“I did not mean for the party to break up. Had I foreseen the result of my clumsiness, I would have been more careful.”
“It is not your fault. Everyone was enjoying themselves and ignoring the clock. But we must all be off early in the morning.”
“Yes, Musgrove is talking about an unhurried drive home, while I am still of the mind his father is right about snow.”
“The ride is only three hours. Snow will not affect us, surely.”
“When I stepped outside earlier, I could smell it. Do not be surprised if you wake up to a stark white landscape in the morning.”
“I will not. If I cannot trust the snow sense of a sea captain, who can I trust?” Anne went into her room. “Good night, Captain. In the morning, we shall see if you are right.” The door closed on him before he could speak further.
The rest of the night, all Frederick could do was wonder if she was teasing about his weather sense, or if she was daring him to be wrong.
What would Mary say if she summoned her, and Anne did not immediately appear? The fleeting thought was quickly consumed by the anticipation of being the first to greet the day. Anne stole from her room, listening as she went, to be alone with the just-risen sun and the ever-churning sea. As quickly as the eagerness had come, it disappeared when she tried the outer door and found it already unlocked.
So she was not the first. There was a comfort in knowing it would not be her sister or brother-in-law as they were late sleepers. That left only one person of her acquaintance that it might be.
There was no sense trying to avoid him. She opened the door and the chill air pressed against her cheeks. Cold fingers immediately burrowed around in her scarf, searching for the tiniest bit of bare skin. Her nose stung with each breath.
The horizon was far greater than she could take in entirely. She could only stand still and look straight ahead. Though she could not see them clearly, Anne knew wave-after-wave was tumbling over its fellows to gain the shore. Desire teased her to go down to the beach, but she resisted and stood behind the seawall. There was no traffic so early in the day so the roadway faded from her conscious mind, and the inn behind her disappeared. The houses, shops, and their occupants waking to a new day did nothing to touch her. Standing still in the midst of the sound, the scent, and the lightening sky, Anne was surrounded by the sea.
“The kindness of others to survive.”
The words had tortured her all through the night. It was not that the death of her father—and the precarious place it left her and Elizabeth in the midst of the retrenchment—had never crossed her mind. In the beginning, after her father and sister left for Bath, she had distracted herself with cataloguing the books and pictures of Sir Walter, settling everything concerning Elizabeth’s garden, and taking care of her own small matters around the Hall. Once she arrived at Uppercross Cottage, there was nothing but time to fill with evil thoughts of her situation. Her only distraction had been Frederick’s arrival.
And now, with the help of her cousin, she’d spent a sleepless night, turning and tangled in her bed. At least the sea did not change. It gave a perspective.
Anne wondered how many other women over the ages had stood in this place and agonized over people and situations they could not control.
“Watching the sea’s endless struggle is an excellent way to remind a man that he is very small.”
His presence didn’t bother her communion with the sea. She expected it never would. “Or in this case, a woman.”
“All of us, yes. You are out early.”
Frederick too stood still. She then noticed how close he stood. His company was only a pleasant addition to her morning. “I had no chance to take it in, alone, yesterday.” Anne shivered involuntarily.
“To truly appreciate it, you have to be alone—”
“Because any intrusion by others will ruin the affect.”
He paused. “You’re right. I’m sorry I disturbed you, Ma’am.”
He was moving away and she touched his sleeve. She glanced his way, but could not bring herself to look into his eyes. She didn’t mean to be so intimate, but it was done now. “I did not mean you. I didn’t mean this instance. I only meant in general.” Gulls were starting to call above the distant roar. She removed her hand. “Please stay. If nothing else, the presence of a gentleman will keep the populous from thinking me indiscreet, thereby avoiding scandal and ruin upon the Elliot name.”
“I think our being alone here alone does not help your case,” Frederick chuckled. “But God knows we mustn’t be thought indiscreet and so will give it a try.”
She took a peek. He was smiling as he settled himself next to her.
There was quiet. They re-established the peace of the sea upon them. Three small boats were braving the cold and the churning water. Anne counted the number of times one of them rose and fell. Ten. Ten times up and ten times down. Wentworth shuffled his feet and the stones grated under them drawing her out of the trance. “You were very kind to speak so candidly with my friend last night.”
“You overheard our conversation?” Anne was alarmed and thought hurriedly over what was said. It then occurred to her that he might indeed have heard much more than her and Benwick’s discussion of poetry.
“Enough. And I could tell by his calm expression early on.” He paused. She braced for his mention of her cousin’s arrival at the table. “Fanny’s death has left him lost in grief.” He turned to face her and leant on the wall. “You brought him some peace. I thank you for that.”
Cool relief washed over her. “Very little, I think.”
“Considering how devastated he was when he got the news of her death, he is beaming with joy after talking to you.”
“You exaggerate, surely. Though, it is clear her death has left him depressed.”
“I was there. I was the one to tell him.” He looked more angry than sad. No caring, no loving person desired to inflict such devastating pain. It hurt him deeply to do so.
“Gutted.” He picked up a stone from near his boot and rubbed it between his gloved fingers. “Absolutely gutted.”
“That is the perfect word for disappointment in love.” It was out of her mouth before she thought.
The hard expression on Frederick’s face softened. The cold air cooled even more. The sound of the waves disappeared. They looked at one another in much the same way they had the day of their break-up. But this time, he was not angry at her, threatening to leave her. And she was not stumbling over every word, trying to make him understand her fear. Neither of them was pushing the other away.
The sound of the sea rose. A breeze blew a great wave of snow, the flakes fluttering by her cheeks. Frederick flicked the stone away. It bounced three times and then silence.
“I was sure he would do himself harm.”
There was no wisdom to impart at such a statement. So, she said the practical thing. “Would a man, who has chosen to exchange his life for combat and money, really be so sensitive? While I can believe that a man can sink so low, would a man who is sworn to fight for his King and country really do himself injury because of a lost love?” After her talk with Benwick, Anne had concluded that his all-consuming use of poetry was a shield. Frederick’s words were a confirmation of such tendencies.
“The warrior poet is an ages-old type. Surely you have heard of it.”
“Of course I have. I know you are teasing me, and though the Captain and I spoke of poetry mostly, he never mentioned aspiring to such. He reads it all day long but does not write it I think.”
“I wonder that is good to immerse himself so completely.” Frederick adjusted his hat against the wind.
“I think not. At this point, I believe he is drawn to it not for any curative value, but that love poetry’s darker impulses call to his own melancholia.”
“Yes, deep calls to deep, and thoughts depressing calls to the depressed. Reading some of Bryon, I was struck by his pounding on about despair and how he seemed to relish the pain of disappointment rather more than the joys of love—”
His silence drew her to look at him. “It soon became the basest sentimentality rather than genuine heart. And he is celebrated by everyone.” He studied her and then asked, “Does the idea of my reading poetry seem very comical to you?”
She scolded her smile. He said almost word-for-word one of Lady Russell’s complaints about the new Romantic poets. “No, not that you would read poetry, but I have heard the same objections from others about the new poets. People with which you might not otherwise agree.”
He tilted his head, but did not enquire after their identity. “I salute them. Regardless of who these people—or who this person—might be, I will bow to their superior wisdom in seeing it for what it is: sentimental pap fit for the immature only.”
There were rarely secrets from one so intelligent. How ironic that Frederick was, unknowingly, admitting agreement with the agent of so much pain for them both. While he would never say directly to Lady Russell anything remotely complimentary, he could admit agreeing with her on this unimportant point. (end chapter 11 posting)
“I am surprised that you would choose to subject yourself to such emotionalism. You would not have done so in the past.”
And there it was. The first reference to the their mutual, much avoided, history, finally spoken of aloud.
He laughed softly. “No, in the past I would have avoided it just on the rumours alone.” He turned back to study the sea. “In the past, I was much firmer in many of my opinions. I have been proved to be wrong in enough cases that I—”
“The snow is glorious, is it not? Good morning, Cousin. Captain Wentworth. You are both out and about early.”
They turned to find Mr Elliot smiling, arms extended as if to brace the weather. He nodded to the Captain and tipped his hat to Miss Anne.
Their conversation the previous evening could not help but pour into her mind. Anne’s feelings on him were still somewhat mixed. What seemed to be his glaring lack of grief about his wife was troubling. However, could she judge him guilty of feeling because he did not bare his heart and soul to a stranger—though family—met mere hours earlier? That would be unfair. She realised she was judging him in comparison to Captain Benwick’s sensibilities. Sensibilities that she had pronounced too sentimental. And not a little dangerous.
“Good morning, sir.” The Captain straightened and nodded. “Miss Elliot and I are enjoying the quiet, before it is wrecked by the presence of too many passers-by.
Anne was unsure whether to be shocked by the Captain’s forwardness, or allow for a hurried response with no meaning behind it. No matter, what he said had no effect on her cousin. He came to join them at the wall.
“The evening ended much to abruptly last night and I wish to—good heaven’s Miss Anne, are you ill?”
“No, I feel perfectly well. Why do you ask?”
“Around your eyes, it is quite dark. Did you not sleep well?”
“Quite well.” It was not true. And her cousin was the reason, but she would not say so to his face.
“I will have to take you at your word.” He stepped closer to Anne, glancing at the Captain. “Our conversation ended so abruptly last evening that I was hoping to have a word before I got on the road.” He now looked directly at Wentworth.
“The snow is glorious, as you said, Mr Elliot. But it does make for risky travelling partner. I will check on our transportation. Excuse me.”
Elliot touched his hat to the Captain and watched him go. He turned back to Anne. “I am not sure he is altogether trustworthy. Have you known him long, or is he merely a friend of your sister’s husband.
Again, should she extend trust when she suspected otherwise? In her cousin’s case, she was far less inclined that with Frederick. “Thank you, Mr Elliot, but the Captain and I are well acquainted—”
Mr Elliot frowned ever-so-slightly. Then as quickly as shade had come, his countenance brightened and he said, “If there is anything I know about you, it is that you are loyal. And trusting. Perhaps to a fault.” He offered his arm without asking if she cared to walk. Anne took it. “Why did you lie about sleeping badly. Was it because you did not wish the Captain to know?”
The question caught her off balance, mentally. A great many of his questions had that affect upon her. At another time, out of Frederick’s company, she could have dealt with Mr Elliot more rationally. Calmly. Normally. “Now that you mention it, no. I slept poorly. I suspect being in a new place is the reason.”
He glanced out at the water for a moment. “I think you are right. While I find the sound of the waves comforting—my house is above the sea and I can hear it all over the house—not all are so fortunate.” He looked directly into her eyes. “Are you sure I am not to blame for you bad night?”
“Why would you be?” Just insightful enough.
“After we were so rudely interrupted by the Captain’s performance—”
“He spilled his wine and then we all decided it was time to retire.”
“Well, you know him better than me, obviously. Anyway, when I got to my room, I started thinking that my going on about the money troubles of your father, and the horrific situation it leaves you and your sister, I realized it might have caused you to ruminate on your own helplessness. And such blathering was a ghastly thing to do to a person. Particularly one in whom I am growing so fond.”
His manner was all it should be—apologetic and solicitous—but his tone was practiced. Perhaps, whilst she lay awake, he was rehearsing this speech. She turned towards the sea. “You need not worry about this Mr Elliot. I will trust to Providence that Father’s health will remain as robust as ever.”
He came next to her, facing the water. “I too trusted in Providence once. My prayers went unheard evidently as my wife passed on regardless.”
“We shall hope for better concerning my father.”
“I think I have a proposition that will alleviate the worry for you, Miss Anne.”
“You needn’t worry yourself, Mr Elliot. My sister, Mary, and her husband will see to us. And there is my godmother as well.”
“I don’t want you to fret. I want to offer you a home.”
Anne stopped walking and turned to face him. “A home? How so, Mr Elliot?”
A man pushing a barrow approached and Elliot guided her out of the street. “I live in Sidmouth. As I said, the house is right above the water. It was the property of my wife’s family and her father gave it to us as a wedding present. It is a large house, but it is not stylish by any means. We never went there together. I came there to make an accounting of it, that is all. But upon meeting you, and knowing how things stand for you, I wish to offer it to you as a home, should you want one.”
Relief flooded Anne. Should the unthinkable happen, she would have a place to take herself. The picture in her mind when she thought about sir Walter’s death was dim and pathetic. She puts on her oldest cloak—the grey one with a hole in the pocket that never gets mended—and fixes an old limp straw bonnet to her head. Pulling on her frayed gloves, the mending stitches pop open exposing her fingers. She takes a threadbare reticule from her battered trunk, closes the trunk, and waits. Before this offer of Mr Elliot’s, this is where the vision always stopped. Before this, Anne was always at the mercy of Lady Russell, or her married sister. Who would offer for her? Or rather, who would take Elizabeth, leaving Anne to the other.
The joy of being wanted was almost too much to bear.
However, Anne’s senses returned forthwith and with her usual practicality considered the proposal. “This is a most kind offer, sir. However, it would be foolish of me to take seriously such generosity from someone I met less than twenty-four hours ago.”
“You think I am flippant? That I am teasing you?”
“Not intentionally, Mr Elliot. I think you wish to be generous, and useful to me. But this is too much for a stranger to take on themselves—”
“I do not toy with people, Miss Elliot. As you know I was once very poor, and I have admitted that I detested being dependent upon the whims of those with more. Please be assured I would not make this offer with no intention of it seeing it accomplished.”
The snow was easing and she noticed Frederick at the entryway of the inn. Mr Elliot was so earnest, his voice quavering with passion as he made his pledges. Had the years of disappointment and her family’s neglect made his so suspicious of generosity that she would refuse it to save herself embarrassment when it failed to appear? Very likely, but this was still a man who she did not know. His promises were worth nothing.
“I thank you, Mr Elliot. This kindness is beyond anything one in my position could hope for. But, we essentially strangers. And this would be a highly questionable an arrangement—”
Mr Elliot laughed and tapped his forehead with his knuckle. “I see the problem. Honestly, I sometimes think and act so quickly that others cannot keep up.” He glanced away for an instant and then took Anne’s hand. “Of course you are untrusting. I see now my mistake.” He now covered her hand. “No, Miss Anne, I do not live in Sidmouth, in that house. I live in London. I would not even come to the house unless invited. Rest assured, this offer is to you and your sister, Elizabeth. I could not live with myself if either of my cousins was in harm’s way. Please think on it. The offer is sincerely made with all my heart.”
Suddenly, Frederick was next to her, excusing himself. “We must be getting ready to leave. The snow is pressing us on.”
Anne couldn’t breathe. Frederick’s nearness and Mr Elliot’s offer of relief were as pressing as the snow.
If only Frederick would make her such an offer— “Remember my promise, Cousin.” Elliot touched his hat to Anne. “As I am not needed just now, I shall leave you. And I am look very much forward to seeing you in Bath after Christmas, Anne.” He paused and bowed deeply. “Captain,” he said, on rising. He turned and went straight to the inn.
“Shall we walk, Captain? Our time is fleeting away.”
He offered his am and she placed her hand oh-so-properly upon it.
They had only taken a few steps when he said, “Promises, eh? For having just met you and Mrs Musgrove yesterday, Mr Elliot is extraordinarily attentive.”
A quick burst of wind chilled Anne’s cheek and ears. To speak of Mr Elliot with the Captain would be too strange. “We surprised him. We surprised each other actually. He is family and merely being polite, I suspect.”
“He does not strike me as a man who behaves politely out of social obligation.”
“If not social obligation, what then?”
There was silence for some time. Longer than was comfortable. Finally, he said, “I think your cousin is the sort who watches for a benefit.”
“To himself you mean,” she said.
Another pause. “Yes.”
Now Anne paused. The Captain’s distrust of Mr Elliot came without the knowledge of his generosity, of his overwhelming kindness to her and Elizabeth. Just a few minutes earlier, she too was suspicious of him. Her observations of his interactions with Benwick were not in his favour. But now she had looked into his eyes and heard the sympathetic timbre of his voice as he articulated her concerns and made promises for their relief. “You distrust him.”
Without hesitation, he said, “I merely observe that he is very quick to take upon himself what he perceives to be responsibility.” He guided their walk to a more sheltered position near the buildings. “I find that … refreshing.” He was bent on pursuing the subject.
What had he heard? The snow deadened his footsteps and he got close enough to know something. But what? “Your tone is more doubtful than refreshed.” Anne hesitated to say more. This sort of talk was too unguarded, too much like their former ways.
“Mr Musgrove’s gout was on the money. This snow is going to cause trouble. Mark my words.” His change of topic proved Anne unable to perfectly read anyone’s character today.