The first heedless scheme had been to go in the morning and return at night, but to this Mr Musgrove, for the sake of his horses, would not consent; and when it came to be rationally considered, a day in the middle of November would not leave much time for seeing a new place, after deducting seven hours, as the nature of the country required, for going and returning. They were, consequently, to stay the night there, and not to be expected back till the next day’s dinner. This was felt to be a considerable amendment; and though they all met at the Great House at rather an early breakfast hour, and set off very punctually, it was so much past noon before the two carriages — Mr Musgrove’s coach containing the four ladies, and Charles’s curricle, in which he drove Captain Wentworth — were descending the long hill into Lyme, and entering upon the still steeper street of the town itself, that it was very evident they would not have more than time for looking about them, before the light and warmth of the day were gone. Chapter 11 – Persuasion
My first view of Lyme and the sparkling sea glimpsed between cottages and inns teetering on the edges of the narrow winding street, as if about to plunge headlong into the water, was a sight to cheer the most hardened heart. The November weather was arrested, its habitual grey and dreary mantle banished by blue skies and the sharp light of golden winter sunshine. Stepping down from the carriage, a mild gust whipped the ribbons on every bonnet, teasing curls, and catching at muslin hems to billow and swell like the boat sails out on the water. My senses were overwhelmed, though the little town was quiet out of season, there was so much to take in – I could taste the tang of the sea and the brine on my tongue, I heard the seagulls mew and watched them soar and swoop, drift and dip.
I could understand, at once, why Captain Wentworth had spoken so warmly of Lyme. He was eager to know everyone’s first impressions.
‘What do you think, Charles, is it not charming? Miss Louisa, is it not everything I described?’
‘It is indeed, Frederick, a most pleasant situation,’ Mr Musgrove answered. ‘Your friends have found an admirable place to settle in.’
The sisters showed all their excitement and pleasure in the expedition as only the very young can do, unable to stem the praise that flowed or their anticipation in exploring further.
‘This wind is playing havoc with my new bonnet,’ complained Mary. ‘I did not expect the air to be so very damp, it must get fearful cold at night. Charles, you must make sure the innkeeper has a warming pan!’
Exchanging amused glances, quite used to Mary’s grumbles, the others walked on ahead entering the Three Cups Inn where we were to stay. I wanted to take in the view once more and halted for a moment to watch the vast expanse of the sea, changing in hue as the sun sank lower, my eyes following the picturesque ridge of the hills to the east and the panoramic view of cliffs to the west.
‘That’s Charmouth,’ I heard his voice softly behind me, and I turned, surprised to see Captain Wentworth still lingering, following my gaze. ‘Its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, or for sitting in unwearied contemplation.’
‘It all looks enchanting,’ I replied, aware that his eyes were on my face. I could not turn mine to look at him, and kept staring out to sea, hoping he would not notice my flushed cheeks.
‘Yes, a place where memories are made, to be reflected upon and mused over.’
I turned then, but he looked in quite the opposite direction before gesturing to enter the inn. I could not think what he meant, unless he was trying to tell me that he was ready to further embark on his relationship with Louisa Musgrove. In such surroundings it would be easy to fall in love, I thought, and for a moment my mind betrayed me as an image of the two of us, strolling together along the sands loomed before me.
My room surpassed all expectations. Although simply furnished, the bow window commanded delightful views of the sea in a curve, and the Assembly Rooms opposite, perched on the edge of the ocean. I stood at the window watching the ebb and flow of the tide, which gave rise to thoughts about the timeless nature of all I surveyed, and a sense of wonder at the magnificence of nature’s great beauty. How many people in past years had contemplated the same scene, unchanged for centuries, I wondered. How many lovers had walked along the sea shore, and how many had found happiness or had their hearts broken?
An impatient knocking at the door disturbed my reverie. Louisa and Henrietta were urging me to go downstairs, saying it was decided we should all take a walk along the seafront.
‘What a pity it is we cannot stay longer than one night,’ said Louisa, glancing up at the Captain as we walked past the Assembly Rooms. ‘And although there is no dancing to be had just now, Mr Manning, at the inn, told us that in the season the assemblies are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, that there is a small orchestra consisting of three violins and a violincello, and the room is lit up at night by three glass chandeliers! For the gentlemen there is the usual card table and billiard room, which is sure to please you. I do think we should consider a longer stay next time or perhaps we should work on you now – I am sure Mama would understand if we wanted to prolong our visit. It’s like Brighton in miniature, in the season, I am told, all bustle and confusion. And I would love to go bathing.’
‘Perhaps we should consider a dip in the morning,’ said the Captain, winking at Charles. ‘I see the bathing machines are still out on the beach.’
‘Well, I should think we’d all catch our death,’ said Mary, pulling her shawl tighter around her shoulders. ‘I do not like to go bathing in summer, let alone consider such madness in winter, and despite its general boasts of being good for one’s health, the only time I was persuaded into the water, I caught a cold. Never again!’
The Musgrove sisters chuckled, and when Captain Wentworth turned to speak to Charles again, I returned his hesitant smile. He was clearly embarrassed by my sister’s outburst, and as we turned onto the Cobb she was still bemoaning her lot. Charles tried his best to placate her, but she scolded him repeatedly for teasing her.
In a small house, near the foot of an old pier of unknown date, Captain Wentworth’s friends, the Harvilles, were settled. He turned in to call on them saying he would join us in a short while and we walked on along the high Cobb wall above the sea. The sun was sinking, a scarlet ball dipping below the horizon, gilding the indigo water lapping against the defences with flashes of gold and crimson. We were by no means tired of wondering and admiring at all before us; and not even Louisa seemed to feel that we’d parted with Captain Wentworth long, when we saw him coming with three companions, all well known already, by description, to be Captain and Mrs Harville, and a Captain Benwick, who was staying with them. Captain Wentworth had already told us that this friend had suffered greatly, having lost his fiancée, Captain Harville’s sister, only the summer before when he’d been at sea. Captain Benwick had a pleasing countenance, and a melancholy air. He seemed to draw back from conversation, but his companions more than made up for his silence.
Was it my imagination that Captain Harville and his wife seemed to greet me with such warmth?
‘It is a delight to meet you, Miss Elliot,’ said Mrs Harville. ‘I hope you will dine with us this evening.’
Captain Wentworth intervened. ‘You are so kind, Mrs Harville, but we are dining at the inn tonight, and we would not wish to impose.’
‘Frederick, my dear friend,’ Captain Harville interrupted, ‘how could you have arranged to dine at the inn? You might have known we would wish you and all your friends to join us. Another time we should hear of nothing else. Promise me, we’ll hear no more of inns!’
I was struck by their friendliness and eager invitations to dine with them. The Harvilles were very welcoming and easy of manner, and so friendly and obliging, that I couldn’t help thinking that in different circumstances they would have been my close friends too. I could not help comparing the sailor friends, and found in my estimation, that none were so handsome, so gentleman-like or so amusing as Captain Wentworth. And though Captain Benwick might feel his suffering to be severe, I felt I had as much, if not more to regret. It was entirely possible that he would rally again, and find love with someone else.
I also knew, in my soul, that could never be the case for me – I should never be happy to settle for anyone else or ever love another as much as I loved the gentleman I’d been engaged to and had foolishly rejected – a certain Captain Frederick Wentworth of the Royal Navy would forever have my heart.