When Anne Elliot learns from her father’s lawyer that Frederick Wentworth’s sister and her husband are interested in renting Kellynch Hall, Anne can’t help but be overwhelmed by thoughts of the man she’d had to part from eight years ago…
Anne simply could not believe what her ears were hearing.
“And who is Admiral Croft?” her father asked of his lawyer Mr. Shepherd, unable to disguise his suspicion at the idea of a naval officer as a potential tenant.
Mr. Shepherd provided some general details about his being a married gentleman without children, and further observations about the Admiral’s wife, adding that he had seen Mrs. Croft in person, as well as her husband.
“And a very well-spoken, genteel, shrewd lady, she seemed to be…” he informed them. “And moreover, Sir Walter, I found she was not quite unconnected in this country, any more than her husband; that is to say, she is sister to a gentleman who did live amongst us once; she told me so herself: sister to the gentleman who lived a few years back at Monkford. Bless me! What was his name?”
After this, the snippets of dialogue that followed did little more than swim in odd and somewhat frantic spirals inside Anne’s head. They existed feebly alongside a sudden rushing noise in her brain, one that flowed like a river rapid, threatening to drown out every other sound.
From the additional details given by Mr. Shepherd, Anne believed she knew the answer to his question. “You mean Mr. Wentworth, I suppose?” she whispered, working to keep her tone even.
Mr. Shepherd was both delighted and grateful. “Wentworth was the very name! Mr. Wentworth was the very man.” And on he spoke, continuing his discussion with her father as if he hadn’t just completely disrupted any existing peace in her world, however mundane, or any hope of equanimity.
Anne attended as best she could to the remainder of the conversation — the Wentworth of whom he spoke was the former curate at Monkford, the brother of the Wentworth she’d known and loved — but the memories that followed paid no heed to such minutae. They came to her in relentless waves, crashing one after the other on the shores of recollection. Her mind’s eye saw them in vivid detail. She blinked, trying to clear her vision, but all she could see was his face. All she could hear was his voice.
Oh, dear God. What would she do if he came here? If she saw him again?
Mr. Shepherd was soon bestowed with the power to act on her father’s behalf in regards to extending an invitation to Admiral and Mrs. Croft to visit Kellynch Hall. If all went well on both sides, the Crofts would likely move in within months, if not weeks.
Anne forced herself to breathe — siphoning the air into her lungs with great care. She feared she would be inclined to gulp it or, perhaps, to forget to draw breath altogether, especially if she let her racing thoughts take precedence over any body function that might be deemed voluntary. As it was, she could feel the blood rushing to her head, the heat in her cheeks making her feel feverish. She would not be able to remain in this room much longer.
Never had she been more grateful that her father and her sister Elizabeth paid such scant attention to her. Mrs. Clay was hardly interested in her thoughts or actions, and even Mr. Shepherd was too preoccupied with soothing her father’s ego and plumping up his vanities to be aware of her discomfort.
In truth, few would notice an alteration of her expressions in any case. Only someone with Frederick’s keen eye would be observant enough to recognize changes such as these. And he, of course, was not here.
However, it was as if the mere mention of his two siblings could conjure his corporeal self in her family’s sitting room. Though not another soul currently inhabiting Kellynch Hall would see her with clarity, Anne felt herself to be an audience of one to Frederick Wentworth’s spirit. Alive and well as he surely must be (albeit elsewhere), to Anne, he was a ghost looming large and imposing in her mind. He sat before her now, eyeing her every jerky motion, every blink of her eyelids and every one of her insufficient inhalations.
She could all but feel him watching, listening and judging her. He pierced her with his gaze — one minute with a spark of passion so hot it seared her and further spiked her fever, the next with a bolt of anger so intense that it zapped her with its force and left her trembling. Frederick had the gifts of brilliance and confidence, of wit and fearlessness on his side — but he did not have subtlety. He could hide neither his adoration nor his fury.
Anne rose abruptly. “If you will all excuse me,” she murmured, although her words seemed not to register with the others in the room, excepting Mr. Shepherd, who stood briefly as she departed. She took measured steps to the hall, snatched blindly for her bonnet until she’d grasped it and then slipped outside to seek whatever coolness the summer air might possess.
Once she was firmly on pebbled ground, Anne raced — as if in pursuit of the wind itself — searching for the solace of her favorite grove.
Oh, how her face burned at the memory of Frederick’s expression when she had to break their engagement! How her heart, even these eight years later, still ached from missing him.
A couple of pigeons pecked at something on the lawn, and Anne’s pace finally slowed. She swiped at the tears in the corners of her eyes. Ridiculous emotion! Why could she not overcome her heart’s attachment to that man? Was not nearly a decade of suffering sufficient pain to endure?
But, she dearly hoped that if one walked long enough and hard enough, some semblance of sense would have to be restored. Some calmness of mind and soul. She could hear Lady Russell’s reasoned arguments against her match with Frederick, as if echoes from seasons’ past, and she replayed them in her brain. Much as she wished she could have reversed a decision that had led only to wretchedness on her part, she placed no blame on her mentor and family friend. Lady Russell had guided Anne to the best of her ability. And Anne, who had long believed in giving deference to those who were not only older but wiser, could no longer blame herself either for allowing Lady Russell to persuade her to end the engagement.
She walked some more — determined as ever to be level-headed — then kicked at a few pebbles and watched them scatter. How she loved this particular path! She sighed. A few months more, and he, perhaps, may be walking here…
Anne was unsure of the balance of her feelings. The very real possibility of Frederick’s sister living at Kellynch Hall — and this being the means by which he might finally return — left Anne with a combination of hope and dread, though in unequal measure.
And that was what she wrestled with as she turned and slowly began the walk back home. The degrees of her emotions kept shifting. Did the thought of crossing paths with Frederick again bring with it a sharper sense of pain…or promise?
AV Friends ~ As most of you know, I’m primarily a writer of contemporaries, so your feedback is especially important to me when I write anything that takes place during Austen’s time! I’d love to know your thoughts on this scene, and please don’t hesitate to let me know if there were any Regency- or Georgian-era mistakes that I made… I did my best to keep it accurate, but I’m used to the 1970s and 1980s being about as “historical” as I get, LOL, so if I inadvertently made an anachronistic error, I sincerely want to know. 🙂 Regardless, I hope you liked it!