Frederick Wentworth was visiting his brother, a curate in Monkford, a parish near Kellynch Hall, when he was onshore between assignments in the Royal Navy when he met Anne Elliot, the daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, baronet.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go to the Winterthorpe’s dinner, Frederick?” Edward Wentworth checked to make sure that his hair was combed and his bands neatly disposed before turning from the tiny shaving mirror to face his brother. “The Winterthorpe ladies are not beauties, but they are accomplished and they will undoubtedly play after dinner.”
“I have met the Winterthorpe ladies, which you must recall, and they always make me feel like a rabbit surrounded by a pack of hungry wolves.”
Edward laughed mockingly. “Surely the brave Commander Wentworth is not afraid of a few young ladies!”
“It’s not just the ladies, Edward! The parents always look like they are licking their lips hungrily anytime there is a single gentleman in the room. I do believe that they think they may buy one of us for one of their plain daughters. They would not be so eager if we had a decent fortune…they know that their daughters have not the looks or fortune to capture a wealthy husband, but their dowries are enough to interest a couple of impecunious Wentworths!”
Edward shrugged and grimaced as he sat near the fire, facing his brother, who leaned casually against the mantel. “Perhaps. I am not likely to do better for a wife with only a pittance to my name and no contacts to help me with the gift of a living.”
Frederick briefly grasped his brother’s shoulder before returning to his position in front of the fire. “Well, brother, Sophie is married to an officer and well settled and as long as there is a war going on I have a chance for prize money, and I hope to make contacts that will help advance my career, so I hope all the Wentworths will have an increase in fortune.”
Frederick thought about this conversation as he walked slowly upstairs. Edward seemed a bit cast down about his prospects for a wife and family. His current position was certainly not one likely to advance his ambitions…holding a small living for a schoolboy son of his patron was not a position with a future. Any other livings the patron held would certainly go to his son, as well, when they became available. He was being selfish to refuse his company to his brother for the evening. He grinned at the face in his mirror as he ran a comb through his short hair. His brother might need protection from the accomplished Winterthorpes!
The Winterthorpe manor was small but comfortable and the two Wentworth gentlemen were greeted warmly, or possibly a bit too warmly. Edward ran his finger around his clerical collar as if it was a bit too tight for comfort. Frederick smiled to himself and greeted his hosts politely. They were a bit late and were swept into the drawing room by their hostess and quickly introduced to the company. The names flew past Frederick as he bowed to each one and within minutes they were seated at the table.
Frederick groaned to himself when he saw the table arrangements. He and his brother were seated with the eldest daughter between them and another daughter on the other side. Trapped! He resigned himself to the situation and politely conversed with his partners during the eternal dinner, but was relieved when the ladies rose.
Mr. Winterthorpe was a clever man, and did not keep the gentlemen over their port long. Within the half hour they rejoined the ladies in the drawing room, where the young ladies were encouraged to display on the pianoforte and the harp.
The Winterthorpe ladies were well taught but lacking in talent and feeling in their playing and it was not long before Frederick felt his eyes glazing. As soon as they finished exhibiting the young Winterthorpe ladies rolled back the carpet and another young lady took over the pianoforte for dancing. As soon as she began to play Frederick’s head jerked up. This young lady was a musician! He examined her closely. She was the middle daughter of the local baronet, who was reputed to be filled with pride unwarranted by either intellect or talent. The baronet was a handsome man when he was not making insipid conversation about his importance.
Frederick had realized within moments of meeting the Elliots that the head of the family was insufferable, and not much longer to realize that the eldest daughter was a true daughter of her father. He had hardly noticed the younger daughter as he fought down his repugnance for her relatives, but now he looked her over carefully as the dance formed.
Anne Elliot sat quietly at the pianoforte as the dancers milled around the floor. She was not handsome, as her sister was, and could easily be overlooked when around her self-important family members, but her features were delicate and pretty- with large eyes and a delicate nose that perfectly complemented her fair hair. Her smooth skin had a faint pink blush to it that emphasized its perfection and her hands on the piano keys were both elegant and confident.
Frederick was dragged onto the dance floor by one of the Winterthorpe girls…he hardly knew which one. When the dance was over he quickly went to the piano.
“Miss Elliot? May I have the next dance?”
She smiled up at him and he felt a shock. When she smiled she went from a pretty girl to an angel! He stumbled over the last word in his request and felt himself blush with embarrassment.
Her voice was musical and rather low pitched for her petite size when she answered. “Thank you Commander Wentworth…but we would need someone to play for us if I give in to your blandishments.”
“I’m sure one of the other ladies could take over your position. Please dance.”
Their eyes locked and he felt that he sank into her intelligent eyes until he was like to drown. He finally came to himself with a start when Miss Elliot rose and touched the arm of one of the other female guests and requested that she play the next dance.
When the Wentworths drove home, Frederick was silent, still remembering Miss Anne Elliot’s smile, her beautiful eyes and her heart-shaped face. His dreams that night were about her sweet expression and clever conversation. He awoke hoping that he would see her again.
Two days later they received an invitation to Kellynch Hall for a ball. Edward would have demurred, feeling that it would not look well for a minister to be dancing at balls, but Frederick, to his brother’s surprise, insisted that they accept the invitation. He would not turn down the chance to meet Miss Anne again…