I wrote this story for the 5th anniversary of the now-defunct website, Firthness. Time brings changes regardless of how we feel. In my story, life has brought Anne and Frederick great changes and they have a bit of a struggle learning to accept them. But, I have the utmost faith in my favourite Austen couple, and have shown them to be a loving and resilient pair. I hope you enjoy this look into one of the countless Wentworth futures.
Edward Wentworth’s smile was the most welcoming sight I could have glimpsed. Handing me down from the rented carriage, he said, “The occasion is not to my liking, but seeing you is a tonic, Mrs. Wentworth.” As he instructed the driver where he might park to wait, I studied the hospital. The building itself was grey and grim even in the bright March sunshine. I could smell fear and death even outside of it. At first glance, the place seemed to be a haven for couples, as there were many of them strolling about the drive and a grassy patch along the side. Upon closer inspection it was obvious the men were injured sailors and the ladies with them were wives, mothers, sisters or other women relatives come to visit. Knowing there was more pain and suffering inside the building was daunting. Fortunately, my anger was enough to keep me bent on entering. Were I depending only upon courage, I would have fled.
My brother-in-law joined me. “Well, I doubt anyone will bother him over there. As long as you stay out of the way of the swells, no one seems to care.” He took my arm and we began walking to the door. Up the front stairs, through the foyer, and up several flights of stairs he informed me of my husband’s condition.
As we moved through the building, the sights and sounds and smells intensified. I closed out what of them I could, but exhaustion, combined with an intense and growing anger made this difficult. Frederick and I had been separated for well over a year, and despite these harsh feelings, I could not deny the warm anticipation of seeing my husband. I kept moving in hopes my emotions would not overwhelm me completely.
We stopped at a landing on the sixth floor. Edward leant against a window frame and looked over a vast green field that adjoined the hospital’s grounds. “I would tell you I am resting, but that would be a lie. Though it is a fair climb, I grew quite used to it several months ago. I take the time to brace myself. He is still in a little pain, but not nearly like it was. It is Frederick’s attitude we must prepare for.” There was a pause in his voice and obviously more he wanted to tell me. But he closed his mouth and continued to stare at the countryside.
I understood he was trying to provoke sympathy towards my husband, but his endeavour was useless; when Frederick was injured in the line of duty, my dear husband had summoned his brother rather than me. For several months, Edward had been nursing his wounds and seeing to his other needs. Many months after the fact, it was explained to me that from the beginning Frederick thought I should be spared seeing him so desperately incapacitated. Such an explanation would be a noble sentiment, if I believed it.
Captain Frederick Wentworth has been a patient at the ____ Hospital for nearly five months. One might wonder how a man of prominence could be injured at sea, and brought back to his home country, and treated in a hospital for so long without his wife’s knowledge. As I travelled at a break-neck pace from our home in Bath to Plymouth, I have turned these questions over and over in my mind.
I received a letter from Edward several days ago. The instrument was used to explain to me that sometime in November of the previous year, Frederick’s ship engaged a particularly ruthless enemy. When it was clear they were losing the engagement, in desperation, they launched a bomb that landed squarely on the quarterdeck; mere inches from the captain’s position. The explosion threw him into the binnacle, which was already ablaze. He was knocked senseless and with the scene being naturally chaotic, it took some time before anyone perceived the danger and pulled him safely away. He revived and was immediately taken below deck. I now wish Edward had not taken such pains to tell me that Frederick remained conscious even as they were cutting the smouldering uniform from his body.
After the battle was won and order restored, Frederick directed that only the barest report of the battle was to be entered in the daily log; he would see that dispatches to the proper authorities were written. His close control of the information would certainly guarantee I would not be informed that he had been grievously injured. Only after he knew his orders would be followed to the letter did he relinquish command to his first officer. The cruise back to England was mercifully swift and uneventful. After a painful transfer from his ship to the hospital, treatment for his wounds was begun. A few days passed before he demanded his brother be summoned. The doctors were probably relieved that their patient was so sensible in his choice of a male relation; many of the cries I had heard at my arrival were those of women for their men.
Edward was adamant that until he arrived, he knew nothing of Frederick’s keeping me ignorant. Immediately upon his arrival, he was horrified to find his brother nearly out of his mind with pain. As time went by, he came to understand Frederick’s scheme, and was against it in principle. But as the days dragged on, he more fully understood the extent of the injuries and the toll they took. Reluctantly, Edward had to agree that sending for me would only widen the family’s circle of pain, and place a burden on me that I should not be asked to bear.
It was some time before my brother-in-law was even able to contemplate communicating with me. Edward presented his plan to apprise me of the circumstances to Frederick. Frederick refused. He knew that information, by way of ordinary letters would in nowise satisfy my inherent curiosity. Upon learning he was injured, my husband predicted I would make arrangements to be in Plymouth before I finished reading the first letter. In this, he was correct. So, Frederick presented a counter plan. This time it was Edward who refused.
All of this being injured, travelling, summoning and planning took several weeks. Please do not think me an idiot for not making inquiries when letters from my husband stopped. I assure you, I wanted to. But once, years ago, I complained to Frederick about this very thing. He kindly explained that in the navy it was not unusual for letters to pile up on the desk of some faceless secretary, gathering dust and waiting for this person to get sick of shifting the pile until eventually it was sent along to the concerned parties. “To anger these anonymous lubbers would practically guarantee neither of us would ever hear from the other again. We are completely at their mercy,” he said.
The letters began again after nearly two months. You wonder that Frederick was able to write while in such agony. He could not. The new scheme was for my brother-in-law to do the writing, presenting himself as Frederick. Edward, being a man of the cloth, at first, refused. Eventually, Frederick’s arguments that my peace of mind was a noble cause to lie persuaded Edward to yield.
Unfortunately for me, they write with a very similar hand. And, they were clever enough to keep the letters short, and general in nature. They used my desire to be a good, unproblematic wife against me. I noticed a change in the tone of Frederick’s letters, and worried that the correspondence had become vague, but I kept such concerns to myself. When writing to him, I only related light and cheerful things, reasoning there was no need to worry him.
All my longsuffering came inadvertently to an end in early February. I had caught a bad cold, and not wishing to expose anyone to my illness, closeted myself away in the house. I soon became bored and lonely. Between bouts of sneezing and coughing, I poured out all my longing for my husband in a letter. I posted it immediately and quickly regretted my selfish prattling. Over the years I have disdained my sister when she would trumpet her perceived illnesses to all who would hear; I now see that such behaviour does have its rewards. It was that pitiable letter which pricked Edward’s conscience, and not long after drove him to acknowledge to me their conspiracy.
“I packed his chest while the attendant was shaving him. He is still firm that he shall not return to Bath with you. However, if he will not relent, I have arranged for a room at a boarding house nearby.”
I said nothing. The more I learned, the more I seethed. After months of thoughtless treatment as the hands of my husband, how dare he make such declarations about where he would and would not go! And how dare Edward make arrangements without consulting me!
“Things are in your favour though, they are near bursting with casualties and need his room. Evidently, a bed in an officer’s tiny room is worth its weight in gold—they will be cramming two in his after he leaves. I didn’t know it until today, but the doctors were ready to give him the boot a month ago. In that time, he’s been sending me off on one fool’s errand after another while he cajoled and threatened the officer in charge to obtain a few more days.” Edward was trying to make light of Frederick’s antics, but underlying it was a deep tiredness. It was obvious that neither of us was happy with the situation. Only Frederick seemed to be getting what he planned. Despite my growing sympathies for Edward’s feelings, to inform me that Frederick put so much time and thought into staying secluded in hospital, rather than come home to me, was the deepest pain I ever felt in my life.
Edward could see that I was not happy. He joined me and took my arm. “Cheer up, sister—”
I stopped short, and stared at him a moment. “Cheer up! Cheer up you say!” Words were forming and forcing their way out of me. It was wonderful to give voice to these private feelings, and I had no intention of stopping them. “I have been lied to by the both of you, and kept ignorant for months! My husband has denied me my place by his side. I have every right to want to nurse him, and see that these butchers do what is proper for him.” I began up the stairs.
Edward followed. Catching my hand, he said, “I understand, Anne. You feel betrayed—”
“I am his wife! I belonged by his side, not you.” I would not allow myself to dissolve into tears. In spite of of my natural inclination, I would not confirm Frederick’s notion that I was too weak and soft to be told about his injuries. I would confront him intellectually, and not as a weepy woman needing to be patted and cozened with soft words and more lies. “Where is his room?” I turned and began down the hallway.
“Perhaps we should find you a place to lay down…” Edward said, following after me.
“Please go downstairs and find someone to bring down his trunk, Rector.” My brother was uncomfortable with his title and so I ordinarily used it only in introductions. Using it now said everything I wanted to convey. I love Edward, but his part in this hurt me deeply.
“He’s in number seven.” His footsteps began to fade and then stopped. “He is not the man you bid goodbye to, Anne. There are times even I don’t know him.” The steps resumed and faded completely away.
I walked down the hall, passing numerous doors, very close together. Edward had said the rooms were tiny and this was the proof. I was certain that in our home in Bath there were closets larger. As I passed door after door, I heard crying, and swearing, and soft voices praying. My own conscience gently scolded that instead of anger, I should feel gratitude that my husband, no matter how ill he had used me, was well enough to leave this dreadful place. I ignored the voice and listened instead to the sound of my own measured footsteps.
All I could do was stare as I stood before his room. My whole being was paralysed knowing that he was just beyond the door, and that I would see him for the first time in nearly one and a half years. The brass seven had never had the benefit of a rag or polish. Several splashes of differing colours of paint attested to its having seen many changes over time. A grunt came from the room, and I noticed the door was not fully closed.
“Frederick? Frederick, I’m here to take you home,” I said, knocking as I entered.
The room was indeed like a closet, but did have a decent-sized window. It would have let in some light, but Frederick stood before it, blocking out the sun and the view. He was bare to the waist, tossing his shirt onto a bed with a threadbare coverlet. The shirt joined a waistcoat and a neck cloth trailing over the edge to the floor.
He wasn’t even looking at me, but struggling with the glove on his left hand. “I think it only fair that you should see all of the damage before you make the decision to take me back.” His face contorted and the glove came off. He glared at me, threw the glove on the bed and offering me a hand that looked like a few twisted sticks.
His face was flushed from his exertions. Had my own anger not been white-hot, I would have gone to my knees. Suddenly, everything that Edward had told me, everything I tried so hard not to hear, came back to me.
“He is blind in his left eye and it has gone white over the months. He can’t fully close the lid so he wears a patch.”
The patch was gone, presumably on the bed with his other clothes. All around the eye, the skin was faintly discoloured. From the eye there trailed a light scar over his cheekbone. He turned slightly and I could see that it merely joined a larger injury. His ear was intact, but the new, more dreadful scaring seemed to slide down his neck and spill onto his shoulder.
“His back is greatly involved. The burns were not nearly as deep as they could have been, but they were bad enough.”
From his shoulder the red splashed down across his breast, like a scarf elegantly draped. It meandered down his side, over his ribs and then mercifully stopped. The rest moved down to the middle of his forearm.
“The hand was not burnt, but the force of the blast threw him hard against something and damaged the wrist and fingers. The doctors did two operations, but unless he tries to overcome the pain and work the hand, it too will be useless.”
In my hurry to deal with Frederick, I had barely listened to Edward’s descriptions.
But now I could not help but confront them. Instantly, I knew this defiance was fear manifesting itself in a man who normally knew none. There was a great deal of emotion in the room, and power. The power was mine; a careless word or look could easily destroy him.
All I could do was beg the Almighty for wisdom as I moved towards him.
“What you see isn’t all there is, Mrs. Wentworth.”
In the past, ‘Mrs. Wentworth’ was an endearment he used when I was planning a dinner, or social occasion that required things be done ‘right and proper.’ I could now see he would use it to mock me. My first impression was to let him win at this silly game. I would take my own hurt, and growing despair, home to mend. Such behaviour deserved my leaving him to the tender mercies of his own bitterness, and an indifferent landlord.
I stood still for a moment and allowed the scene to wash over me. Frederick’s behaviour was no different than that of my nephews, Charles and Walter. I knew how to deal with their fits of temper and make them see my way. I would do no less with my husband.
My purse joined his clothes on the bed, and I began to remove my bonnet.
“The eye will have to come out eventually. And it weeps. It looks like I’m in tears most of the time.” I said nothing as I pushed the pin into the hat and tossed it on the bed.
“And I have developed a taste for laudanum. Edward thinks I don’t know he has been diluting it, but I still need it. And want it.”
I remained silent while removing my gloves. His thoughts raced as he realised I was not cowed by his dramatics and lurid descriptives of his battered physicality.
“I will not return to Bath.”
It was difficult to unbutton my coat with shaking fingers, but I managed as I turned my back to him. “Please help me.”
“You obviously did not hear—”
“I heard you, Frederick. Now hear me. I am disappointed you will not come to our home, and live with me. I shall miss you. But I do have one comfort.” My mind was flying with thoughts. My pulse quickened. Particulars were like birds shooting by my minds eye. I could glimpse them, but see no details. I had his attention and hoped that my words would bring a quick resolution as the room was cool and my heart ached seeing him attempting to cradle the useless hand while covering his nakedness.
“What comforts you?” He was suspicious. I hesitated as the argument fell into place. I would only have one chance to sway him.
“I am comforted by the notion that you will live alone, with no one to draw you out of your self pity. You will grow bitter, and your wounds, and the tending of them will become your solitary occupation. This being the case, when that next damnable packet, with the wretched Admiralty seal comes to you, you will be unfit to return to duty. They will take one look at you and give you a pension and send you back to your morbid little rooms.” I took no comfort as the grim scenes played out in my mind.
“Such a miserable future comforts you?” He was shocked. And, by the downward tilt of his brows, somewhat angry with me.
“Yes, because you will at least be safe from being injured again.” Frederick’s injury or death had always been my worst fear, and now I could see a solution. It was abominable, and one I hated the idea of. But, if our separation were the guarantee needed, I would give it. Not gladly, but with a desolate sort of comfort.
“If I take you home, I will cure you. I will make you happy again. I will make you as whole as humanly possible. In doing that, I will undermine myself and our future by making you fit to serve King and crown once again.”
He barely nodded his head. My reasoning was on the mark and he knew it. I knew it as well. Frederick did not protest and I knew he would allow me to help him.
“Your brother said you were ready to leave. He was obviously mistaken. No matter where you go, you must leave this place. And since I’ll not allow you to walk the streets of Plymouth naked, I am going to help you dress again.” Were I taller, I would have been nose-to-nose with him. Being so close, I caught a hint of the shaving soap, followed immediately by his unique scent. My stomach listed. I had gone without that pleasure for so long, and it lessened my anger still more. Working to avoid looking at his injured eye, I looked intently in his good one. All I could see was utter fear. The last of my rage was overwhelmed, and now there was only a deep desire to care for him.
“Which should I help with first? The patch or the shirt?”
He looked every bit like an animal cornered, desperate to run. Turning the unscarred side of his face to me, he said, “The patch. Please.”
I fetched it, untangling the ribbons. He reached for it. “I shall do it,” I said, holding it a bit away. “You know, the first time we go to Molland’s, the ladies will be sighing, and doing everything to have a closer look at you. Women are quite entranced with warriors who carry marks of their battles.” I was surprised that he was so docile. Though, only he could touch and seat the actual patch. He allowed me to secure the black ribbons.
Standing straight, he crossed his arms, again covering himself. “I shall never go to Molland’s. I shall never go out in public if I can possible help it.” I took this statement to mean that he would at lest leave Plymouth and return to Bath. More persuasion would be needed to entice him back into society.
I used the ribbons as an excuse to touch his hair. “We shall go nowhere? Not even the theatre? The theatre is dark and no one would see us.”
“Don’t tease me, Anne.” He turned and gave me a hard look. But, it was the first time my name had passed his lips. The sound of it was delightful, though he was put out with me.
“Alright, then we shall go nowhere. Which will work in my favour anyhow.” I had his shirt prepared, and as I lifted it over his head, before he could speak, I said, “We shall make the house into a sort of hermitage, and whenever visitors come to present their card, asking to meet with the captain, I shall chase them away and keep you all to myself.” I knew it was not something that would actually come to pass, but I did allow myself images of the two of us, happily cloistered away from the world.
I began to help him by guiding his arms. The right one was clothed in a trice, but the left one was obviously pained by these movements. “Just a moment,” I said, adjusting how I held the shirt. I hesitated and looked closer at the scare.
He cringed when I touched it. I asked if it hurt and he said just a little. I touched it again, and despite the pain, he allowed me to freely handle his shoulder and feel down his back. The far-away memory of his hard, muscled body, and its healthy pink skin made me want to cry, but again I could not allow it. Instead, I kissed the hollow of his shoulder. The flesh was unnaturally warm and soft, but not smooth. None of this mattered. Already I was becoming familiar with this new, flawed man, and falling as deeply in love with him as with his old, ideal self. Even more so, when he sighed and leant into me just a bit.
Finally, I smiled and looked into his face. “After I learned what type of injuries you sustained, I spoke with a friend who is a nurse. She said that one of the best things for scars is olive oil; it keeps the skin supple so it will not draw up and cause the patient pain. I ordered a small cask right away.” Again, my eyes stung. I could not look at him any longer and maintain my casual demeanour. “I shall massage you every day with olive oil so that you have no pain,” I said. Without thinking, I lightly stroked his shoulder.
He cleared his throat, and said, “I would like that above all things, Annie.” These sweet words were barely a whisper. When he rested his head on mine, I could not help but allow a few tears. It was a long-awaited delight just to stand so near him.
I took a deep breath. “We must battle on and finish this. There is a hired carriage and driver waiting. I know how you hate paying people to be idle.” He needed help tucking his shirt into his pants, and then we were faced with his hand. “We should put the glove on before your coat.”
His bright eye darkened. “Go on, I can bear it.”
“I will not hurt you, I promise.” As soon as I spoke, and began to examine his hand and the glove, I feared I might not be able to keep it. The leather glove had been modified, cut so that it opened clear up through the palm. But still it would require great manipulation of his fingers.
It occurred to me that I must take his mind off the task and began to talk. “Edward said that the doctors are hopeful you will gain some dexterity if you exercise the joints.” The whole of his left hand was nearly immoveable, and his face drew up in a horrible grimace as I tried to straighten the straightest of his fingers. I stopped.
“This is ridiculous. I am acting like an infant. Compared to the other, this is nothing.” He looked maliciously at his hand as he spoke.
“I would never hurt you on purpose.”
“I know.” He looked up and smiled. “I would not hurt you so either. That is why I did not call for you all this while.”
At the mention of my being kept uninformed, a little maggot of my previous anger reared up. “You thought I would be hurt by this…that I am weak and could not be of use to you?”
It was his turn to be silent and gaze at me for a while. A bird flew by the window and I again I caught a hint of his scent. I held his bad hand and he covered them with his good one. His look was so penetrating, so filled with perception that I almost dreaded what he might say.
“I knew it would take some weeks to make port so I deemed there was little use informing you at the time of the accident. It was truly my intention to call for you when I was settled here, but as soon as I was examined, they said that things were badly done at sea and they began … ” His eye never left mine. Taking a deep breath, he continued. “They began by ripping the dressings off the burns.” He looked down at our joined hands, gripping mine tighter. “They were barely begun and I was begging them to stop. It was agony. They offered me laudanum, but I refused.” He looked back at me. “Eventually I could not resist the promise of a little relief.”
“So, you thought Edward a more fitting nurse.” Though I tried hard to be in command, there was an edge to my voice. I must have tried to pull away a bit as his grasp on my hands tightened still more.
“Yes, I did. Edward is a compassionate man, but I knew he could put his sensibilities aside. He could better endure the smells and the sounds. Besides, he could help hold me down as they dressed my wounds. Though, even he admits being grateful for the peace that came when I would faint. But mostly I asked him because he could go off when it was finished and get drunk. We never talk about it. I have no idea how much or little he cares about my pain. You could not have done that. Had you broken down I would have been utterly lost with guilt. If you had endured, you would have gone away to your own private hell and dwelt upon the horror of it. Worst of all, you would have begun to pity me. I could not stand the thought of seeing pity in your eyes.” Unfallen tears pooled in his eye. Mine fell freely. “My wounds had taken all my pride. You are my main source of strength and if I hoped to get any dignity back, I could not have you wounded as well.”
His reasoning was flawless to be sure. But, to be known so well was disconcerting. And to know that it was my own nature that had kept me away for all this time was doubly exasperating. It would take some time to think this revelation over and decide if I could amend myself. In the mean time, I had work to do.
I didn’t bother with the glove yet, and began to gently move his fingers. They were like iron at first, and he felt it by the stifled moans and how he screwed up his face. Again I hoped to distract him by talking. The conversation was bland and was doing nothing to relieve him. Suddenly, something came to mind, which was shocking to me. After an instant to consider, I thought it just the diversion he needed.
Do you know what day it is?”
The question replaced the pain as uppermost in his thoughts. “No. It is March. I have lost track of the days.”
“We were married five years ago today.”
His eyes softened markedly, soon followed by a smile. “Can you ever forgive me our ramshackle wedding?” He kissed me on the cheek. And lingered.
I could have stayed in that pose forever. He drew away and began to fuss with the glove.
“Sir, speak with respect of our nuptial day. Do you know what I miss the most when you are gone?” I reached to help.
He cleared his throat when I moved his thumb a bit too far. “No,” he replied through his teeth.
As I ordered my words a bit, I grew warm. “After you and I make love—” He raised the brow over his good eye and waited. “—and I lay with my back snugged against your chest—” I knew I had to be a furious shade of red by now. Not that I think he noticed. He did not seem to be thinking about the pain in his hand at all. “—I love it how you put your arms around me, and you hands seem naturally to go to my…to soft places.” As I said it, I put his hand on my heart.
I was mortified to find myself responding to his touch. More importantly, he smiled! I wanted to shout, but kept still.
“My hand is injured, not dead. I can feel that.”
“So can I.”
He still smiled, shaking his head. “I should never have let you come. I intended to spare you having an invalidish husband. But your wiles—”
The explosion had changed many things about Frederick, but not his kisses. He moaned a little, but refused to let me go as he pulled his hand from between us. His arms were not as strong as they once had been, but I would change that with good food, time spent laughing together and doing everything I could to make him see that I was strong enough to bear his burden with him.
Footsteps in the hall brought us to our senses. We parted, thinking it was Edward returned. The sound moved on, so I helped Frederick with his coat and greatcoat. “I have arranged to stay at the inn at ______, and ordered a good dinner. I also have brought you fresh linen and the suit you had made just before you left.” I buttoned the last button and brushed at his shoulder. “They will be a bit loose for a time, but I will remedy that.” I put on my bonnet and Frederick helped me with my coat. Just as we were stepping out the door, I remembered, “I also brought a little bit of silk with me.” He scowled. “I didn’t realise the nights are still so cold in the south. You will have to hold me close and keep me warm, sir.”
He stopped. “Anne, I’m not sure that I am able—”
“Nonsense, sir. Unless you have injuries you’ve not told me of, we can easily work around your injured hand.” I started to walk out of the room, shocked that I had said something so outrageous.
Gently, he pulled me back. Leaning me against the wall, he kissed me lightly. Pulling slightly away, he said softly, “What madness made me ever think I could live without you?”
“You once told me that time brings many changes. This is just one of hundreds to come.” I kissed him this time, with as much passion as I thought he could endure. “Now, let us be gone. The sooner we are away, the sooner we may put my bit of silk to good use.”