“Louisa insisted on standing, and even took the few steps to the window. She has pronounced the day to be beautiful, Captain.” Mrs. Harville smiled at Wentworth as he stood his usual post near the windows. He could see nothing beautiful in the alternating rain and fog that had been Lyme’s weather for the past week. She said quietly, and only to him, “She is still weak as a kitten, but I think it a good sign that she wants to be up.” In a normal voice, she said, “I shall send word to the Musgroves at their lodgings. They will be beside themselves with joy. Now to get her something more substantial than beef tea.” She patted his arm as she passed to the kitchen. Clearly, she presumed he too would be beside himself with joy at the news.
“Thank God,” he thought. If Miss Musgrove were up and about, she would soon be out and on her way home. The sooner she was fully recovered, the sooner he could disentangle himself from his close connections to Uppercross. While the elder Musgrove’s had assured him endlessly that his position as a close intimate of the family was not affected in the least by the accident on the Cobb, he was feeling the need to separate himself and move on to visit his brother in Shropshire. He would miss Sophia and the Admiral’s company, but he would not miss living in Anne’s family home or miss the portrait of her mother which evoked in him no end of memories.
The note was sent to the Musgrove’s lodgings, and Mrs. Harville bustled about with offerings of solid food to tempt the palate of the rapidly recovering Miss Louisa.
All the discussion as Mrs. Harville went back and forth was recounting the worry and fright of the first few hours after the girl’s injury, the impressive actions of Miss Elliot, Miss Louisa’s the first days of slow progress, and now her sudden gains in health. Wentworth could measure the recovery of his own spirits by those of the girl. All this talk of the past week was threatening to undo all the gains a great deal of solitary riding and walking had accomplished. Finally, Miss Louisa was back abed and resting. All the activity of the day seemed to be over and he was about to excuse himself for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
“If she’s awake, and up to it, I can’t see a thing in the world wrong with allowing Frederick to see his fiancé. A quiet, somewhat private visit will do Miss Louisa a powerful lot of good if you ask me,” Captain Harville said to his wife, who had finally taken a seat and was sharing a pot of tea. “Surely the Musgroves cannot have any objection if you act as chaperone, Elsa.”
Fiancé! From the moment of the young woman’s fall, a knot had taken up residence in Wentworth’s vitals. It had worsened when he was require to escort Miss Anne Elliot home to Uppercross, instead of her sister, Mary Musgrove. The agony of emotions and awkwardness of the seating—in order to drive the carriage, he had to sit between Miss Anne and Louisa’s elder sister, Miss Henrietta Musgrove—had caused great strain on his body and his mind. He’d not thought it possible, but things had been aggravate still more upon the arrival of the Musgroves on the second day. It was only in the last few days, with the improvement of the patient, that the knot was loosening. Harville’s statement cinched it firmly again. It was abundantly clear that his friend was under a horrible misconception concerning his affection towards Louisa Musgrove.
Before Mrs. Harville could make a reply, Wentworth turned to face the couple. To his annoyance, James Benwick had joined them at the table. It was becoming more important than ever that he put a stop to this new and ridiculous speculation. The smallness of the house required a closeness that was allowing for more attention than was comfortable.
“There is no engagement.” The declaration interrupted their conversation. It was graceless and sounded more rough-edged than he intended. All three faces reflected shock and puzzlement. Though he was not sure how to explain himself, a clarification was obviously in order.
“I have made no promises…and I have seen no indication on Miss Louisa’s part that she is partial to me…that she expects anything of me…” Excepting the first little blast about there being no promises, all the rest was lies and he knew it. Miss Louisa was very partial to his undivided attention and had demonstrated her willingness to manipulate whomever she must in order to insure it. Moreover, she had proven she was willing to jeopardise her own safety and reputation, both in public and private, a clear indication she very much expected him to reciprocate her blatant affections. In lying to his friends, he was, for the first time, speaking the unadorned truth to himself.
Harville rose and joined Wentworth at the window. “You needn’t worry, old man, I am sure that in spite of there being no formal declarations, Miss Musgrove knows how you feel about her. A visit will go a long way to proving that.”
“But there is nothing to prove, and I do not think it would be prudent to—”
“I know, I know, you do not wish to excite her beyond what her condition will bear. That is admirable, Frederick. But really, Elsa will keep a close watch on her and see that she is not overtired.” Quietly, for Wentworth’s hearing alone, he said, “I understand you regret the accident, and that it has caught you up short. As soon as you knew how you felt, you should have asked, but this is your chance to mend that. Visit her and when she is well enough, do the right thing.” It was shocking to see that his friend had not gleaned an ounce of understand from what he had said.
“There is nothing to mend—”
“That’s the spirit! Go straight at the task. No one will think any less of you for waiting so long. Even if there are some hurt feeling on the matter, once a proposal is made, those will disappear forever.”
This tack is useless, he thought. He put his faith in another direction. “Really, Timothy, I do not think it wise to see her without the approval of her parents—”
“A courtly gesture to the in-laws is wise, but unnecessary, I am sure. Come on man, a glimpse of you will be just the tonic the girl needs! The encouragement of the man she loves will do wonders.”
The man she loves. That is the central issue, he thought. He had come to know his own feelings plainly enough. Nevertheless, it was hers that mattered the most at this juncture. Timothy’s insistence that he should risk a visit with Miss Louisa made him wonder if the girl was saying things to Mrs. Harville, and was Elsa then communicating them to her husband. The two women spent a lot of time together now that Miss Louisa was conscious, and he imagined that they managed to converse about all manner of subjects. Mathematical odds, and not his own vanity dictated that he would, at some point, be one of those subjects.
“—besides, they shall be here soon. You can enquire of Mr. Musgrove then. He will surely bless a visit, and Mrs. Musgrove can oversee it.” Timothy made a face. “If my stairs can withstand the strain.” Mrs. Musgrove’s considerable size made her climbing the steep, narrow stairs of the Harville house an awkward and time-consuming process. The man had even gone beneath and braced the frame, to protect against any future embarrassment or injury. “I haven’t room enough for another invalid,” was all he said as he had put away his tools.
A racket at the door drew their attention before Wentworth could object further. “My darling sister is up and about and I must be the first to see her. I simply must.” A bonnet and cloak flew at the maid, revealing not Miss Henrietta Musgrove, but Mrs. Charles Musgrove. One of the little boys was unfortunate enough to be in her path as she made for the stairs. Fortunately, children have an amazing sense of self-preservations and he just missed being trampled. The rest of the Musgroves entered, talking loudly. Certainly joy was understandable, he thought, but the hilarity of it seemed more appropriate to a circus tent rather than a sick room. The mass arrival required that Harville should quit Wentworth’s company and play host. This gave Wentworth an opportunity to slip out the door and away from their excessively intimate misunderstanding.
Wentworth contemplated his options. There would be no need to make himself available at Harville’s until the next day. With all the fresh excitement, he would not be missed if he stayed away.
His customary haunt being off limits, he considered a ride along the scenic cliffs extending east of town. This prospect raised no real interest, and he thought of a walk by the shipbuilder’s along the waterfront. This was always a pleasant diversion, but today, because of its close associations with the worries of career, his mood was not inclined towards it. He instead bought a fortnight-old copy of the Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser and headed back to the inn for a drink. As he exited the shop, he saw Miss Henrietta Musgrove and Charles Hayter walking down the street, undoubtedly heading to Harville’s. They were deep in conversation, and not a happy one by her sad eyes and his knitted brow. Wentworth hesitated injecting himself into the couple’s affairs, but on the off chance they had already seen him, he wished to keep things between the family and himself on a good footing.
“Miss Musgrove, Mr. Hayter, good day. I am surprised you are not at Harville’s to celebrate Miss Louisa’s progress.”
“The same might be said of you,” Hayter said. Miss Musgrove looked at each man, and then cleared her throat.
“Good day to you, Captain. We are just on our way there.” She tightened her grip on Hayter’s arm, looked up at him and said, “But it will be a precious short visit on account of my sister.”
Wentworth said nothing, and his judicious silence was rewarded. “My dear Charles has just arrived from Winthrop, and now my sister-in-law is insisting that he should ride back this very night with a letter for Miss Anne, telling her of the good news concerning Louisa’s recovery.”
“You have heard from Anne … Elliot?”
“Perhaps. She is with Lady Russell now and I am sure she must have lots of time for writing letters.” The young woman sighed, and then looked into her young man’s eyes. “Considering Miss Anne’s good sense, I am sure she would not think this good a reason for Charles to forgo rest and be parted from me so soon.”
This explained the grave look on Miss Musgrove’s normally cheery face. He could not help thinking it would be a shame for the young couple to be so soon parted when a plan began to take shape. Considering he’d only written the Crofts a hasty note explaining the barest of details concerning the accident; while keeping silent on the particulars of his own involvement; a side trip to Kellynch Hall would not be out of order for himself. Having a definite commission in delivering the letter to the Lodge would also afford him the opportunity to enquire after Miss Anne’s health and state of mind. No matter how any other inhabitants of the place might feel, such politeness would be expected. He would be plainly rude if he did not ask to see her. Then and there he offered his services and within minutes, both the young peoples’ faces shone with delight. For once this past week, rather than bearing ill tidings, his presence bore happiness.
He began to regret his largesse later that evening as he took a drink with Musgrove, at their lodgings, while waiting for the letter to be finished. In the beginning, Mrs. Charles scratched away quietly while the gentlemen traded predictions concerning the next day’s weather, the felicitous news concerning Miss Louisa’s first few steps, whether Wentworth should take a horse from the inn or Musgrove’s gig—he opted for the horse when Mrs. Musgrove opined she longed for a ride to Charmouth so she and her husband might explore the lovely little place—and they were well into concluding that the port they drank was some of the foulest stuff on earth when Mrs. Musgrove clumsily hinted that the captain’s presence and conversation was an impediment to her thoughts.
“My sister expects such perfection when it comes to correspondence, and simply knowing someone is waiting for it is causing me no end of troubles,” he overheard her saying to her husband when he returned from a breath of fresh air. “I am quite rattled now and may not even be able to finish it.” On hearing this, Wentworth took some comfort in being equally blamed along with Anne. After making it clear that he would around in the morning for the letter, he quickly took his leave. His suspicion that the letter would never be finished was put to rest when Charles brought the four-page monster around to the inn at nearly midnight. They shared another drink, and then Wentworth saw him off, feeling a bit guilty for the effusive thanks heaped on him by the thrifty, younger Mr. Musgrove.
The next morning’s weather was precisely what one could expect so early on a late November morning: cold clean air, sporadic rain and gusty breezes chilling the bones of anyone who must be out and about. The weather mattered nothing to him, for he was away from Harville’s ill-conceived notions about him and Miss Louisa. He was also pleased to be away from the celebratory clamour of the Musgrove clan. He did not begrudge them their happiness, but it was a constant reminder of his part in the evil and he did not appreciate them, quite unconsciously stirring of his conscience. The quiet of the road was a pleasant change from the stifling surroundings to which he had become accustomed.
He progressed at a good pace, his horse more than up to a run now and then. The scenic landmarks, which had become so familiar over now five daylight trips, were slipping by in quick succession. No memories of any of the trips, save the one with Anne, came to mind. When he reached a bad patch of rutted road, he was forced to slow to a trot. As he allowed the horse to pick her way through the channels, he convinced himself that this was the very spot where the carriage slipped from the road and he rescued Miss Anne from a certain fall from the carriage. He felt ashamed that he could look back with a certain pleasure, the incident that not only put her in danger but into his arms. There had been no pleasure in it for her as he recollected the disappointed looks they exchanged over the remainder of the trip. Such reminiscences nudged out any sort of satisfaction and brought on a renewed sense of guilt. His only hope was that Mrs. Charles’s letter would relieve Anne’s mind concerning Miss Louisa, and begin building a new foundation for an improved opinion of him.
This journey passed as quickly as the others and soon he found himself in the environs of Uppercross. As he passed through the village, he was greeted here and there by the bustling residents. The closer he drew to the Mansion, he could not help noticing hard stares and was certain if he looked back, he would see perhaps more harsh opinions in evidence. Fortunately for him, as he pushed on in the direction of the Lodge, the looks softened markedly.
Before Mrs. Charles had become agitated by his presence, she had emphasised that her sister would be now installed with her godmother at Kellynch Lodge. “I shall render you a map, so that you will have no trouble in finding the place,” she proudly told him. “Everyone rates my artistic skills as superb.” He glanced over at Musgrove for a confirmation of such a declaration but the man’s expression was unreadable. Later, when the letter was delivered and he had a chance to look at the map in his chambers, he thanked God that no lives depended up the cartography skills of Mary Musgrove. It was so badly drawn that were he foolish enough to be guided by it, he would miss the Lodge by a mile or so. The map was burnt that very night. Nothing could stand in the way of the promised delivery, or in the way of an opportunity to see Anne Elliot.
A young man was quick to meet him, holding his horse as he dismounted. When questioned, the groom said that the ladies were home; that not a soul had been in or out of the house so far this morning. Standing before the door of the Lodge, he harried his cuffs and neck cloth as he buffed his boots on the backs of his trouser legs. It was not the first time he had stood on the steps of Kellynch Lodge, but it was the first time he had ever felt equal to the place and all it stood for. He touched the letter in his breast pocket one more time, and smiled. He took a wicked sort of pleasure in bearing a document guaranteeing him admittance into Lady Russell’s home. “You care little for doing good, and are enjoying the idea of the poor woman’s suffering far too much,” his brother, the Reverend Edward Wentworth would lecture. Poor woman, he scoffed.
“Captain Wentworth.” The butler stood aside to allow him entrance.
Wentworth’s smug reveries had caught him off guard. The man at the door was the very same servant from years before, but he was at a loss for the fellow’s name. This loss and the surprise put him at a disadvantage, which he did not care for. He removed his hat, though no offer was made to take it.
“May I ask your business?” The question was simple enough. However, it reeked of bland disapproval and the condescension so easily assumed by servants of the middling gentry.
“I am on an errand for Mrs. Charles Musgrove. I have come to deliver a letter to Miss Anne Elliot. Longwell,” he added.
Longwell offered a silver salver. “I shall see it is delivered promptly.”
The letter was his charm to get past this dragon and through the gates to the citadel. In fact, he thought, it shall see me safely by both dragons. To surrender it now would insure failure.
“I cannot. I gave my word that I would deliver it to her personally.” No such promise had been asked for, and no such promise had been given. He prepared to tell the man he knew Miss Anne was at home were he to offer her absence as an excuse. Longwell said nothing further, but turned and went through one of several closed doors facing onto the entryway.
Every move he made echoed in the marble entry, accusing him of smallness compared to the mistress of the house. He decided against taking a seat, choosing instead to examine a landscape hanging near one of the closed doors. As he studied the scene of haying in the golden midsummer of some unknown county, a piano began to sweetly play somewhere nearby.
Unless Lady Russell had taken up the instrument in the intervening nine years, it could only be Anne. The tune was gay and one he had heard before. He did not know its name or composer, but would ask Anne in the course of their conversation. She knew he was fond of music and this, he hoped, would not seem to be merely a polite bit of banter. The music stopped. He found a glass and did some moderate preening in preparation of his summons to her.
The door opened and Longwell motioned for him to enter. Wentworth followed, but before he could catch a glimpse of Anne, the butler asked for his hat. Evidently a stay of some length was anticipated. The door’s quiet click was his cue that they were alone.
His eyes were drawn immediately to the pianoforte that stood prominently in the room. Anne was nowhere near, and all that moved was two thin tails of smoke from the recently extinguished candles. Her absence was disappointing.
Though alone, he tried not to gawk as he widened his study of the room. Nothing had changed; the Lodge’s sitting room was still severely formal and elegant without a hint of comfort. He remembered his first visit years before, when he had stupidly commented that the room was as pretentious and straight-backed as its owner. Unfortunately for him, he had said this to Anne Elliot before he understood fully the relationship of the younger woman to the older. That evening, she made him appreciate how intimate with, and dependent upon, Lady Russell she was. His profuse, and at the time sincere, apology had brought Anne’s full forgiveness for his biting wit. Though he had sincerely apologised for distressing Anne, his opinion of the woman had only grown firmer over time. He was never ashamed of holding such an opinion, but he did regret not having the wisdom to keep it to himself on several occasions. He was certain it was this loose talk that had sunk him in the eyes of Lady Russell, and caused her to take a position against him concerning Anne and their engagement. This incident had forced him to see that there was almost no difference between his own little wooden world and the small society of the country.
He was not surprised that the room had worn well. This was to be expected as he recalled Lady Russell spent a good portion of the year away from the area. Harassing her few friends and family to be sure, he thought.
To his dismay, a lone, older woman sat at a small table tucked into a corner of the room, facing onto a sodden autumn garden.
The dragon nodded towards a chair to indicate he should sit. Still, Anne was nowhere to be seen.
“Captain, you must join me.” The command was polite in tone and her expression composed. Perhaps it was not only the furniture of the Lodge that had worn well. Perhaps the lady had softened over time, and was now willing to acknowledge him properly.
He bowed and joined her at the table. The formalities of how he took his tea and whether he cared for cake or a biscuit were dispensed with. He could not help wondering what sort of plan the woman was working. Never in all their short association had she ever treated him with such courtesy. He took a sip of his tea, and was disturbed to find it prepared just how he liked it. She was up to something, but he salved his uneasiness with the reminder that Lady Russell was not an overly clever woman. Not clever, but persuasive enough when she wanted to be.
“Longwell said you have a letter to be delivered. I must say I am astonished to see you lowering yourself to playing messenger, Captain.”
He had not expected that she would goad him in such an obvious fashion. “Mr. Charles Hayter has been gracious enough to bring word of Miss Louisa’s condition on practically a daily basis. I was presented with an opportunity to spell him in these messengering duties, and so offered to bring the letter from Mrs. Mary Musgrove to Miss Anne. I thought as long as I was in the neighbourhood, I would visit my own family as well.”
“How kind,” she conceded. “I have been told all the particulars of the sad accident that has befallen Miss Louisa Musgrove.”
Steady on, boy, this is her angle of attack, he thought.
“Yes, it was most distressing.” He put down his cup then looked directly into her eyes. “It was a horrible thing to witness, but I must say, even in the height of such panic, it was Miss Anne who showed the greatest strength and was most in control of her senses. We all looked to her for direction and despite her own feelings, she kept the rest of us from falling into utter disarray. I in particular owe her a great debt of thanks.”
The pride in Lady Russell’s eyes was unmistakeable, and for a brief moment the two were in agreement about something concerning Anne.
“My goddaughter is a most intelligent and resourceful woman. I am sure it was anguishing for you to see the woman so dear to you the victim of such a dire accident.”
He was about to agree, and confide that to see Anne so discomfited by his own carelessness was a hurt from which he would not soon recover. Something made him hesitate and in the short lull, he realised Lady Russell was speaking of Louisa Musgrove as the victim. He was about to assure her that no person with a heart could see such a thing and not be moved, but she gave him no time to respond and continued.
“I would not think, with her sister-in-law in such precarious health, Mrs. Musgrove would have time to write casual correspondence.” The lady’s mild expression was unchanged as she looked at him over the rim of her cup. In the company of a more sympathetic listener, Wentworth would have elaborated that there was nothing to keep Mrs. Musgrove from writing reams and reams of casual correspondence, as she had nothing else to do. Between Mrs. Harville, the Harville’s nurse and the nurse brought from Uppercross, Miss Louisa had a small army of women caring for her every possible need. Other than dunning her husband for new entertainments, all that Mary Musgrove had to occupy her during the course of the day was deciding how deeply she was personally affected by each new improvement in Louisa Musgrove’s health.
“It is not a casual letter, Ma’am. Miss Louisa’s condition is greatly improved, and Mrs. Musgrove wanted immediately to tell her sister the good news.”
“Ah, improved you say. That is good news. I am sure you are particularly relieved.”
“No more so than her family, I assure you.”
“Of course. As I said earlier, my goddaughter gave me all the details of the regrettable affair. She was particularly disturbed by the recklessness and lack of judgment which brought the incident to pass.” Perhaps the woman was cleverer than he gave her credit for. She could neither have used words more damaging to his already bruised conscience, nor chosen ones which could more readily pierce through his confidence as a man. The question was: were these truly Anne’s thoughts on the matter or were they Lady Russell’s alone?
“You may leave the letter. I shall see that that it is given to her.”
“Thank you, Ma’am. But, I would prefer to see it delivered myself. I am well able to answer any questions she might have. Or, should she wish to send a reply, I am returning to Lyme this afternoon and could carry it directly to Mrs. Musgrove.”
It was a simple enough explanation, so when Lady Russell’s cup clattered in the saucer and she stammered something about such fuss not being necessary, Wentworth was puzzled for a moment. Her face coloured quickly and she hastened to fill his nearly full cup. She kept glancing out the window behind him. He turned to look. It was clear that whatever was out there she desired he not see it.
He scanned the view and saw Anne making her way away from the Lodge. She pulled her cloak close against the light wind. Carrying a covered basket, she walked through an arch that lead her out of his sight. He assumed that her godmother had hurriedly arranged whatever errand dispatched Anne into the cold and rain. For a moment, he nursed the hope that she might be on her way to Kellynch Hall. Even Lady Russell is not so foolish as to send her there to avoid me, he thought.
“As you see, my goddaughter is unavailable.”
He looked into her cool expression, and said, “Unavailable to me, you mean.”
“Captain, must I remind you that my goddaughter is a very thoughtful young woman? Sometimes too thoughtful; she takes on the cares of far too many people. Since she has been with me, she has endeavoured to hide the fact that the events in Lyme, and how they will affect the Musgrove girl’s future, wear very heavy on her. You cannot expect that I would allow her to be subjected to your presence and the suffering that would surely accompany it.” The woman’s words did not describe the Anne Elliot of a week ago who so adeptly directed matters concerning Louisa’s immediate care, consoled the dispirited, and was willing to stay to nurse the girl at his particular request.
Anne Elliot was indeed caring and thoughtful, and this was certainly proven by the fact she had taken matters into her own hands and seen that provision was made for him when he rode back to Lyme that horrible night. If her godmother was telling the truth, in the intervening days, her opinions and thoughts now flowed against him …
“So, you can see that your only option is to leave the letter with me and return to Lyme.”
It nearly strangled him to admit she was right. Short of refusing to leave—which would give her an excuse to summon the young groom from earlier and see him ejected—he must leave the letter and exit with some of his threadbare dignity intact. He reached into his coat.
She was not so rude as to extend her hand, but she watched with an avid eye as he took the letter from his pocket and placed it before her.
Rising, he folded the napkin. “I will be at Kellynch Hall visiting my sister until noon, should Miss Anne need me.”
Lady Russell’s eyes brightened. She took the letter and studied it for a moment. Meeting his gaze full on, she said, “I assure you, Captain Wentworth, my goddaughter has no need of you.”