Posted on 2013-04-30
Lady Russell, hearing the sound of a door being loudly slammed, looked up the path, at Kellynch Hall's front entrance, to see a young man stomping angrily away. Recognizing him, and perceiving the reason for his anger, she suddenly realized that her direction toward Kellynch Hall, and his away from it, meant that they would meet, and found herself profoundly uncomfortable at the prospect.
When they were a few feet from each other, the young man stopped, looked up, and recognizing Lady Russell, gave her a look that could have vaporized the polar ice cap, made a stiff, formal bow, and said, curtly, "Mum."
"Mr. Wentworth," Lady Russell replied.
"'Captain,'" he said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"My title is 'Captain,' Mum. Not 'Mister.' I hold the rank of Master and Commander in His Britannic Majesty's Navy, and am thus entitled to be addressed as 'Captain.' It is, I grant you, only a courtesy title, not unlike the second son of a duke being entitled to be called 'Lord Somebody-or-Other' despite not being the heir to the dukedom. But, unlike that Duke's second son, who did nothing to attain his title except to be born, and who will never, in any event, succeed to the family title, I have earned the courtesy that allows me to be addressed as 'Captain,' despite having yet to be made post. And from you particularly, who make such a point of being attentive to rank and titles, it is a courtesy I insist upon. You have deprived me of enough this day without also depriving me of the just reward I have gained through honourable toil."
"I . . . I have not the pleasure of understanding you, Captain."
"Have you not? Do you deny that it was you who persuaded Anne to end our betrothal, despite the fact that we love each other deeply?"
"I do not deny attempting to convince Anne that it was a most inappropriate match. But I cannot believe either of you to be much in love with each other that you will not easily get over it."
"Such insight, Mum! Able to see into others' hearts with such ease, and so certain of what you see that you think nothing of interfering in their lives. This despite having no parental authority over either party, and despite the one who does have such authority having already given his approval."
"His approval could hardly be described as whole-hearted. True he didn't actually disapprove the match, but he so deprecated it that he denied Anne her dowry, a dowry that should be hers by right, if she went ahead with the marriage."
"And what is that to me? I am able to support my own wife. I want Anne, not her money. If nothing else, my lack of interest in her dowry should convince you of the sincerity of my feelings."
"You could never hope to support her in the manner to which she's become accustomed."
"Not at first, perhaps. But I have been given command of a sloop. My pay alone from that would be 200 pounds a year. She would have my power of attorney while I was at sea, giving her exclusive access to those funds. With her father and sister spending so profligately, while treating Anne as little better than a servant, and Anne herself being the only member of her household attempting to economize, I have small doubt that, in a strictly pecuniary sense, she would be doing better than she is now. And that's to say nothing of the possibility of prize money."
"But how can you ask her to enter into a marriage with an officer in the King's Service while a war is on? She could be left a widow before she is 20. Or worse, a widow with a child. Who would she be able to turn to, with no dowry, should the worst happen?"
"And what is your suggestion then, Madam? I have been in the Navy since I was 13. Should I turn my back on my duty now, when I finally have enough experience and skill in my profession to actually be of use to my country in its time of need, all because I have fallen in love? Naval careers and marriage are not so incompatible as you seem to believe, Lady Russell."
"Captain Wentworth, you must understand, Anne's mother was my dearest friend. Anne herself is my goddaughter. For the last five years, I have felt obliged to act in my friend's stead. When Anne asked what my opinion was of the match, I could not but give her an honest answer."
"An honest answer, Mum? An honest answer, you call it? Very well, let us agree, for the sake of argument, that you were justified by your long-standing relationship with Anne, and with her mother before her, to intervene in what you believed to be an imprudent decision, regardless of the unhappiness it might cause her. Why you should feel obliged to exercise such a right, a right to which your claim is, at best, tenuous, when the only genuine parent she has left, the only person who unquestionably does have that right, did not? Well, that is another question entirely. But let that bide."
Lowering his voice to a surly, and frightening growl, he continued, "What was it, Lady Russell, that led you to think you had any right to interfere in my happiness? What gave you the authority to opine on what was best for me?"
"Again, Captain, I have not the pleasure of understanding you."
"Anne kept saying she was breaking it off because she was persuaded that it was the best thing for me. That, despite breaking our engagement, she still loved me. That she was doing it because she loved me. I was so overcome with hurt and anger I did not really attend. But it all becomes clear now. You put that idea into her head, didn't you? When all your talk about the risks and disadvantages of a marriage with a Naval officer in a time of war failed to convince her, you used her own love for me against her. And against me. Didn't you? You convinced her that not marrying would be best for me. I don't know what you said. Perhaps that, in worrying about her at home, I would be inattentive to my duties at sea, putting myself and my crew at risk."
She had, in fact, used almost that exact phrase. A stab of guilt pierced her conscience, and it evidently showed in her face.
"Ah," said Wentworth, "a hit. A very palpable hit. Well, Anne may give you leave to decide her future, Mum. But you shall have no say in mine."
With that, he turned on his heel and headed back to Kellynch Hall, Lady Russell following closely behind.
As they approached the great house, they saw that Anne was seated on a bench near one of the gardens. She was clearly upset, but attempting to compose herself by reading, or attempting to read, a book.
"Anne," Wentworth called out.
She looked up.
"Anne, dearest, I wouldn't blame you for turning me away after all the angry things I said. I beg your forgiveness."
"Indeed, Frederick, I know I must have pained you. Please forgive me for being the cause of your anger."
"We could spend the next five or ten minutes arguing over which of us is more at fault, dearest, but there are better uses for our time. Let us simply agree to put it behind us. You said you wished to break it off because you believed it was the best thing for me. That you wished to end our engagement because you truly loved me. Was that the truth?"
"I love you, too. And I always shall. And I say it makes no sense to put our feelings aside rather than use them as the foundation on which to build our future."
"But, Frederick . . . "
"Anne, I do not mean to suggest that we continue to be engaged if it makes you uncomfortable. I understand the duty you feel you owe to your godmother. But if you can't agree to a betrothal at this time, can you consent to a courtship?"
"A courtship? But you are going to sea."
"I am. But if we were courting, we would be able to write to each other without violating propriety. We would be able to make tentative plans for our future happiness. Could you agree, at least, to that? Could you agree not to become engaged to anyone else while I pay court to you from across the sea?"
"Are you saying you now agree with Lady Russell?" asked Anne nodding toward her friend.
"On the contrary, I regard her as almost more my enemy than Bonaparte himself."
"Captain Wentworth," started a thoroughly affronted Lady Russell.
"Enough, Madam. You have had your say. Let me have mine."
Turning back to Anne, he said, "I don't agree with what she says. At least not with everything. But, in justice, I must admit that she raises valid points. There is a risk in marrying a Naval officer when a war is on. And you would be facing a downturn, at least at first, in your income. I don't believe her advice is right. But, as I cannot predict the future, neither can I say, with certainty, that her advice will inevitably prove to be wrong. We must wait and see how events transpire to determine the whether or not her advice was flawed. I can, however, say that, angry though I am, I believe she has your best interests at heart. So let us meet her half way. Let us see what events prove."
"For how long, Frederick?"
"Let us say for two years. If my cruise on the Asp is successful, I may gain prize money and promotion to post rank. And you will be of age, and able to make your own decisions. If, in two years, I were to return, with a sufficiency of prize money to insure our financial security, and advancement to post captain, would you then make me the happiest of men? Would you, in short, renew the engagement?"
"Would I!" was all her answer; but the accent was decisive enough.
And with that decisive answer, Lady Russell, after all her work, and all her carefully practiced arguments, knew that she had gained nothing but a delay. Which meant she had gained nothing.
Frederick Wentworth, on the other hand, looking into the soft, lovely eyes of the woman he adored, knew he had gained everything.The End