After reading Captain Wentworth’s heartfelt letter, Anne is overcome with emotion, and worried that she may not get the opportunity to speak to him. She’s determined to make sure he understands that he is invited to her family evening party. Her brother-in-law Charles escorts her outside where she looks anxiously about to see if the captain is anywhere to be found.
Charles spent so long putting on his coat and adjusting his hat in the pier glass I thought we’d never get out. We would never find the captain, I was sure, and more than anything I wanted to see him. Though I’d read his exquisite letter, I would not believe the words until I’d seen his beloved face. We were stopped again at the door by the manservant, and then Charles struck up a conversation with him on the number of gunsmith shops in Bath, all the while my heart was hammering.
And then we were out in the thick of the throng. My mind was in a whirl as I looked left and right. The sight of a dark head made me jump in recognition, but it wasn’t him after all. We were in Union Street, when a quicker step behind, a something of familiar sound, gave me two moments’ preparation for the sight of Captain Wentworth. He joined us; but, as if irresolute whether to join or to pass on, said nothing, only looked. I could command myself enough to receive that look, and gazed at him as warmly as I knew how. I felt my cheeks glow in response to the earnest look that he returned, and then he was by my side.
Presently, I heard Charles say, ‘Captain Wentworth, which way are you going? Only to Gay Street, or farther up the town?’
‘I hardly know,’ I heard his answering voice, and I was struck with fear that he was still uncertain of the warmth of my feelings for him. Again, I gazed up at him with all the love I had ever showed upon my countenance, an expression he surely had not forgotten from times past. The years fell away as I gazed upon him … to me he had not changed. He was still the handsome man I’d known in my youth.
‘Are you going as high as Belmont? Are you going near Camden Place? Because if you are, I shall have no scruple in asking you to take my place, and give Anne your arm to her father’s door. She is rather done for this morning, and must not go so far without help, and I ought to be at that fellow’s in the market place. He promised me the sight of a capital gun he is just going to send off; said he would keep it unpacked to the last possible moment, that I might see it; and if I do not turn back now, I have no chance. By his description, a good deal like the second-sized double-barrel of mine, which you shot with one day round Winthrop.’
Captain Wentworth nodded, his eyes holding mine, as Charles talked away in the background. I do not think either of us heard a word he said. All I could think about was Frederick’s letter, and the words he’d written kept repeating themselves in my head, and it seemed to me that his eyes conveyed his heartfelt sentiments, as we stood silently drinking in the powerful sense that our souls were united at last, whilst all of Bath rushed past us in a blur of noisy confusion.
You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you.
I’d read the letter over and over, devouring the words hungrily, committing to memory the words that thrilled my senses. The words I’d longed to hear, composed in his letter that told of the love I’d thought was lost and never to be found again, came to me now, as the Captain’s eyes held mine so intently I had to look away.
‘Charles, do not worry, I shall be happy to accompany Miss Anne.’
I bit my lip in an effort to rein in the smile that wanted to turn into a laugh of sheer delight at the happiness I felt inside. If I could only convey my happiness at that moment, my spirits were dancing in rapture. He had understood. Frederick knew I wished to be with him as much as I ever had – at least I hoped he did.
Charles continued to speak but I could only see my captain, and time seemed to stand still. At last my brother-in-law rushed away, and we were alone.
‘Miss Elliot, may I accompany you home?’
His hand was outstretched towards mine, and as I nodded, too timid to speak immediately, he took my hand and hooked it into his arm. As we walked, the nearness of him was almost too much to bear. It felt as if time had skipped back to the past, that the years of separation had melted away. I was young once more, newly engaged, and walking at the side of my fiancé. I could not speak, and it seemed he was reticent also, but after what was probably no more than a minute’s silence, we both began at once, words and feelings tumbling one over the other as we approached the Gravel Walk. We stopped under a large oak, sheltered by its huge bare branches spreading above. Despite the cold weather, I felt warm, and could not have felt happier if snow had started falling on this grey February day. Frederick took both of my small hands in his large palms to warm them. I watched him scrutinise my fingers intently, as he stroked the leather, running his thumb along the stitching of the cuff on my wrist to produce such a sense of longing I burned inside.
‘My sweet, lovely Anne, are you really here beside me at last? My goodness, what a foolish fellow – I have made such a poor job of being a lover.’
‘I think we’ve both been rather foolish,’ I managed to say, though it came out rather in a whisper. I felt such a sense of awe, the moment I’d wished for was here at last.
‘I hope you received my letter?’
I could not help but smile. ‘I did, indeed.’
‘And you understood its contents?’
Frederick was looking at me with such a wistful expression, I could not keep him waiting any longer. He looked so handsome with his dark hair falling in waves on his forehead, his large brown eyes like a beseeching puppy begging to be loved.
‘It’s the most beautiful letter I ever received. I thought I might faint on reading it, and give away just how I was feeling to Mrs Musgrove who would not leave me alone or let me out quickly enough to come and find you.’
‘I meant every word, my dearest Anne. I have loved none but you, and I have ever been your constant love. Jealous, I have been, I admit, and was sure I’d lost you to Mr Elliot. Everyone spoke of you two as a couple and the expectation that you were to marry. I can hardly believe it, that you are really here with me … do you truly think and feel as I do?’
‘Frederick, I fell in love with you when I was nineteen, and though the years have passed I have not changed, nor have my feelings ever wavered. Do you remember the summer when we first met? Those heady days have never been forgotten – I still see in you that same young man, and the feelings I had then are stronger than ever.’
‘I carried a picture of you in my mind when I was at sea. Do you remember the day we took a picnic down to the river? You wore a blue gown sprigged with flowers like the wild blooms that grew along the banks. Your hair was dressed with silk ribbons in such a way that the odd curl would fall on your countenance, tendrils kissing your cheek in the breeze. We talked of the future that day, and I recalled the plans we made many a time as the sea tossed me from one end of the galley to the other. I thought it was all gone for good, but made me more determined than ever to make something of myself.’
‘I remember that day well, and the excitement we felt at the thought of sharing our lives together. How often I grieved for another chance to re-live it. Fancy you remembering what I wore in such detail. It was a pretty gown, and blue ribbons were always your favourite. I am flattered to think you kept that image in your mind, though I think later when we met again you were disappointed – my sister told me you didn’t recognise me.
‘Oh, do not remind me of what I said then – I was full of bravado and determined to forget the girl who still kept such a tight rein on my heart. It was my pride talking, giving vent to those emotions I thought I’d overcome. The truth is you have only ever been perfection to me – at nineteen you were a pretty girl, and you have only grown in beauty with the years – in your person, and in your character. How could I have resisted you again? You are more beautiful to me now than you’ve ever been.’
‘Oh, Frederick, you flatter me too much.’
‘The most wonderful woman of my acquaintance had better become accustomed to it!’
‘What a lot of time we’ve wasted. If only I’d followed my heart in the first place and not been so easily persuaded.’
‘Only think of now – we are together at last, and what happened in the past has brought us here to this point where I can tell you how much I love you. I can only say, in hindsight, you were right to listen to the advice of others, and I can almost forgive your father for refusing me. Without a penny to my name and only surging ambition, it was no wonder I was not considered worthy of Miss Anne Elliot. I was an arrogant puppy, puffed up with ambition and pride.’
‘But, you had every right to be so, and you knew your own worth when everyone else doubted you. Not that I faltered in that regard … I always knew you would achieve all your desires and ambitions. My brave captain, you’ve proved yourself worthy in every sense, and there isn’t another person alive who is better glad of that than me.’
‘Promise me we will always be so frank with one another, Anne?’
‘I shall always confide in you.’
‘And tell me that you’ll always be in love with me.’
‘I promise to truly love you as long as I live. No one will ever part us again.’
‘When can you marry me, Miss Elliot? I suppose I must ask your father’s permission at the party tonight.’
‘If you must, but I am quite prepared to run away to sea with you.’
Frederick laughed. ‘And a wonderful sailor you will make. But, you haven’t yet given your answer. Anne, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?’
‘My dearest Captain Wentworth, I should be the happiest woman alive if you were to marry me. It will be my greatest pleasure.’
There on the Gravel Walk we returned again into the past, more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in our reunion, than when it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed in a knowledge of each other’s character, truth, and attachment; more equal to act, more justified in acting. And there, as we slowly paced the gradual ascent, heedless of every group around us, seeing neither sauntering politicians, bustling house-keepers, flirting girls, nor nurserymaids and children, we indulged in those retrospections and acknowledgments, and especially in those explanations of what had directly preceded the present moment, which were so poignant and so ceaseless in interest. All the little variations of the last week were gone through; and of yesterday and today there could scarcely be an end.
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.