Captain Frederick Wentworth has been staying with his sister Sophia and her husband Admiral Croft at Kellynch Hall — within easy visiting distance of Anne Elliot — but he has yet to cross paths with his former love, until today…
Frederick had been on his best behavior for what felt like an eternity. Truth be told, he’d grown a bit weary of all the forced joviality, not to mention Sophia’s insatiable desire to provide him with ample opportunities to socialize. An inescapable necessity, he supposed, if he were to ever find a wife. But that didn’t mean he had to delight in the process.
No more fitting an example of his sister’s eagerness was there than the festivities of the prior evening’s dinner and dancing at Uppercross, which she’d urged him to attend two nights in a row. The Miss Musgroves—Henrietta and Louisa—were pleasant enough ladies. He couldn’t help but appreciate their youth and high spirits.
“A little beauty, and a few smiles, and a few compliments to the navy, and I am a lost man,” he’d recently joked to his sister, informing her that he was quite ready to make match with someone, however foolish it might be. And he was as apt to fall in love with one Musgrove lady as the other of them. Heaven knew, he’d give it his most determined effort.
But he did not envy in the least their brother Charles in his marriage. Mary Musgrove was…loud, critical, and in constant need of attention. Well, maybe it was her Elliot upbringing that made her behave in that unlikable combination of demanding, selfish, and whiny. Not that her sister Anne had ever—
He forced the thought from his mind. He would not dwell on any reflections of Miss Anne Elliot. Not a single comparison—for good or ill—between her and any other woman. That ship had long since sailed to a land far distant and dangerous. “Beyond there be dragons,” he murmured to himself, leaving it at that with practiced resolve.
“What did you say, Captain Wentworth?” Henrietta asked with a giggle, her bright eyes turning toward him with rapt attention.
He cleared his throat and motioned vaguely with his hand. “Er, beyond there is…the Cottage, yes?”
“Oh, yes!” Louisa enthused, although huffing slightly from the pace of their walk. “We’ll be at our brother’s house in but a few minutes.”
“Excellent,” he managed to say, hoping he sounded sincere. Frederick could scarcely think of a place he wanted to visit less, but this duty must be done.
He inhaled the fresh, atmospheric scent of the morning, taking a moment to appreciate the musk of the damp earth as he strode across the lawn from the Great House toward the Cottage. The Miss Musgroves, attentively chirping alongside of him, were his guides in making certain he arrived at Charles Musgrove’s abode—their plan to stay and visit with the womenfolk while he and Charles went hunting had been made clear to him—and he was most unable to escape the arrangement. Thus, he needed to make a brief appearance for the sake of propriety, ask after the wellbeing of Charles and Mary’s injured son, and suffer the possibility of seeing Anne again. After eight long years.
He shuddered, drew in another deep breath and tried, without much success, to listen to the words of his petite chaperones. Admittedly, their conversation was of a shallow variety and somewhat like being in the company of a gaggle of geese, but it had the advantage of being just diverting enough to pull his attention away from his own unwelcome memories. A battle he seemed incapable of fighting on his own.
A few strides later and, already, they had arrived. Too soon, but it was better to be done with this quickly.
Charles beckoned his sisters and Frederick himself inside, and they were welcomed with enthusiastic effusions by Mary Musgrove. Frederick bowed at once. Mary, of course, responded with an immediate curtsey, as did the woman standing slightly behind her, albeit somewhat unsteadily. Was that really–
Mary said something, but all he could think was Anne! How could someone so small, so slight…challenge my very ability to inhale and exhale?
He would not allow it.
He drew himself up to his full height and pointedly filled his lungs with air. He had rehearsed his speech well enough in his head that he was prepared when Mary offered him some refreshment.
“I thank you, no,” he replied. “I have only come to inquire after your boy and wish not to inconvenience you this morning–“
“Oh, it is no bother, Captain Wentworth,” Mary insisted. “Here, I shall just pour you a cup–“
“Please, no. I have just had a full breakfast and I know your husband will be anxious to set off on the hunt soon.”
“That is true,” Charles said heartily.
And Frederick added, “Is your son still suffering terribly from his injury?”
Mary quickly assured him that the boy was much recovered, although not completely so…and she prattled on about his condition (briefly) and her own personal distress (at great length). But, though he firmly refused to stare at her, Frederick had been unable to turn his mental focus away from Anne, with those beautiful clear eyes of hers that regarded him with haunting sadness.
For an instant, when he’d first walked into the room, he hadn’t recognized her. She had seemed so altered, and that realization almost shattered him. He had held the image of her — however unwillingly — in the nearest reaches of his memory for these many years, and the vision of the lady before him did not fully match the Anne Elliot of his recollection, save for those watchful eyes.
“…and so I said to the apothecary,” Mary continued, “that I, too, needed the benefit of his medicine for my own ailments–“
“Are you ready to go, Captain?” Charles said, interrupting his wife and forcing Frederick’s attention away from his damnedable memories, his shaky breathing and his pounding heart. How he ached to retreat to the safety of the ocean or, at the very least, the wilds of nature.
“Indeed, I am,” he replied. He had an overwhelming desire to shoot at something.
“Henrietta and I shall walk with you both to the end of the village, shall we not?” Louisa stated, with warmth and a hint of impulsivity, Frederick thought. But her sister, immediately and in that same fevered tone, agreed. Ah, well, this was an appreciated change. Here were two ladies who knew how to make up their minds, even if it was only about trivial matters!
So, with one last bow to Mary and Anne, he was swept out the door alongside a trio of Musgroves. Had it been only two minutes that he’d spent in Anne’s presence? It seemed at once to be as long as a geological epoch and as short as the seconds it took a sea creature to dive into the water. How could she have the ability to alter the very presence and forward motion of time?
I must regain some mastery of sense, he scolded himself. These thoughts are pure foolishness, and I am quite done with them.
Anne Elliot, he assured himself with the greatest of confidence, had no more power over him than the gulls in the sky or the fish in the Atlantic. Whatever had once been between them in their youth, it was most definitively finished. As he had been telling himself with some regularity over the past few weeks, he would think no more of a woman who had been so easily persuaded to desert him. He meant it this time!
She is all weakness and timidity, and my disappointment at those failings are over. I will look only for a future wife who possesses a strong mind and, of course, a sweetness of manner… Anyone but Anne.
And with that certainty, Frederick Wentworth turned his full attention on charming the Miss Musgroves and on being an engaging companion to their brother. He was resolved to have a magnificent day of sport, no matter what emotional toll may lay in wait late at night, when the day’s chatter and activity was gone. No matter how many memories may attempt to assault him then. And no matter how piercingly Anne’s eyes may have seen through his pretense.
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.