Soon after returning from the tumultuous visit to Lyme, Anne must leave Uppercross for Kellynch Lodge, her company claimed by Lady Russell. But Anne’s thoughts are with her absent friends. Fortunately, a note or two from Lyme manage to find their way to her, ‘she could not tell how.’ (Persuasion, chapter 13)
Captain Wentworth came to the great house at Kellynch on a mission, an important missive in his pocket. Anne Elliot was in that very same neighborhood, he knew, perhaps only ten minutes apart from him. But he must not allow his thoughts to dwell on her nearness. No, he had a necessary job to do, and then it would be back to Louisa at Lyme.
That is how it must be, and yet the captain had not yet talked himself into complete serenity. So he paced the drawing room at Kellynch as he awaited his sister’s entrance.
“Why, Frederick!” said Mrs. Croft upon seeing him. “How delightful! I was very far from expecting a visit from you today. Please, do be seated.” When he had obediently complied, she added, “What brings you here?”
“Good morning, Sophie,” he said, taken aback by her direct question. “Oh, you know me – any excuse for a ride.”
She laughed. “I should not take your presence as too much of a compliment to myself, then!”
“Forgive me,” he said, irritated with himself for yet another blunder. “That was badly done. I cannot imagine what possessed me to say such a stupid thing. I am not quite myself these days.”
“Think nothing of it, Frederick. No doubt it is the stress of your current situation. Speaking of which, I am surprised you could be spared by your friends at Lyme to go riding about the countryside.”
“Oh, I daresay no one will much miss me, especially now that the entire Musgrove family has come. Miss Louisa has more attendants than she could possibly require. I began to feel very much under foot.”
Mrs. Croft eyed her brother thoughtfully. “Under foot, is it? Hemmed in, more like, I would wager. No matter how devoted to the poor young lady you may be, hours confined in such close quarters cannot be easy for you to endure, fond as you are of the out of doors.”
“How well you understand me, Sophie. I was never one for sitting quietly in one place, was I?” As if to answer his own rhetorical question, Captain Wentworth got to his feet and strode across to gaze out the window. “The open air calls to me, it is true, and I have been out in it whenever possible, even at Lyme. The country round about is well worth a good explore. I walk and ride a great deal to relieve my nerves. I should certainly go mad were I ever to be locked up someplace.”
In truth, he felt as if he were going mad already, trapped as he was in a prison of his own making. How had he ever allowed it to go this far? By his flirtations with the Musgrove sisters, he had only meant to punish Anne a little for the way she had mortally wounded him. Instead, he was the one who was now to endure discipline. He could not deny that he deserved it; he had clearly been in error. But the lesson had been learnt too late for him to benefit by the knowledge. Much too late.
Wentworth was called back to the present moment by his sister’s asking after Louisa’s health. He returned to her and sat again. “She continues to improve apace.”
“I am very glad to hear it.”
“Yes. Her doctor is well satisfied. He says that a quick recovery is not to be expected, but that she is progressing at well as the nature of the case admits. In time, she should be fully herself again.”
“And then what will happen?”
“Happen? What can you mean?” he asked testily. “Louisa will get on with her life, I should think.”
Mrs. Croft gave her brother a stern look. “And you? Will you have any part in it?”
The captain sighed. “Forgive me, Sophie. Once again I must apologize. I know well my obligation to Miss Musgrove, and I will not shrink from it when the time comes.”
“I never doubted you. Would I be wrong to hope it is an obligation of the heart you feel, though, and not merely one of duty?”
Although Frederick momentarily considered misrepresenting his sentiments, he knew any deception was sure to be seen through by his perceptive sister. “Duty first, I’m afraid,” he said. “But one can always hope that the heart will eventually follow. In such cases, I believe it often does, at least after a fashion.”
“Oh, Frederick, I am sorry. Still, I trust all will turn out for the best. Miss Musgrove seems an amiable, pretty sort of creature, although not quite your equal as to strength of mind, I suspect. But she is young; she will no doubt improve under your influence and make you a very satisfactory companion in the end. Is everything firmly settled between you, then?”
“No, although the outcome is clear enough. Everybody, I find, expects us to marry. We cannot disappoint them.”
There was no call for sarcasm. His own actions had done the mischief, and now all he could hope to achieve was to limit the damage. No one else must be injured by his folly, not if it were in his power to prevent it. Louisa was an innocent in the case, and he would see her right, whatever it might cost him personally. And Anne? Oh, he could hardly bear to consider her – or what might have been – yet he seemed to think of little else. His anger with her had at last been done away with. He had no more desire to punish her; he only desired to…
“Do be sure to tell me if there is anything the admiral or I might do to help, Frederick.”
Captain Wentworth hesitated. “There is one small favor you could do me, Sophie.” He pulled a folded paper from his pocket and handed it to his sister. “Could you see that this is delivered anonymously to Anne at Kellynch Lodge?”
“So secretively? What on earth is it?”
“Only a note to apprise her of the improving status of the situation at Lyme. She was so much involved at the start that it does not quite seem right she should be entirely cut off from information now.”
“I can only imagine what a shock it must have been for her, for all of you.”
“Yes, but I would not wish you to picture her a fainting victim. Anne was quite the opposite,” he said with feeling as he recalled the scene. “She was, I believe, Louisa’s guardian angel in the crisis. The rest of us knew not where to turn. It was Anne who kept her head and directed what was best to be done. I only hope she will be none the worse for her kind exertions in the end. I have sometimes in battle observed that, when a person remains calm in calamity, doing what must be done with no regard for self, it is only later that the full force of the event is felt – sometimes to devastating effect.”
“I suppose no one can witness the horrors of war – or even of accident – and be untouched by it.”
“That is my concern. The least I can do is see she knows the work begun so well has been carried through, even in her absence.”
“A very commendable sentiment, Frederick. Should not you like to deliver the message yourself?” Mrs. Croft asked, holding up the note. “It can be no more than a few minutes out of your way, surely. And I am certain Miss Anne would be more at ease if the report came from you personally.”
For just a moment, Captain Wentworth allowed himself to imagine doing exactly that. Yes, he should very much like an excuse to speak to Anne, to bring her good news and be convinced by his own observation of her well-being. He knew it would be unwise, though, for more than one reason. He would not lightly hazard a meeting with Lady Russell. And what possible good could ultimately come of seeing Anne again, when she was now forever beyond his reach? It would only be to torture himself anew for no purpose.
He shook his head. “No, I feel certain it is better done this way. The letter will serve; the sender is unimportant.”
After he had gone, Mrs. Croft executed her brother’s wishes as to the letter, having it delivered to Anne Elliot anonymously.
While mystified by the means of its arrival, Anne was very much relieved for the encouraging news it contained. It must somehow have been the doing of Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove, she surmised. Kind as they were and knowing her so well, they had no doubt realized how she would be thirsting for information about her absent friends. Yes, it must have been the Musgroves who had sent the note. Who else would have been so considerate of her needs?
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.