Posted on 2014-03-06
Mr Elliot was attending his two cousins and Mrs Clay. They were in Milsom Street. It began to rain, not much, but enough to make shelter desirable for women, and quite enough to make it very desirable for Miss Elliot to have the advantage of being conveyed home in Lady Dalrymple's carriage, which was seen waiting at a little distance; she, Anne, and Mrs Clay, therefore, turned into Molland's, while Mr Elliot stepped to Lady Dalrymple, to request her assistance. He soon joined them again, successful, of course; Lady Dalrymple would be most happy to take them home, and would call for them in a few minutes.
Her ladyship's carriage was a barouche, and did not hold more than four with any comfort. Miss Carteret was with her mother; consequently it was not reasonable to expect accommodation for all the three Camden Place ladies. There could be no doubt as to Miss Elliot. Whoever suffered inconvenience, she must suffer none, but it occupied a little time to settle the point of civility between the other two. The rain was a mere trifle, only a little more than a heavy mist, not untypical for April, and Anne was most sincere in preferring a walk.
It was fixed accordingly, that Mrs Clay should be of the party in the carriage. After reaching this point, Miss Elliot and Mrs. Clay began to converse among themselves. Anne, meanwhile, turned her thoughts to her recent conversation with Admiral Crofts, and particularly to his wish that, "We must get Frederick to Bath."
At the very moment this comment was recalled, Anne, sitting near the window, descried, most decidedly and distinctly, Captain Wentworth walking down the street.
Her start was perceptible only to herself; but she instantly felt that she was the greatest simpleton in the world, the most unaccountable and absurd! For a few minutes she saw nothing before her; it was all confusion. She was lost, and when she had scolded back her senses, she found the others still waiting for the carriage, and Mr Elliot (always obliging) just setting off for Union Street on a commission of Mrs Clay's.
She now felt a great inclination to go to the outer door; she wanted to see if it still rained. Why was she to suspect herself of another motive? Captain Wentworth must be out of sight. She left her seat, she would go; one half of her should not be always so much wiser than the other half, or always suspecting the other of being worse than it was. She would see if it rained. She was sent back, however, in a moment by the entrance of Captain Wentworth himself, among a party of gentlemen and ladies, evidently his acquaintance, and whom he must have joined a little below Milsom Street. He was more obviously struck and confused by the sight of her than she had ever observed before; he looked quite red. For the first time, since their renewed acquaintance, she felt that she was betraying the least sensibility of the two. She had the advantage of him in the preparation of the last few moments. All the overpowering, blinding, bewildering, first effects of strong surprise were over with her. Still, however, she had enough to feel! It was agitation, pain, pleasure, a something between delight and misery.
He spoke to her, and then turned away. The character of his manner was embarrassment. She could not have called it either cold or friendly, or anything so certainly as embarrassed.
After a short interval, however, he came towards her, and spoke again. Mutual enquiries on common subjects passed: neither of them, probably, much the wiser for what they heard, and Anne continuing fully sensible of his being less at ease than formerly. They had by dint of being so very much together, got to speak to each other with a considerable portion of apparent indifference and calmness; but he could not do it now. Time had changed him, or Louisa had changed him. There was consciousness of some sort or other. He looked very well, not as if he had been suffering in health or spirits, and he talked of Uppercross, of the Musgroves, nay, even of Louisa, and had even a momentary look of his own arch significance as he named her; but yet it was Captain Wentworth not comfortable, not easy, not able to feign that he was.
It did not surprise, but it grieved Anne to observe that Elizabeth would not know him. She saw that he saw Elizabeth, that Elizabeth saw him, that there was complete internal recognition on each side; she was convinced that he was ready to be acknowledged as an acquaintance, expecting it, and she had the pain of seeing her sister turn away with unalterable coldness.
Lady Dalrymple's carriage, for which Miss Elliot was growing very impatient, now drew up; the servant came in to announce it. It was beginning to rain again, and altogether there was a delay, and a bustle, and a talking, which must make all the little crowd in the shop understand that Lady Dalrymple was calling to convey Miss Elliot. At last Miss Elliot and her friend, unattended but by the servant, (for there was no cousin returned), were walking off; and Captain Wentworth, watching them, turned again to Anne, and by manner, rather than words, was offering his services to her.
"I am much obliged to you," was her answer, "but I am not going with them. The carriage would not accommodate so many. I walk: I prefer walking."
"But it rains."
"Oh! very little, Nothing that I regard."
After a moment's pause he said: "Though I came only yesterday, I have equipped myself properly for Bath already, you see," (pointing to a new umbrella); "I wish you would make use of it, if you are determined to walk; though I think it would be more prudent to let me get you a chair."
She was very much obliged to him, but declined it all, repeating her conviction, that the rain would come to nothing at present, and adding, "I am only waiting for Mr Elliot. He will be here in a moment, I am sure."
She had hardly spoken the words when Mr Elliot walked in. Captain Wentworth recollected him perfectly. There was no difference between him and the man who had stood on the steps at Lyme, admiring Anne as she passed, except in the air and look and manner of the privileged relation and friend. He came in with eagerness, appeared to see and think only of her, apologised for his stay, was grieved to have kept her waiting, and anxious to get her away without further loss of time and before the rain increased.
Anne, nevertheless, took a moment to properly introduce the two men.
"Mr. Elliot, allow me to present a dear friend, Captain Wentworth of the Navy. He is the brother of Mrs. Croft, who is leasing Kellynch with her husband, the admiral. Captain, my cousin, Mr. Elliot."
The two men bowed. Mr. Elliot immediately sensed that the military figure standing before him was a rival, and, further, that the best maneuver at the moment was an honourable retreat.
Anne, meanwhile, had decided to find out for herself the state of Captain Wentworths mind.
"Cousin,"; she said, "the captain was just bringing me up to date regarding news of my Musgrove relations in Lyme, and particularly of my sister Louisa. You will recall, she was the one who was so seriously injured. I am most anxious to hear this news, as I believe the captain is most anxious to convey it to me. Is that not right, Captain?"
"Miss Anne" he replied, "I am all eagerness to share the latest particulars with you."
"Please go ahead, Mr. Elliot," said Anne. "I am certain the captain will not mind seeing me home."
Mr. Elliot, with all the appearance of good grace, acquiesced, wondering if the outcome might have been more insistent, and not given Anne the opportunity to introduce them. He left, and, having no particular reason to walk toward the Baronet's home without Anne to accompany him, walked to the home of his friend, Colonel Wallis, thinking he might acquire intelligence about his newly arrived rival from another military officer.
After a few minutes, Captain Wentworth excused himself, and departed with Anne.
As soon as they were out of sight, the ladies of Captain Wentworth's party began talking of them.
"Mr Elliot does not dislike his cousin, I fancy?"
"Oh! no, that is clear enough. I had thought it all but settled, for he is always with them; half lives in the family, I believe. Mr. Elliot is a very good-looking man, but one was struck by how much more manly the captain seemed when they stood side by side. And that uniform certainly becomes him! So dashing and bold! More air than one often sees in Bath. And he also seems to have strong feelings for Miss Anne."
"Indeed. Do you know, now that I think of it, I seem to recall hearing somewhere that Anne Elliot was once engaged to an officer. She was persuaded to break it off, but has suffered regret ever since. It was some seven or eight years ago, as I remember. I thought it to have been a soldier, for some reason, though now that I come to think of it, that was never specified, and it could have just as easily been a Naval officer. I now wonder if the gentleman in question might have been the captain."
"If he still has a tendre for him after all these years, it speaks well of his steadfastness."
"Indeed. And hers too, for she has never married, though there have been opportunities. If her heart was still not free, thatt would explain it. For she is, after all, quite pretty, I think; very pretty, when one comes to look at her. It is not the fashion to say so, but I confess I admire her more than her sister."
"Oh! so do I."
"And so do I. No comparison. But the men are all wild after Miss Elliot. Anne is too delicate for them."
"nOT too delicate for Captain Wentworth and Mr. Elliot. They seem to have eyes only for Anne."
"Which speaks well of their taste."
The rain was light, and Anne was, in any case, sheltered from it by the umbrella which Captain Wentworth held over her so protectively.
Wentworth, finally growing comfortable in her company, said, "I have not seen you since our day at Lyme. I am afraid you must have suffered from the shock, and the more from its not overpowering you at the time."
She assured him that she had not.
"It was a frightful hour," said he, "a frightful day!" and he passed his hand across his eyes, as if the remembrance were still too painful, but in a moment, half smiling again, added, "The day has produced some effects however; has had some consequences which must be considered as the very reverse of frightful. When you had the presence of mind to suggest that Benwick would be the properest person to fetch a surgeon, you could have little idea of his being eventually one of those most concerned in her recovery."
"Certainly I could have none. But it appears--I should hope it would be a very happy match. There are on both sides good principles and good temper."
"Yes," said he, looking not exactly forward; "but there, I think, ends the resemblance. With all my soul I wish them happy, and rejoice over every circumstance in favour of it. They have no difficulties to contend with at home, no opposition, no caprice, no delays. The Musgroves are behaving like themselves, most honourably and kindly, only anxious with true parental hearts to promote their daughter's comfort. All this is much, very much in favour of their happiness; more than perhaps--"
He stopped. A sudden recollection seemed to occur, and to give him some taste of that emotion which was reddening Anne's cheeks and fixing her eyes on the ground. After clearing his throat, however, he proceeded thus--
"I confess that I do think there is a disparity, too great a disparity, and in a point no less essential than mind. I regard Louisa Musgrove as a very amiable, sweet-tempered girl, and not deficient in understanding, but Benwick is something more. He is a clever man, a reading man; and I confess, that I do consider his attaching himself to her with some surprise. Had it been the effect of gratitude, had he learnt to love her, because he believed her to be preferring him, it would have been another thing. But I have no reason to suppose it so. It seems, on the contrary, to have been a perfectly spontaneous, untaught feeling on his side, and this surprises me. A man like him, in his situation! with a heart pierced, wounded, almost broken! Fanny Harville was a very superior creature, and his attachment to her was indeed attachment. A man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman. He ought not; he does not."
Anne hesitated a moment before saying, "The same objections might have been made for you and Louisa."
"I had no designs on Louisa. I had never offered for her, nor even entered into a formal courtship. In retrospect, I can now see that any attentions I was paying to her or to Henrietta was nothing but a childish attempt to make you jealous."
"Why would you wish to make me jealous?"
"Can you truly fail to understand that?"
"But you were so cold and forbidding at Uppercross."
"Indeed, I was. I was still angry, Anne. For the last eight years I have had no hope, and the only thing my heart could feed on was resentment. I could not do you justice. You had accepted my proposal, and you had changed your mind. I felt it showed a lack of purpose, of firmness. But as my anger has dissipated, I can now see that it was nothing more than caution. I was wrong to expect a sheltered girl of 19 to gamble her entire future life with a junior officer in the navy of a nation at war."
"You are telling me that you have fallen in love with me again?"
"Absolutely not! I am telling you that I have never stopped loving you. I could not have felt that anger if I did not feel the love. If I had becom e indifferent with the passing years, my anger would have dissipated, as well. But if I have been weak and resentful I have been, I have never been inconstant."
"Then why did you wait so long to come here. I was at Uppercross and Kellynch for two weeks after the accident and have been in Bath for a full month."
"Because you were not the only one to detect more between me and Louisa than was there. Harville himself assumed we had an understanding. And I realized that, if he thought so, her family probably did, as well. I felt that I was hers in honour, if not in love. However, inasmuch as I had not declared for her, I was determined to extricate myself from the situation by whatever means I could, saving those that were actually dishonourable. Pleading family business, I left Lyme soon after you, and visited my brother and his new wife in Shropshire, anxiously hoping that the time apart would cause the impression of an attachment between Louisa and myself to recede. When Benwick offered for her, and she accepted, I was free man, bound to Louisa neither by honour nor by inclination."
"And so you then came to Bath to visit the Crofts."
"Please don't tease me, Anne. You know very well that you alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone I think and plan. Can you fail to understand my wishes? Anne, my own dear Anne, if you can forgive me for all my anger an resentment, I offer myself to you with a heart that is even more you own than when you almost broke it eight years and a half ago. I am half agony, half hope. Please tell my I am not too late. That such precious feelings are gone forever."
Anne was speechless. His ardour and his open, honest, and now so vulnerable countenance were overwhelming. And such a heartfelt declaration was not soon to be recovered from. They passed a small bench, sheltered from the rain by an awning, and Anne, weak-kneed and dizzied, took the opportunity to sit down. Frederick sat next to her.
"I confess, Frederick, that, when I arranged things so that you could walk me home instead of my cousin, I had hoped for no more than that we might take a few tentative steps towards becoming friendly once again. A proposal of marriage is a complete surprise."
"Not an unleasant one, I hope."
"Indeed not. My heart has ever been yours these last eight years."
"I hoped that might be the case. I could never doubt that you would be loved and sought by others, but I knew to a certainty that you had refused one man, at least, of better pretensions than myself; and I could not help often saying, 'Was this for me?'"
"So much wasted time," said Wentworth, shaking his head. "Then, when I arrived in Bath, I heard everywhere that you were intended for your cousin. Imagine my agony. Though you had remained single, here was a match that all you family might hope for. And it would put you in your mother';s place as the Mistress of Kellynch, and help insure that your father's line would continue. But, if the engagement was not yet official, I still might have time. I was determined that, if the opportunity came, I would follow the tactical dictum made famous by Admiral Nelson."
"What military tactic could possibly be of aid in the pursuit of love?"
"'Never mind the maneuvers. Just go straight at 'em!'"
Who can be in doubt of what followed? When any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverance to carry their point, be they ever so poor, or ever so imprudent, or ever so little likely to be necessary to each other's ultimate comfort. This may be bad morality to conclude with, but I believe it to be truth; and if such parties succeed, how should a Captain Wentworth and an Anne Elliot, with the advantage of maturity of mind, consciousness of right, and one independent fortune between them, fail of bearing down every opposition? They might in fact, have borne down a great deal more than they met with, for there was little to distress them beyond the want of graciousness and warmth.
Anne, as ever, was tenderness itself, and she had the full worth of it in Captain Wentworth's affection. His profession was all that could ever make her friends wish that tenderness less, the dread of a future war all that could dim her sunshine. She gloried in being a sailor's wife, but she must pay the tax of quick alarm for belonging to that profession which is, if possible, more distinguished in its domestic virtues than in its national importance.The End