Posted on Friday, 4 March 2005
There was too much wind to make the high part of the new Cobb pleasant for the ladies, and they agreed to get down the steps to the lower... Persuasion, Volume I, Chapter XII
How many times since that day have I regretted that agreement? How many times have I wished that I had declared that the wind was not unpleasant at all, rather it was invigorating and refused to go down the stairs? He admired my firmness then--would he have sided with me? Would we have all stayed on the upper Cobb, away from any treacherous staircases?
How is it possible for such an insignificant decision to irreparably alter one's life?
We knew not what would happen, so it was agreed upon. They began to descend one by one, the stairs being too steep and narrow to permit more comfortably. I stayed at the back of the group, thinking that if I were the last to descend I could have Captain Wentworth jump me down. I did so love the free feeling of it! I gave a happy little hop and hummed to myself at the thought of it, and anticipation soon gave way to impatience. Finally, Anne was the only person left before me and I could barely restrain myself from tapping my toe as she oh, so carefully began her descent. Surely there was no need for such caution! Perhaps she should jump down if she was so concerned; Captain Benwick was forever near her and could probably be prevailed upon to catch her. I had just begun to giggle at the thought of contained, self-controlled Anne jumping down the stairs when suddenly she was jumping; no, she was falling, turned sideways, her arms outstretched and her hands grabbing at the wall then sliding away when there were no handholds. The sound when she landed was terrible in the silence, and she lay as though dead.
The silence could not last, of course, since even such a horror cannot freeze people for more than a second, but the sound that broke it was most unexpected. "Anne!" was wrenched from the throat of Captain Wentworth, my Captain Wentworth, as he threw himself down next to her and gathered her roughly to his chest. "Dear God! Anne!"
There was immediately a flutter of noise and motion down below, as Mary screamed that Anne was dead and Henrietta fainted, as Charles struggled to deal with them and sent Captain Benwick for a surgeon, but I stood at the top of the stairs silent and unmoving, hearing none of the commotion, but only "Anne!"
The Harvilles, having seen a horrified Captain Benwick run past, came and brought us back to their house. I followed numbly behind, listening as Captain Wentworth refused to allow anyone to help him with his burden in a voice that was almost unrecognizable. Even after we arrived at the house he would not lay her down. Only the arrival of the doctor forced him to do so.
The doctor would not allow Mary and Henrietta to stay in the room during his examination, since he said he could not think while there was such a racket. He also sent out any men who were not family. He asked Captain Wentworth if he was Anne's husband or betrothed. The answer came reluctantly and quietly.
"No. We are no longer engaged." Then he left the room.
No longer engaged! For the first time since I heard him call Anne's name I began to feel. Unfortunately, what I felt was an overwhelming desire to be sick, but it quickly turned into anger, a huge knot of anger burning inside my chest. He had betrayed me! He was at this very moment making a fool of me! Even when the doctor said that he thought Anne would recover, all I felt was anger. I am ashamed to say that for an instant I was sorry that she wasn't going to die, not because I wished her ill, but because I knew now that it would hurt him. I wanted him to hurt. When Henrietta flung herself into my arms in a flood of relieved tears, outwardly I did all that was proper, but inwardly I was irritated that she was interfering with my focus on my anger. It was all that I wanted to care about.
Some small portion of my feelings must have been apparent because gradually curious glances gave way to concerned ones and questions gave way to blessed silence. Mrs. Harville pressed a cup of tea into my hand, urged me to sit, then hustled everyone away to discuss again the plans that had been made for Anne's care. I sat for a long time, cooling tea in my hand, nurturing the anger I felt. It was odd, I thought, that anger cannot sustain itself on its own, but like a fire must be fed and carefully stoked. I indulged myself in this worthy occupation until exhaustion overcame me and I slept.
When I awoke, the house was dark and still. Someone had removed the teacup from my hand, the shoes from my feet and covered me with a blanket. I felt stiff and sore all over, not just physically, but emotionally as well. Why did I feel like this? Then I remembered-he had betrayed me, he had made a fool of me. I was angry, I had to stay angry, or...what? I didn't know. All I knew was that angry was easier, and it was what he deserved.
While I sat there I heard a strange noise, almost like a choke, from the direction of the room Anne was in. Distracted from my anger stoking, I listened and after a few moments it came again. No one seemed to be stirring in the house. I was sure that Anne had someone with her, but what if there was a problem? I must confess that as I moved quietly towards her room I felt more irritation at being disturbed than any genuine concern.
Though the house was dark, the moon cast its light through a small high window at the end of the hall. I could see that there was something on the floor next to her door. I stopped in my tracks. No, not something--someone. It was Captain Wentworth.
He was sitting with his back against the wall, his knees pulled up to his chest. His arms were around his knees and his head pillowed on them. As I stood there and stared at him he made the strange sound again and I realized that he was crying.
My first feeling was disgust. I had thought he was strong, almost super-human, and now look at him sitting on the floor in the middle of the night, crying. My next feeling was a shaft of pity, but I squashed that as quickly as I could, turned around and crept silently back to my chair. Pity was not conducive to anger and I could not allow it.
The next morning Captain Wentworth still sat vigil outside Anne's door. When Mrs. Harville came out and saw him, then looked at me with mingled pity and sympathy I discovered that pity was conducive to anger when it was directed at myself. How dare he act in ways that make people pity me! No one ever pitied me before he came around! I added this to the pile of injustices I was fueling my anger with.
Mrs. Harville had a hushed conversation with her husband after breakfast and I pretended not to notice when they both looked at me. Captain Harville went and prodded Captain Wentworth up from his spot on the floor and over his protests dragged him out for a walk. When Captain Harville's eyes met mine on his way out the door, I knew they were going to talk about me.
At this point I wanted nothing more than to return to the inn and escape from the inconsequential conversation and sympathetic looks. To my dismay, no sooner had I broached the subject than Charles, Mary and Henrietta walked into the room. None of them wanted to leave immediately and I could not return on my own, even though there was nothing I wanted more than to be alone. I was trapped. It is a sad fact that being among well-meaning people is sometimes worse than being among indifferent ones.
Captain Harville returned by himself, looking in pain from more than his injury. Charles inquired after Captain Wentworth and was told that he needed to think and was sitting by the sea. I was irrationally jealous that he, the villain, got to be alone and think, while I was hemmed in on all sides. Everyone seemed to think that my spirits required cheerful conversation and indulged in it until I was ready to scream. Even Captain Benwick exerted himself to speak to me, something he had barely done before. I actually welcomed his somewhat melancholy comments; if I couldn't have silence I preferred the gloomy over the cheerful. I had anger to stoke, after all.
At long last, Charles said that he would walk Mary and I back to the inn to rest a while. Henrietta wanted to sit longer with Anne. I put on my hat in undignified haste and was waiting impatiently by the door before Charles had barely begun his farewells. Come on, come on, I thought impatiently. You'll see them again in a short while! Finally, he was done and we set off. I was thinking how glad I was that Mary was returning with me instead of Henrietta since I would be able to be alone in the room, when suddenly I saw Captain Wentworth slowly walking towards us. For a second I stopped, then all the anger I had been feeding exploded inside me and I stormed towards him. He stood still and watched me come. Charles called my name, but I ignored him. I didn't stop until I was right in front of him, then I poked him in the chest with my finger and said, "I need to talk to you." I was so angry I was shaking.
He just looked at me for a second, his face unutterably weary, then said, "Yes." He waved Charles off, saying, "Shall we walk?"
Out of habit he offered his arm, but I would not take it, clasping my hands tightly together in front of me to stop their shaking. We had gone about ten yards when he said, "Well?"
That was all it took. I proceeded to make a spectacle out of the both of us, for though I started my litany of complaints in a quiet voice, by the time I reached the end I had stopped walking and was yelling, my anger uncontrollable. He just stood there and watched me and when I finished was silent. "Well?" I demanded.
He closed his eyes for a moment, then began haltingly, "I have become aware that I may have raised certain...expectations...indeed that some of our acquaintances thought..." He trailed off, unable to finish.
I looked at him. His face was lined with exhaustion and sorrow, but his eyes were resolute. I knew then that if I wanted it, he would marry me. He had been foolish beyond permission, but he was an honorable man. The question was, did I want to marry him now? Though much of my anger was spent, there still was an ember of it burning inside me that wanted him to suffer. His having to betroth himself to me while Anne was lying unconscious, his having to marry me would be the perfect revenge. There was still one thing I wanted to know, though, and it came out in a painful whisper. "Why did you pretend that you barely knew her?"
He gave a short laugh. "That's something I have been asking myself quite recently. At first it was just easier and I told myself that I felt nothing for her, but in retrospect I think I acted the way I did because I was trying to prove that I felt nothing, not because I actually did. And I was angry. Angry that she broke off our engagement. Angry that she wasn't the woman I thought she was, then angry when it looked like she was. Angry when she seemed so uncomfortable around me, then angry when she appeared to be indifferent. Angry that I couldn't stop being aware of her." He stopped and sighed, then continued quietly, "I wasted a great deal of time doing stupid things because I was guided by my anger instead of by my own common sense and the most frightening thing of all is that I didn't even realize it. I had carried around anger for so long, for the eight years since she ended our engagement, that I became accustomed to it. I thought I had forgotten her and that anger and any other feeling for her were gone, but I was wrong." He looked directly at me. "I am sorry."
I flinched at that, but pressed him further. "Does she still love you?"
He looked away and was silent for so long I thought he was refusing to answer. Then he admitted, "I don't know."
I cannot remember walking back to the house, although I must have done, for the next thing I remember is insisting to Henrietta that I needed to sit with Anne, that no, I did not need anyone to be with me, just to be with Anne and to think.
I sat there, staring at Anne lying there so still and composed, trying to remember if I had ever seen her being anything other than composed. Surely if she felt anything for him I would have known. Wouldn't I?
And what did it matter, really? I had made up my mind from the beginning that I would have Captain Wentworth, and once I have made up my mind, I have made it. I am not so easily persuaded. I remembered saying that once to him, it seemed so long ago now, and for the first time wondered if such obstinacy was really an admirable trait.
Charles entered the room and quietly pulled a chair up next to me. "How are you, Louisa?"
"Confused. And angry."
He nodded and placed his hand on my shoulder. I was surprised how comforted I felt by him and reached my hand up to hold his. We sat in silence for a moment, both watching Anne.
"She looks so peaceful. You would never know, to look at her, that..." He broke off, then said abruptly, "I have spoken to Captain Wentworth."
I started, I could not help it. I suppose I should have known that this was coming, but I was taken completely unawares. He held more tightly to my hand.
"He will marry you if you wish." He turned his head to look at me. "Do you?"
"I don't know," I said simply.
He nodded and turned back to his contemplation of Anne. After a moment I asked, "Charles, do you know anything of Anne's feelings? I asked Cap...him but he said he did not know. Does she care for him?"
"I don't know anything for certain. I do know that when I...when she refused my offer of marriage, she said that she cared too deeply for another, that she could not in good conscience marry anyone else. But I, I didn't believe her, especially as time went by with no appearance of this person. I thought she said it merely to comfort me." He sighed somewhat wearily and rubbed the back of his neck. "Now I wonder if Captain Wentworth was whom she was speaking of. The timing certainly seems to be correct." He sat for a moment more in thought then roused himself visibly. "Well! You should come have something to eat. You have missed luncheon. Or perhaps you would like to go back to the inn now?"
I thought for a moment and was surprised to find that I wanted to stay. "No, Charles, thank you. I would like to stay here." He looked ready to protest, but I squeezed his hand and released it. "Perhaps you could have someone bring me something to drink. I find that I am thirsty."
"Of course, of course!" He stood and returned his chair to whence it came, then hovered over me for a moment. He stooped suddenly and kissed my head. "You will make the right decision."
As he left I felt tears sting my eyes. Dear Charles. But the right decision for whom?
Posted on Saturday, 5 March 2005
A generous tray was brought for me, with tea, buttered toast and biscuits. The wonderful smell of the toast made me realize how hungry I was and I made steady inroads into the food as I considered my situation. How could I have been so blind? Knowing that I was not alone in my blindness was little comfort.
I looked at Anne and realized how very little I knew of any of her thoughts or feelings. We all cared about her certainly, but we never tried to find out what went on under her calm surface. I suppose we thought that nothing did, that she was content to be aunt to her sister's sons and a helpful friend, entering into everyone else's concerns, but never voicing any of her own. I never once wondered if there was more to her than met the eye.
But if she cared for him, I stubbornly thought, then how could she have acted the way she did? She must not love him. I then forced myself to think back over the beginning of our acquaintance with him and remembered how coldly polite he had been to her and how she had never seemed quite herself around him. The part of me that was not consumed with anger asked reasonably--what could she have done other than what she did? What could she do besides accept his rejection of her and behave with composure and dignity? Could Anne have acted in any other way?
I was beginning to feel things other than anger, and I did not like it. Anger could be exhausting but it was a much more comfortable feeling than the jumble of emotions I was now experiencing. I did not want to feel sympathy and compassion for Anne and certainly not for him. Not being angry allowed me to feel how hurt I was that he did not love me. And how stupid I felt for believing he did. And the sick, empty feeling I got when I realized that I never even knew him, not really.
I was sitting there feeling worse and worse, when suddenly Anne moved, and opened her eyes and looked at me with surprise. "Louisa? What...where...?"
I told her where she was, that she had fallen and had been asleep for more than a full day. I asked her how she felt and she answered that her head hurt abominably and she was thirsty, but other than that she was well. This answer was so typically Anne that I couldn't help but smile. Mary would have behaved as though every bone in her body was broken and she was on the brink of death.
She seemed alert and her eyes were clear, so I helped her to some of my tea and told her that the doctor had seen her twice and was optimistic about her recovery, but that of course we had had all been worried about her. In some bitterness I blurted out, "Captain Wentworth most of all, I believe."
She looked totally bewildered and whispered, "What?"
I couldn't help myself, I had been so long in the habit of telling her whatever was on my mind, I told her everything that he had said and done right after she fell and that he had sat by her door all night. A succession of emotions swept across her face, disbelief followed by hope, then a deep joy that was almost painful to look upon. It turned quickly to sadness as she looked at me. She said quietly, "Oh Louisa."
I knew then that she could see all that I had been feeling and I couldn't bear to be in the same room with her. I stood up. "I'll go fetch him for you, shall I?"
A flash of longing went across her face, but she looked me squarely in the eye and asked, "Is that what you want to do, Louisa?"
I felt a familiar burst of unreasoning anger--why did I have to be the one to decide? Why couldn't anyone else decide anything? Why did they both have to be so blasted honorable? I closed my eyes for a moment, thought over everything that had happened and been said, over all that I felt, and then I knew what I had to do.
I found all the men together, the three Captains and Charles, discussing sport or some other inconsequential manly thing. They all stood up as I entered and I walked up to him, stared somewhat blindly at his chest and said, "Anne has awoken. You should go to her."
No one moved.
In some irritation, I looked up at him and repeated, "You should go to her."
His face showing gratitude and a dawning of the same painful joy I saw on Anne's, he grabbed my hand and kissed it. "Thank you," he breathed.
Then he was gone.
I stood there numbly for a moment, then said quietly, "Charles, I would like to go home now."
His hand gently squeezed my shoulder. "Of course," was all that he said.
Several months have passed since those two terrible days. Anne mended rapidly, and she and her Captain were married soon after she recovered. I was happy for her, but found I could not be for him. Not yet. Henrietta sat with me the morning of their wedding, chattering lightly of unimportant things, but as she did not expect many replies I could bear it with equanimity; indeed, I was grateful for the distraction of her presence. And now we plan her wedding, which is rapidly approaching.
Mamma and Papa were very angry when they heard of Anne's engagement, but Charles soon persuaded them to stop questioning me and I think helped them to understand a little better what had happened. They do not seem angry any longer, but now they approach me with worried eyes and falsely cheerful manners, which for my peace of mind is nearly as bad. I fear that in their minds I have been cast into the role of a tragic heroine.
Charles has been a great comfort. I find I still require a great deal of quiet for introspection and he has helped to provide it. He told me soon after my return home that he was proud of me. At the time, I was still angry and feeling like a victim and I thought I deserved his praise. I know now that I did not.
When I made my decision, I was not thinking of what was best for anyone else. I was still too angry and hurt to do so. I was thinking of what was best for me. I actually stood there in front of Anne and contemplated marrying him, not because I could not bear the thought of living without him, no, rather out of a desire to revenge myself upon him and also because I had decided before any of this ever happened that I would marry him. But then I thought of what marriage to him would be like if it was made under those circumstances, both of us knowing that I had willfully separated him from Anne, and I knew it would destroy me. Either I would bury myself in my anger and I would eventually hate him or I would come to love him knowing that he loved someone else. Either one was not what I wanted for my life. I did not consider what he or Anne wanted. My decision was the right one by sheer chance. It was not selfless. It was selfish.
I am ashamed.
I think often of Anne and her behavior after his obvious rejection of her; she did not fume or shout, thinking only about herself. Yes, our situations were different, but I wish that I had acted more like her. I should now have less to reproach myself with.
My behavior during those two days, nay, over the whole of our acquaintance, seems even more reprehensible now that I have come to realize that I did not even love him. Oh, I did have strong feelings for him, but they all centered on what he was, not who he was. I did not know enough of who he was to love him. I know now that he is an honorable man, but I didn't even know that when I fancied myself in love with him. All I knew was that he was dashing and exotic, and I determined to have him.
I have now made a new decision, and I hope that my reasons for this one are more selfless than for my last. I am going to forgive Frederick Wentworth.
Yes, he was thoughtless and self-absorbed, but so was I. Yes, he was angry, but so was I. Oh my, so was I. I have come to realize that I cannot forgive myself unless I forgive him, and I will never be able to let go of that last bit of anger festering away inside me unless I do. I have not been able to forget what he said about his anger, that it had become so much a part of him that he did not even realize that it was there, that it guided his actions without his being aware of it. I do not wish for such a fate, for I shudder to think of what it might lead me to do and whom I might hurt.
I have determined to start afresh. I am resolved that henceforth Louisa Musgrove will be a more thoughtful, self-controlled and caring person. And I pray that one day, when I see Anne and her Captain again, I will be able to greet them both with joy.