "I was really grateful for your assistance."
"Most happy to be of service. And now I must be on my way if I am to be ready for this evening. Good day to you Miss Elliot, Mrs. Clay. Until tonight Miss Anne." And he was gone.
Mrs. Clay had begun talking, "...really such a fine gentleman. Always so obliging and polite. And so handsome. Wouldn't you agree Miss Anne?"
"Um, yes indeed." Anne replied.
"Really Penelope. You would do well to take the carriage next time. You cannot always guarantee meeting such a gentleman as Mr. Elliot to assist you," interjected Elizabeth.
The footman entered to announce supper and the conversation became a recitation to Sir Walter of Mr. Elliot's visit.
Anne was generally silent, speaking only those phrases which acknowledged the conversation and prevented any questions regarding her activities of the day. Her mind was otherwise agreeably occupied with the letter and thoughts of seeing him tonight.
"I say Anne, you are looking quite well today. Are you anticipating this evening?" asked her father.
"Yes Father, I am looking forward to this evening."
"Quite right, and well you should be. Shall we adjourn to prepare?" With that pronouncement the meal ended.
That evening Anne surveyed the room. Everything was, of course, perfect. No one could fault Elizabeth's abilities or taste as hostess. Every detail was designed to please, and of course elicit the praise of the guests that these were the most elegantly appointed drawing rooms in all of Bath. The silver shined, the crystal sparkled, and even the candles had good sense to burn clean and bright for the evening.
Indeed Sir Walter and Elizabeth's joy was complete later that evening when Lady Dalrymple condescended to give her approval, albeit in the least effusive manner possible.
Mr. Elliot was of course the first to arrive, having calculated precisely how early he could arrive so as to not seem impolite but allowing for the possibility of a few minutes tête-à-tête with his dear cousin Anne. This scheme would have worked admirably had not certain circumstances contrived against him, not the least of which was Anne's own repulsion at the idea, leading her to keep any conversation superficial.
Adding to Mr. Elliot's difficulties were Mrs. Clay who doggedly simpered and fawned after him, and Elizabeth and Sir Walter who, having no other guests present, relied upon Mr. Elliot to praise their every effort.
It was an admirable performance by Mr. Elliot, pleasing everyone with his manners and opinions, save Anne who only would have been pleased if Mr. Elliot left or spontaneously combusted; his praise was sincere enough to please without being so effusive as to be thought fawning.
Lady Russell's entrance into the group provided a welcome relief for Mr. Elliot as she was now entreated for her praise and opinions allowing him to pursue Anne.
"Miss Anne," he said, "You do look lovely this evening."
"Thank you Sir. I believe you have already expressed that sentiment though." Anne was attempting to point out the folly of his repetitious praise.
Mr. Elliot, of course assumed, that she was encouraging him to continue with more flattery, and Lady Russell encouraged his efforts saying, "Yes Anne, but you really do look splendid tonight. Some praises are worth repeating. Especially if the recipient is intent upon such humble modesty as you often are Anne."
Anne was shocked at the audacity. Certainly Lady Russell did not have the facts about Mr. Elliot's horrible character that Anne had, but even so, to be openly encouraging and promoting his flattery was, well audacious and officious.
It was at this moment the Musgrove party entered and the application to praise Elizabeth's party was begun again, thus sparing Anne from any more of Mr. Elliot or Lady Russell.
The arrival of the Crofts was lost in the confusion and barely noted by any one, save Anne, who received them with all the warmth and affection she could offer.
Genuine feelings aside, Anne was also hoping Frederick and Captain Harville were among their party. As she was trying to enquire when, or heaven forbid if, the gentlemen were expected, Mr. Elliot came up and stood possessively close behind her.
"Admiral and Mrs. Croft, I do not believe you have been introduced to Mr. Elliot. He is our cousin and Father's heir."
Proper greetings were thusly made, giving Anne the opportunity to step away from Mr. Elliot. To her chagrin that insufferable man moved to her side again as soon as possible.
Anne wondered how to dispose of him, legally and morally, or if she would have to play cat and mouse with him all night. Too late she saw the reason for Mr. Elliot's move as "Captain Wentworth and Captain Harville" were announced and admitted.
Anne stood motionless, frozen as she beheld the man she had been looking forward to seeing all afternoon.
Frederick was here.
She stared toward them and Frederick caught her eye. His own gaze held a questioning look.
He was waiting for her answer.
There should be no doubt in any one's mind, except that of Frederick Wentworth, as to what Anne's feelings were. Her heart had been secured by Captain Wentworth more than eight years ago, and although Frederick had yet to realize this, any observant person in the room that evening could have noticed that Anne's joy lit up her face as she caught sight of Frederick.
Anne steeled herself against her desire to run across the room and greet him when he entered. There were too many things that needed to be said, needed to be worked out, before she could greet him publicly with that much enthusiasm. Instead, Anne decided a quiet approach was more in keeping with the present situation. At least until she could assure him of her feelings.
If the only road block to happiness between Anne and Frederick had been her response, matters would have been settled directly. Unfortunately for all, Mr. Elliot was an observant person and noticed the soft look Anne had for Captain Wentworth. He took hold of Anne's arm in a very intimate manner and stepped in front of her. This movement produced two results. It effectively blocked the way between Captain Wentworth and Anne, preventing her from moving to him; and it gave Wentworth the impression of an intimacy and understanding between Anne and Mr. Elliot.
Equally as unfortunate was that Frederick Wentworth, for his part, was not an observant person. Oh certainly, in matters of sailing and battle it could be said that he had acquired an ability to read situations; but this was a matter of the heart, and Frederick, like many of his sex, had no talent, and little experience, for discerning a young woman's feelings, especially those of Miss Anne Elliot.
He at one time had thought himself able to read her every thought, every emotion. That face, her countenance, at one time was so dear to him, so open to him. But that was before she rejected him and his anger and pride clouded his once clear judgment. Now Frederick was unsure. He knew only his own heart and what he hoped was in hers.
Would Anne reject him again? He thought he had seen something hopeful in her countenance before Mr. Elliot turned her away. Did she accept his letter? Or not.
Frederick swore softly. It was impossible for him to decipher what Anne's feelings were. He couldn't even see her face because of Mr. Elliot. Frederick began to despair that Anne was allowing Mr. Elliot's attentions. Perhaps she was avoiding him, that she disdained his sentiments and was trying not to reproach him in a public setting. Or was Mr. Elliot interfering?
Someone approached. It was Charles Musgrove.
"Captain Harville. Good Evening. Ought to be an interesting night eh? Frederick you look as if you're going to a hanging. You were in better spirits earlier this afternoon. Cheer up. The evening looks promising enough. At least we'll have some good food and wine tonight. Who knows, we might even have some entertaining conversation."
Frederick understood Charles and began to relax. He would wait and try to speak to her, to hear from her own sweet voice what her feelings were.
Anne was annoyed. She wanted to see Frederick and speak to him, and Mr. Elliot was in the way. How dare he imply there was an intimacy with her! How DARE he prevent her from going to Captain Wentworth! She knew must speak to Frederick before he misunderstood.
I know we must be secure and above petty jealousy, but Mr. Elliot is deliberately trying to provoke him. I do not think I would mind if Frederick offered to punch Mr. Elliot in the nose. Anne amused herself with such thoughts and she plotted her escape as the footman announce Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret.
Aha! Just what I need. Well, Mr. Elliot time to for you go away, she thought.
"Excuse me Mr. Elliot. I must greet our guests." Anne said coolly and removed her hand from his arm.
"Of course we should. Allow me." Mr. Elliot said as he took he hand on his arm again and held it there, leading her to Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret.
Anne tried to contain her apoplectic fit. She tried to remember that she, Anne Elliot was a lady, in manner and opinion, taught from the earliest by her own beloved mother how to behave, how to do her duty. It was with pride that she had conducted herself in life as her mother had wished.
However, this moment found Anne grinding her teeth in a very unlady-like manner while wishing some great misfortune to befall Mr. Elliot, IMMEDIATELY. Anne doubted even her mother would have objected to what she did next.
As quietly and as ladylike as is possible, Anne stepped her foot over into Mr. Elliot's path and leaned heavily on his arm. Mr. Elliot stumbled and uttered a loud oath, one which was NOT proper for an evening party at Camden place.
Anne smile sweetly, "Mr. Elliot are you hurt?"
"No, I merely stumbled. Please excuse my utterance." Mr. Elliot said. He took a firmer grip on her arm and continued on to greet Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret. Sir Walter then led the lady and her daughter to a table, signaling for the other guests to take their places.
Anne tried again to disengage Mr. Elliot. "You should take your place sir."
"And leave you unattended? My dear cousin, I cannot bear the thought of you sitting idly by while I play, especially when I can easily sit out to keep you company." said Mr. Elliot.
"Thank you for your consideration. I will not be idle. There are many friends I want to say hello to. I have yet to even greet Captain Harville and Captain Wentworth. Please sit and excuse me." What is his game and what will it take to disengage this leech? she wondered.
"I believe, " smirked Mr. Elliot, "that your sister is already welcoming them most effectively."
A glance showed Frederick standing rigidly as Elizabeth placed her hand on his arm and smiled graciously, indicating that he should be her partner. Anne turned back to Mr. Elliot with a stiff smile. "Indeed she is."
Sighing, Anne conceded defeat for this battle and vowed to try to speak to Frederick later. Even if she found a way to disengage herself from Mr. Elliot at the moment, she had no way of eliminating Elizabeth.
Anne began to doubt that there would ever be an opportunity for them to speak tonight. Her thoughts became depressed as she contemplated the evening. Oh, if only there was some way to speak to Frederick AND get rid of Mr. Elliot AND Elizabeth. I am no strategist and I am out numbered in this battle. I need to find an ally.
Her rescuer came as a surprise. Charles Musgrove crossed the room intently moving toward Anne. After briefly greeting Mr. Elliot and mumbling all the polite nonsense necessary, Charles firmly took Anne's free arm and stated that she must join his table.
"Yes, I know you don't play Anne," Charles was saying "But, Mama and Henrietta are anxious for your company and I have been sent to fetch you. They apparently need to tell you all about the wedding shopping and planning and all that folderol. Excuse us, Mr. Elliot. I'm afraid our table is already full and we have no room for you to join us," and he led Anne away.
When they were clear of Mr. Elliot, Charles whispered conspiratorially, "I took some liberty back there. Mama and Henrietta have said nothing about needing you. Forgive me, but that man had been holding your arm captive much too long for no purpose, and the look on your face was becoming murderous. Do forgive my presumption."
"Indeed I thank you for your gallant rescue. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever go free."
Charles laughed. "Any time madam. I shall be glad to perform the role of protective brother and arm-rescuer any time."
"I dare hope I shall not need such a service too often." laughed Anne.
"I'm glad to see you've recovered after this morning." Charles said.
"Yes, I believe I just needed a rest."
"Good, good. I ran into Frederick on my way home after leaving you. Actually I was going past the gun smith to see if he still had the double-barrel unpacked, anyway I made sure he promised to come tonight. And I see he did."
Charles deliberately led Anne past the table where Captain Harville, Mrs. Clay, Elizabeth, and Captain Wentworth were seated and then he stopped.
"Harville, Frederick. Didn't get a chance to say hello earlier. Good to see you." said Charles.
The gentlemen stood and greeted Charles and Anne. Captain Harville looked confused for a moment. Charles had said hello when they got there. Was Musgrove daft or up to something? He looked to Frederick for a clue but it was no use. Frederick Wentworth was staring at Miss Anne, oblivious to everything.
"Welcome Captain Harville." she said. Anne saw Frederick scrutinizing her and summoning all her courage she turned to him and gave him her hand. "Captain Wentworth, I am Delighted you came."
As their eyes met they finally understood one another.
Frederick smiled and said, "Thank you. I am certain this will be a memorable evening."
"I hope so."
"Anne, perhaps you could allow our game to continue. I believe Charles would like to return to his table as well." stated Elizabeth.
The gentlemen stiffened at Elizabeth's icy reprimand. Anne smiled in acknowledgment. She was too happy to give credence to any of Elizabeth's ill-mannered behaviour, thrilled to have spoken to Frederick and that he seemed to understand her acceptance. There would be time later for a private discussion.
"Captain Harville, Captain Wentworth. I hope I will have a chance to speak with you later." said Anne. She blushed as she made eye contact with Frederick and he mumbled in flustered agreement.
Charles led her to his table and the conversation there became quite lively with the friendly familial gossip and joking that exists between affectionate family members. Anne was in high spirits, Mr. Elliot, Lady Russell, even Elizabeth were all forgotten as she sat with the Musgroves through two games before the table broke up.
Harville, being little acquainted with the Elliots and the overall situation, wondered what was going on. From his perspective, Miss Anne and Wentworth were exchanging more than pleasantries, Miss Elizabeth looked as if she would like to snare Wentworth, Mrs. Clay was annoying, and Charles Musgrove looked as if he plotting something. He decided to take advantage of the moment to speak to Wentworth.
"Well, Wentworth, are you going to tell me what the deuce is going on or shall I just begin to speculate?" asked Harville.
"What? What are you about Harville?" asked Wentworth.
"I'm not blind, nor deaf. You and Miss Elliot were speaking more than just pleasantries earlier."
"MISS ELLIOT! Harville you are daft. I assure you I have no messages for Miss Elliot, secret or otherwise, save one -- Go Away."
"I find that hard to believe. You practically melted when Musgrove made such an obvious effort to bring her past our table."
"Musgrove brought her? Oh, you mean Miss Anne."
"Who else would I mean?"
"I thought you were referring to Miss Elizabeth Elliot."
"Good Lord man, I couldn't do that to my worst enemy. That lady is ...She just..." Captain Harville faltered in trying to describe Elizabeth politely. Finally he gave up and continued in his original vein. "Well, anyway. Miss Anne and yourself were definitely not engaging in merely idle greetings. SO, shall I begin to speculate? Or will you tell all?"
"Harville." Frederick sighed, "Your observations are correct. However, I cannot say anything until I speak more directly with the lady in question, lest I be accused of speculation. Things are not settled, yet."
"Well I hope to hear good tidings shortly. She is one of the best and kindest creatures I have ever met." said Harville.
"Yes she is. She always has been."
"Always? I take it that she was the reason for you odd behavior in Lyme, after the accident."
"Well yes. After you informed me there was no attachment between Miss Musgrove and yourself, I noticed that you became very solitary, always riding off alone, always lost in thought."
"I was obvious?"
"Yes, to me. Look Wentworth, I know from serving with you that you are not the solitary, pensive type. You prefer action to contemplation. To see you so in thought, I knew there must be something heavy on your mind. And then you left for Plymouth as if you didn't wish to be near anyone."
"Harville, You have always been good at reading situations."
"Then allow me to point out, I think perhaps your time is near. I see Miss Elliot, Miss Anne Elliot, alone at the punch bowl."
"Will you go and stop staring like a school boy!"
Harville grinned as Frederick tried to casually make his way to Anne. "Good luck my friend." he said to himself.
I'm finally finished with this. My thanks to Bridget -- her new found devotion to "Fred" (to the consternation of team Knightly) inspired me to finish this. ~Elli
Mr. Elliot surveyed the room. From where he sat he was able to see all of its occupants. It was just as well since his table companions were dreadfully dull. He had been pressed to join Sir Walter, Lady Dalrymple, and Miss Carteret after Charles spirited Anne away from him. Musgrove would pay for his interference. After he married Anne and received his inheritance, he would do everything he could to make the Musgroves miserable. Thoughts of revenge kept Mr. Elliot occupied for some time until Sir Walter drew him out of his contemplation.
"You're very quiet Mr. Elliot. Perhaps an evening of cards is not quite to your taste?" Sir Walter inquired.
Mr. Elliot smiled, "On the contrary sir. I find that your companionship is just what is needed to make an evening delightful."
"Perhaps it is not only Sir Walter's excellent company which keeps you in high spirits sir?" Lady Dalrymple said "I find Miss Anne Elliot to be quite agreeable as well. To be sure she is not as handsome as her sister, but she does speak well. You have spent some time in her company Mr. Elliot, do you find her to be agreeable as well?"
"Indeed, she has good opinions and excellent manners. Although your ladyship must acknowledge that I am still in mourning and to speak more on this subject would be highly improper." replied Mr. Elliot.
"Oh, pish posh Mr. Elliot. There is nothing wrong with admiring a young lady. No one is expecting you to court her now."
"Then in that respect, I agreed with you most heartily madam."
"However if you should wish to address the lady in the future, I'm certain it would be a favorable match. Wouldn't you agree Sir Walter?"
"Oh, yes, your ladyship. I believe I can safely agree that it is a favorable prospect." Sir Walter agreed and they cast a meaningful look from Mr. Elliot to Anne.
Anne was blissfully unaware is the machinations of her family as she left the Musgroves to get a glass of punch. She did notice Mr. Elliot fix a stare in her direction as she moved but determined that her best course of action would be to ignore him.
From his vantage point across the room Mr. Elliot kept watch on Anne. He was determined to press his suit (he had seen the looks she gave that sailor), regardless of how improper it was, before that sailor had a chance to appeal to her. Mr. Elliot was confident that he could flatter and woo his gentle cousin, and with the approbation of Lady Russell, and now her father, he was certain to win her regard. Then it would only be a matter of waiting for his "mourning" to be over and they would marry.
There was that little matter earlier in the evening, he knew he had gone too far and irritated Anne with his possessiveness. He needed to impress upon her how his devotion had carried him away - that he was simply unable to bear their being apart for even a few moments and could hardly wait until he was allowed to address her openly.
Ah, Anne. What a lovely wife you will be. The perfect Lady Elliot.
As he looked away from Anne, Mr. Elliot's eye came to rest upon Mrs. Clay. She noticed this and smiled, flushed slightly, and glanced down at her cards. Mr. Elliot's surprise at this seeming 'maidenly' blush disappeared as she bit her lower lip and boldly looked directly at him. He sucked in a long breath as she continued to openly stare and lick her lips.
Well, Well Penelope, being bold are we? Mr. Elliot glanced around the room to see if anyone had noticed the interchange. Everyone appeared to be busy and he sighed in relief. The impropriety of her actions added to the entertainment. There was something enticing about flattering and fooling these people, acting the Gentleman, yet indulging himself. All the more reason to wed Anne. She is perfect - respectable, quiet, unassuming, pretty enough for....., mild tempered enough that I can stand to be around her yet she would make no noise about any other activities I might wish to enjoy. Yes, life looks good. But I better do something about that sailor. Let Elizabeth have him and sharpen her tongue on his hide.
Mr. Elliot smiled and turned to Sir Walter, "I saw that Miss Elliot was enjoying the attentions of that naval captain tonight."
"Yes. He's not a bad looking fellow. I wouldn't be ashamed to be seen with him after I let my man do his hair. He has a nice fortune too." replied Sir Walter.
"He has quite an air about him." added Lady Dalrymple.
"That he does, but he doesn't seem to be as brash as he was."
"You've known him a good while then?" queried Lady Dalrymple.
"I believe we met many years ago. He seemed to have taken a fancy to Anne but nothing ever came of it. Just as well, he was too loud and poor then."
Mr. Elliot sat shocked as this last sentenced and the arrival of Captain Wentworth at the punch bowl where Anne, his Anne was standing alone, all of this sounded a death knell in Mr. Elliot's keenly aristocratic ears. No, tonight was not a good night.
Anne startled and spun around. Frederick held his breath in anxiety.
"Captain Wentworth." she smiled and her face lit up.
If it were possible to convey complete and total understanding in just a look, Anne and Frederick would have known the years of pain, bitterness, and loneliness were gone and that their feelings were now even better than the past, for they had matured, grown more confident in understanding and tolerant in disagreement; but they were new to each other, still hesitant to express feelings quickly without insurance. Thus they proceeded with a verbal dance, their words cloaked in tenderness and hope.
"May I trouble you for a glass of punch, Anne." His voice was soft and caressing. The accent he placed on her name caused Anne to blush.
Recollecting herself, she answered, "Yes, of course. Here you are Captain." Their fingers brushed lightly as he took the glass.
"Thank you, Anne." He said her name like that again. Anne's heart pounded faster.
"Please Captain, I was about to sit by the fire. Won't you sit a moment with me?" she gestured invitingly towards the fire.
The sitting area by the fireplace had the distinct advantage that while being fully open to the card room it was removed enough so that two people sitting by the fireplace might engage in a conversation without being overheard by the general populace. Anne took a seat on the sofa and Frederick choose a chair nearby.
There was an awkward silence at first; each tried to compose their thoughts into an acceptable opening sentence. The first few stammering attempts met with blushing smiles and a little frustration as they tried to express such deep feelings as they had in a public setting under occasional curious glances from the others.
Frederick finally spoke, "You read my letter." It was a statement more than a question. He knew she had read the letter and he could surmise by her demeanor that she did not reject his sentiments.
"Yes, I did." She smiled and her eyes finally shone with the love she had been repressing all these past months in his presence.
"And you approve?"
"Oh yes. It is a beautiful letter." Anne blushed charmingly at the remembrance of his words and Frederick was enchanted that he could have such an effect upon her. It was even more than he had hoped for. But he desperately needed to hear her sentiments. There needed to be no doubts now, no hidden or lingering hesitations about the future. They must be of one accord, so he pressed on.
"And your feelings?"
"Captain I cannot begin to express..."
"FREDERICK" Sophie Croft's voice cut through all conversation. "There you are. The Admiral, Captain Harville, and I wish for you to join us, come along. Excuse us, Anne. I'll return him to you directly."
"Sophie, be still a minute. I will join you shortly."
"Frederick." Sophie was exasperated. Her little brother never attended when she needed him. How was it that this man could jump at the command of an Admiral but still disregarded his sister?
"Very well, just be quick about it. Or I'll send the Admiral after you."
"Sophie we're not at sea."
"None the less. I need you to attend PROMPTLY" and she left in a huff.
"We can finish later Captain." said Anne. Seeing his frown she added, "We have many things to discuss but I think it would be best not to draw too much attention to ourselves tonight."
"Perhaps, you are correct. Though I despair that I might not have a chance again tonight. You seem to have a very possessive suitor."
"I would agree Captain. Annoyingly possessive. It was quite difficult to escape the last time."
"Indeed?" Frederick scowled at the possibility that Mr. Elliot had imposed upon or even hurt Anne. His began to mind contemplate numerous methods rendering Mr. Elliot impotent.
"Yes, despite my best efforts he refused to release me." Frederick's countenance darkened considerably more. Anne laid a hand on his arm and hurried to reassure him. "I was fortunate that Charles effected an escape. Though had he not, I would have certainly gotten away myself."
Her touch and light tone softened the situation and eased Frederick's mind.
"Perhaps I should plan to stage a rescue if he comes near you again?" he said, only half-jesting, and continuing to think of inviting ways of hurting Mr. Elliot.
"A tempting prospect, though I think it is more likely that I should rescue you. I see that your sister has made good her threat to send the Admiral after you." She gestured toward the other room. Admiral Croft was being urged by Mrs. Croft to come retrieve Frederick.
"Then I must be off. We will speak later?" He spoke hopefully.
"Yes, Captain. We will. But I think that we understand each other, do we not?"
"Yes, we do." He stood and smiled. "But, I ....."
Lady Russell entered, "There you are Anne."
"Lady Russell." He bowed.
"Captain." she nodded. "Excuse us please Captain, but I have not seen my friend for several days and I should like to visit."
"Of course. I was just about to attend to my sister. Ladies." He bowed properly and left.
"Now Anne, how are you?" Lady Russell asked affectionately.
"I am well. Very well indeed." Anne replied.
"You are glowing dear." Lady Russell smiled.
"I am? Really?"
"It would seem that someone's presence agrees with you."
For a brief moment Anne considered that Lady Russell was giving her approval to Frederick, but that was impossible. Lady Russell had no knowledge of the letter or anything else that had transpired.
"You mean Mr. Elliot" Anne stated flatly.
"I know nothing can be said now, but soon. I am pleased he has secured your good opinion." Lady Russell said.
"I believe," Anne tried breathing to calm her shaking nerves. It almost worked. "I believe you are mistaken madam."
"I have no good opinion of the gentleman. His manners lately have shown me that such regard is impossible." Anne marveled at her own courage and prayed Lady Russell would accept her opinion of Mr. Elliot. "I'm afraid I cannot go into the details under the present circumstance, however, I shall be glad to enlighten you at another time. Perhaps I may call on you tomorrow?"
"Yes, please. I am anxious to know what has upset you so. It must be very grievous indeed."
"Certainly dear. Tomorrow afternoon I will wait for you call."
"Thank you. I am going to take a turn about the room. Please excuse me." Anne rose and left behind a very concerned and bewildered Lady Russell.
A lively and spirited game ensued, with plenty of good natured ribbing and jesting. Anne sat by Mrs. Croft and Captain Harville, allowing her opportunity to stare freely at her Frederick. The conversation began with comments about Napoleon and the possibility of another war. They spoke of places they had seen, giving Anne descriptions of far off places and people.
Frederick was pleased to see Anne's interest and proud of her intelligent questions and observations.
"Miss Anne you have a good head on your shoulders." said the Admiral.
Frederick dearly wished he had been paying attention to the conversation. He wanted to know what Anne had said that the Admiral would offer up such high praise. He even remembered her name. Frederick had actually been more intent on watching how Anne's hair shone in the soft light and how her eyes sparkled with interest at the Admiral's description of the Indies. He was picturing Anne on board ship, his ship, her face glowing with excitement as they pulled into a new port.
The game ended and Anne, much fortified by the dreamy dazed look Frederick had been bestowing upon her all night, asked him to accompany her back to the sitting area.
As they left three sets of eyes watched and then turned to one another with eyebrows raised in amusement.
Sophie spoke first, "I had no idea."
"Well, my dear," said the Admiral, "I told you Bath would be good for the boy."
"Yes, you did at that my dear. They really are well suited for each other, aren't they?" asked Sophie.
"They are indeed ma'am," rejoined Capt. Harville.
"You don't seem surprised." stated the Admiral.
"I, um, had some previous information from him that something was afoot." Harville stammered under the intense gaze of the Admiral.
"Well, now let's get back to a game and leave the love birds in peace." said Admiral Croft, smiling softly at his wife.
"I never stopped."
"I know you find it hard to believe considering the circumstances..." she felt almost shy with apprehension. This was not the atmosphere in which she had hoped this conversation would take place.
"No! I mean I find it amazing that you would be so constant even when I was so harsh and cold."
"Your letter, you really meant...you love me?" Anne was almost whispering, afraid that if they were overheard it would bring about a premature end to the conversation, but there was no disguising the light of joy in her eyes.
"Anne, I have always loved you. I tried to deny it, to forget you, but I could not. Trying to forget you was like trying not to breathe."
The following moments were spent silently in that wonderful contemplation of newfound happiness which no worry could tread upon. They were almost unable to reined their delight to a proper visage for a public setting. Privately each soul danced in joy and happiness.
"I fear we must join the others soon." Anne said. There was still more to be said, more to be gone over, but this place afforded them little privacy for such discussion and Anne wished for them both to be able to speak freely.
"I am of the mind to speak further with you on certain subjects. Although this is not the place for such topics." Frederick said. "Is there any way I could call on you tomorrow?"
Anne had a sudden inspiration, "I am to call on Lady Russell tomorrow afternoon, early. Perhaps I might call on Mrs. Croft after? We could find a way to speak then. I think it would be better than trying to speak here. There are too many distractions." She was of course referring to Elizabeth and even Mr. Elliot.
"Yes I think that might be a good plan. Sophie is certainly more discreet. Shall we expect you for tea?"
And so it was that the lovers parted for most of the evening, save for a few whispered sentiments when the happened to cross paths and many loving looks across room and table and one more longer conversation.
As the evening wore down and the time came to part there was an opportunity for Anne and Frederick to engage in one more discussion which proved to be most illuminating and surprising. Frederick confessed his early hesitation about attending the party and that a chance encounter with Musgrove had confirmed his attendance.
Anne smiled, "Charles mentioned he had met you shortly after leaving me and secured your promise to come tonight."
"We did have the most extraordinary conversation. He informed me that although Henrietta and Louisa were to be married, that should I be so inclined, he would still be very pleased to call me brother."
"But Charles next sister is only 13, surely he would never mean..."
"Charles informed me he was speaking of YOU."
"Indeed he proceeded to expound upon the fact that I needed a good wife who was intelligent, with an elegant mind, and capable in a crisis, 'able to hold her own,' was the expression he used."
Anne blushed and began to chuckle. With her eyes bright with tears of amusement she told Frederick of her conversation with Charles wherein he suggested she should find someone more lively than Mr. Elliot, someone like Frederick.
"That sly dog." exclaimed Frederick. "I wonder if he could see our attachment before even we could, or if he was playing matchmaker."
"I don't know. But knowing how he loves to tease his family members, I'm inclined to think he was amusing himself," said Anne.
Frederick and Anne glanced across the room at Charles Musgrove, where he was getting some refreshments. Seeing their looks, Charles raised his glass in a silent toast and smiled.
They smiled in return, each privately vowing that tomorrow should include a call upon Mr. Charles Musgrove.
The morrow and the next several days would prove to be very busy for our lovers. They did have much to go over, a past to return to and emerge victorious over heartache and despair, to confirm the feelings which this evening had been hinted and understood, and promises once given which were to be renewed with the stronger understanding of each other's character. There were also the minute details of the past few months, especially the past week, to discuss, his arrival at Somersetshire and at Bath, Lyme, Mr. Elliot and all the petty jealousies experienced and well as the man's infamous treatment of Mrs. Smith. There would be time for all of this in the following days as they learned each others hearts and confirmed the steadiness of character each knew the other now possessed.
They would in time deal with Mr. Elliot, although truth be told, there was very little for Anne to do as Mr. Elliot took it upon himself to quit the field and retire to London, coming shortly upon the heels of a conversation with the noble Captain, who never did tell Anne the exact nature of the conversation. Anne suspicions however led Frederick to concoct many amusing tales of monsters and fair damsels for the entertainment of her and their children.
Of the others, certainly there was some hesitation on the part of Sir Walter and Elizabeth, him because his vanity was not flattered and hers because she received yet another disappointment, but generally they were wise enough to refrain from openly abusing Captain Wentworth, and in fact soon came to accept him with all the indifference needed to maintain their sense of dignity. They, after all, still had their cousins the Dalrymples. Mrs. Clay soon quit their sphere all together and was rumoured to have taken to London after Mr. Elliot, adding another chapter to the stories Frederick regaled his family with.
All of that would be for the future, but for tonight, tonight there could only be a lingering gaze as they parted and the slightest brush of a kiss upon her hand with which they could end their very long night.