Unexpected news from Lyme buoys Wentworth’s spirits.
Wentworth sat upon his brother’s horse, surveying the countryside on a very fine morning. At one time, he had been a decent horseman. But years at sea took their toll and his seat had suffered. Thankfully, he had not acquired Admiral Croft’s reputation as a terrible driver. That last tumble had damaged both his reputation and his curricle almost, but not quite, beyond repair.
It was a wonder Sophy was not hurt. How could she merely laugh off such an incident? She was a remarkable woman. Nothing like Louisa Musgrove, who was pretty and silly and foolish and now, in all likelihood, an albatross to be strung about his neck for the rest of his days.
But it was all his fault. He had encouraged her, flattered her, and attended to her, as much to vent his spleen at Anne as that he truly liked the Musgrove girl. He was a man of honor though. And in so far as he had control, Louisa would not pay the price of his folly. She would have every respect, if not every affection, as his wife.
A driver and gig rose in the distance. His brother never mentioned expecting company. Wentworth urged his horse up the rise. Perhaps from there he might have a better view.
Though still too far to make out a face, there was something unsettlingly familiar about the driver. The shock of blond hair, the flash of red neckerchief, the odd cant of his shoulder…Harville? What could he be doing coming to Shropshire without sending word?
Wentworth urged the horse to a trot. Something must be full wrong indeed. He caught up to Harville still half a mile from the cottage.
“Wentworth! How fortunate to meet you on the road. Saves me the trouble of looking for you.” He dragged his sleeve over his forehead, leaving a trail of dust in its wake.
“What is wrong? Why have you come?”
“What, no greeting, no welcome? I am shocked at your manners.”
Perhaps he did not bring news of an emergency. “Forgive me. Do you wish to come to the house? My brother and sister are out for the day, but I am certainly up to the task of offering tea and victuals if you are of a mind to stay.”
Harville dipped his head. “Thank you, kindly. I should appreciate the opportunity to get off this borrowed equipage.”
“Borrowed?” It was not the kind of transport Harville was likely to rent.
“Belongs to Musgroves. Kind of them to lend it, but mightily uncomfortable none the less.” Harville shifted to extend his injured leg.
“The house is not far. Come.” Wentworth led them back to the humble curate’s cottage.
“Coffee of tea?” Wentworth asked as he took Harville’s coat.
“You wouldn’t have a mite of brandy to add to either?” Harville rubbed his thigh.
“Tea with French cream it is. Sit down, put your leg up.” Wentworth left the room to instruct the maid and returned to Harville.
Harville stood at the window, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
“Did I not tell you sit?” Wentworth slapped the nearest chair.
“It is difficult when the body wishes to sit but the mind bids you stand, eh?”
Perhaps it was bad news after all. Enough was entirely enough. “Whatever it is, best out with it. This suspense is doing neither of us any good.”
“I suppose you are right.” Harville turned to face him. “I cannot tell you how guilty I feel, as it has happened under my roof, my watch.”
“What has happened?”
“You deserve better and full well should have had it you know. Especially with all you have suffered.”
“I assume you will start speaking sense sometimes soon or I swear I will have to shake you.”
Harville laughed. “I…forgive me—you know how I hate to deliver troubling news.”
“You have delivered nothing and I may well run mad before you do. Tell me already—or shall I begin to guess?”
Harville sank into a wingback chair. “I imagine you are aware that Louisa Musgrove has been recovering quite well.”
“I am. Has there been some sort of set back?”
“No, no quite opposite. She has been restored to her family and all is quite well indeed. Quite well. Far better than any might have expected given the nature of the accident.”
“Benwick has spent many hours entertaining her during her convalescence and now they are engaged.”
Wentworth squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. “Engaged? Benwick and Louisa Musgrove?”
“Her father has given his blessing and the settlements are being finalized.”
Wentworth drew a deep breath.” Louisa accepted an offer from Benwick?”
“We were all caught quite unawares.”
“But they are so dissimilar. He is so serious and his understanding so sound.”
“You would be surprised to see him now. She has so affected him.”
“And you Harville, are you—I mean given your sister—”
“It is difficult not to be put off. But to take offense on behalf of the dead accomplishes very little. Hard as it may be, it is only right for him to continue to live. We have wished them joy.”
Wentworth paced around the room, raking a hand through is hair.
Harville twisted in the chair to follow Wentworth’s frantic motion. “I did not come for my sake, though but for yours. Was there not some understanding between you and Louisa before the accident?”
“No. I suppose it may have appeared so, but no words were spoken.”
“Then you were not—”
Wentworth stopped. “Attached? No. Mind you, I would have done my duty and offered for her if necessary…”
“So you are not unhappy?”
“Far from it, I am pleased for them both. You need not worry on my account.”
Harville leaned back in the chair and put his foot up on the stool. “That is welcome news indeed. “You cannot know what I have suffered knowing that I must bring news that I believed would wound you.”
“You need not fear any longer then. All is quite good. Now, let me go check on the tea.” Wentworth, hurried out, desperate for a moment to gather his wits. Louisa was to marry someone else—anyone else and he was free. He sucked in a gulp of air, sweet as if he had been drowning. He leaned against the wall and gazed at the ceiling. Free.
Bath. He must go to Bath. Anne…his Anne was in Bath. So was Lady Russell. Damn her. This time though, would be different. He was different. Anne was different. Nothing would prevail against his quest as he was buoyed by the one thing he had lacked for so long now—hope.
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.