It had been several years since Captain Wentworth had visited his brother, who had been a curate in Monkford when then Commander Wentworth came to stay and met Anne Elliot.
By the time Edward Wentworth saw his elder brother ride up to the front door of his modest parsonage he had indulged in close to a week’s worth of speculation about his visit. Frederick had not yet met his brother’s wife and had vaguely mentioned that he hoped to visit Shropshire to meet Elise before he was given his next ship. But, he had heard from their elder sister, Sophie, that the gallant captain was courting a wife of his own and that he was currently at Lyme with a group of friends, so he was not at all expecting a visit immediately.
When Frederick dismounted Edward saw that there was more than long ride bothering him; his cheerful and handsome brother looked…worn, he thought, was the apt term, and needed a great effort to do the polite with his new sister-in-law. Fortunately, they had both been brought up to have manners pounded into them by their brisk and determined sister and those early lessons stood Frederick in good stead.
Elise did not seem at all discomposed by her husband’s inattentive brother, but showed him to his room and had the maid bring him hot water to wash with while Edward made a fire in the parlor. She brought in the tea tray less than 5 minutes after a pale and limp Frederick dropped into the opposite chair from his brother. After a quick glance to make sure that the tray was complete, she gave her husband a quick glance, and quietly excused herself to finish the dinner preparations.
After pouring Frederick a cup of tea and fixing his own, Edward sat for a moment watching his brother. “So, Frederick, what is going on?”
“What do you mean?” Frederick’s eyes were wary.
“I mean, why have you suddenly left your friends and the Musgrove ladies to come to the wilds of Shropshire.”
“You knew I was going to try and visit and meet your wife, Edward. If this is a bad time I can certainly come back another time.” Frederick spoke clearly, but avoided his brother’s gaze, a circumstance that very much surprised Edward.
Edward just looked at his brother, a half smile on his face. “Don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes Freddie, my boy! You forget how many years I spent learning to read your moods so I wouldn’t find myself in a fist fight with you.” He grinned at Frederick. “So open your budget brother mine and tell me what is wrong.”
Frederick sighed and sat back with his eyes closed. “I should have known better than to think that I could spend a week without having my brain turned inside out by you, brother.” He sighed again and steepled his fingers in front of his face.
“Come on, brother. Elise has discreetly absented herself and your baby brother is ready to to some pastoral counseling.”
Finally, Frederick looked up. “I have been a bloody fool, Edward. A bloody, bloody fool, and have gotten myself into a bind.”
Edward frowned slightly. “A bind? What do you mean?”
“I came back from my last cruise and made up my mind to spend a few weeks with Sophie and the Admiral in Somerset. You know that they have rented Kellynch…a very strange coincidence considering all that happened at that manor 8 years ago. I soon met the Musgrove family at Uppercross, where the youngest of the Elliot daughters lives with her husband, and found that Miss Anne Elliot was visiting there.
I also met the daughters of the Musgroves, whom I assume Sophie has described to you, and was met with great kindness and interest by the two young Musgrove ladies. I thought at the time that I was simply enjoying some unearned popularity, but I realize now that I was showing off to show Anne Elliot that she was not the only young lady in the world, and that I was quite good enough for most of the gentry.” He sighed again and rubbed his palms together.
“After I made a quick trip to Lyme to meet up with some navy friends my new Uppercross friends were wild to visit Lyme too, so we planned a short trip for all of the young people…the trip was enjoyable and routine until Miss Louisa fell from The Cobb and injured her head on the rocks.”
Edward’s brows were raised in surprise.
“We took her to the Harvilles’ and called the surgeon, and I overheard Harville and his wife talking about what a tragedy it was that my affianced bride was so seriously injured! I was…shocked, mortified, confused.” I suddenly realized that I had put myself into a shocking position. I had not kept an appropriate distance from Miss Louisa, and had, most likely, given her the power to force a marriage on me. I know that the Musgroves would not intentionally force me to marry their daughter when we had never been officially engaged, but how could I tell them that I was using their daughter to punish Miss Anne for breaking our engagement?” He rubbed his face irritably.
“And all this time Miss Anne was the most intelligent, beautiful young lady…calm, helpful to everyone, and the only one who kept her head when Louisa was injured. Never have I been so in love with her…and yet I had compromised my position just as I realized how much I loved Anne…and she is still single! And I know that she has turned down at least one offer by a man of greater consequence than mine!”
Edward sipped his tea thoughtfully. He had never seen Frederick in such a state. He had always been the one who took charge of every situation…the one who kept his head when others lost theirs. He quietly said, “And then what?”
“Once Louisa’s condition had improved to the point where it was clear that she would recover I wasted no time leaving Lyme. If Louisa had insisted that we were tacitly engaged I would have been obliged to accept her as my wife and would be punished for the rest of my life by knowing that the woman I really love had been available and, possibly, would have reconsidered my suit. But I was going to do everything that I could, within the bounds of decorum and honor, to loosen the noose that I had tied around my own neck.
“I have been a fool,” he repeated, shaking his head. His brother stood up and squeezed his shoulder. “All is not yet lost, Frederick. Come. Elise just signaled me that dinner is served. A good meal will make the world look more manageable, and my Elise sets a wonderful table.” He dragged Frederick’s limp form out of the chair and guided him to the dining room.
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.