Posted on 2009-02-15
It was a dark and stormy night. The wind lashed rain against the panes of Admiral McGillvary's library windows. He drained the last of the port from his glass and reached for the bottle. He eyed Captain Wentworth. "More?" he said.
Wentworth did not answer. A shuddering gust came down the chimney; the smoke set Wentworth to coughing.
"I take it that the answer is yes." McGillvary filled Wentworth's glass as well as his own. He studied his friend for a long moment. "Confound it, Frederick, this is pointless," he said at last. "You're mooning over that woman like a lovelorn albatross."
Wentworth's mouth compressed into a line. He continued to stare into the flames.
"Are you giving up hope so soon? That's not like you."
Frederick Wentworth found his voice. "A--Miss Anne," he said, "is watched from every angle. She never ventures out alone. Her redoubtable godmother you have already seen. The woman loathes the very sight of me."
"The man-of-war in petticoats, yes." McGillvary cocked an eyebrow. "Or is that title more fit for the father? I swear he's the better-looking of the two."
Wentworth snorted, clearing his throat to cover the laugh. "Her high-and-mighty father scorned my suit eight years ago. And if he's changed his mind, he shows no sign of it." He reached for his glass.
"Twenty-thousand in prize money can guild a fool," said McGillvary. "Which, present behavior aside, you most certainly are not."
Wentworth drained his glass. "But I am," he said. "I saw her the first time, in all these years, and wanted to prove to her she had done nothing to hurt me. I acted the part of a fool precisely." He turned to McGillvary. "What sort of idiot is able to pay so little heed to his actions that he's thought to be courting another woman?" Wentworth looked away.
"Now," said McGillvary, "you've had a change of heart. So tell the lady and be done with it."
"I rather doubt that." McGillvary stretched a booted foot. "You of all people are the master of finding your way around the impenetrable. No matter how well fortified, there is always a weak spot. Is the godmother such a Gorgon?"
"Yes, and the father's worse. Especially tomorrow night. Anne attends a concert. Her father will care nothing about her, until I appear. Then he will guard her like a hawk."
McGillvary lifted his glass. "Unless," he said.
Wentworth looked up.
"Unless he is diverted."
Wentworth leaned forward. "You'll come to the concert? Yes, that is a fine idea. I leave him to your tender mercies while I engage Anne."
"Certainly not. I have no intention of giving that perfumed weevil-box countenance." McGillvary sighed heavily. "Really, my dear. How useless you are ashore. Surely you have noticed the calendar. Or has your foolish sentimentality blinded you even to that?" He waited for an answer. "Confound it, Frederick! It's the 13th of February!"
Wentworth looked away. "If you mean to twist the knife about tomorrow being Valentine's Day…"
"No, you idiot. We use Valentine's Day to distract the father! Look, everyone knows he's gaga about his cousin, the Irish viscountess. He's a widower; she's a widow. What could be more to our purpose?"
Wentworth looked at him blankly.
"The devil take it, Frederick! What say you to giving him a nudge?"
"A nudge overboard? Happy thought, indeed."
McGillvary got to his feet and went to the desk. "If it wasn't for the fact that you saved my life, Wentworth …" he said, and pulled open a drawer.
"Wasn't it the other way round?"
"No matter." McGillvary came back to the fireside with the inkstand and a supply of paper. "Look here," he said, pulling forward a small table. "You're awash in hearts and flowers these days. You write to her. And I…" McGillvary paused to smile broadly. "I shall write to him."
Wentworth frowned. "How's that again?"
"You will write to the Viscountess Dalrymple. Fill the page with passionate thoughts." McGillvary put the pen in Wentworth's hand.
"About the Viscountess Dalrymple? Have you seen the woman?"
"Be quick about it man. We must hurry if we're to deliver these tonight."
"But--" said Wentworth.
McGillvary pulled forward a chair. "Everything you've longed to say to Anne, say to the Dalrymple woman. And sign Sir Walter Elliot's name."
"Oh, Paddy, you can't be serious. It's bad enough--"
"Of course I am! And I shall write to Sir Walter and sign her name." McGillvary paused to frown. "I wonder what her ladyship's Christian name is?" He grimaced. "Too much trouble to look it up. I'll sign myself Your Irish Rose and leave it at that. Hang on. He's rather stuck on titles, isn't he? So I'll sign Your Noble Irish Rose. That'll do the trick."
"This a ridiculous stunt, and will never hold water."
"Of course it won't--in the long run. What do we care about that? The thing is, tomorrow night those two self-important bores will be so flummoxed about being in one another's company that you'll pass entirely unnoticed. Converse with your Anne to your heart's content."
"She isn't my Anne," said Wentworth. But he drew forward a sheet of paper and took up the pen. "How to begin," he murmured. "Ah." Wentworth began to write.
My dear Miss Elliot. He scratched it out. Much too formal. My Dear Miss Anne. Scratch. Still not intimate enough. My dearest, loveliest Anne. Scratch. This is agony, he thought. "I am half agony, half hope," he muttered, as he wrote.
McGillvary gave a shout of laughter. "Have I not always said you were the better writer? You're rather good at this, my dear. One would think you've been writing love letters all your life." McGillvary paused to nibble on the end of his pen. "You know, you ought to write to your Anne ..."
It was late when McGillvary and Wentworth finished. With a wink and a grin (along with several coins), the Admiral gave his letter to his livered footman for dispatch to Sir Walter's house. Sir Walter's missive to Lady Dalrymple he passed to Captain Wentworth. "You'll deliver this as soon as possible? Without fail?"
Wentworth shrugged into his greatcoat and stuffed the letter into the pocket. The opening of the main door was accompanied by a blast of wind. Wentworth caught his hat just in time.
"Remember," said McGillvary. "In this scheme, timing is everything."
Wentworth pushed his hat well down. "Right," he said.
The following morning was sunny and bright--a thing most unusual for Bath at that time of year. Sir Walter came down to breakfast to find a sealed letter beside his plate. He squinted at it and turned it this way and that. The paper was certainly very fine. Was it an invitation? One by one he broke the seals and spread the sheet. His cry of astonishment brought the butler at a run.
"Who delivered this?" Sir Walter demanded. At all costs he must discover the identity of Your Noble Irish Rose. When he discovered that the letter had been delivered by a liveried servant, very late the night before, Sir Walter nearly burst the buttons on his waistcoat. He knew exactly who this was. Calling herself a rose was a bit of a stretch, but no matter.
He read the lines again and again, and with each pass, his smile grew wider. A June wedding would be just the thing. No, perhaps earlier would be better. That way they would be able to spend the Season in London. This would mean more expense, for none of the clothing he'd purchased for Bath would do. Courting such a worthy lady would set him back as well. But then Sir Walter recalled that paying for the wedding was the responsibility of the bride's family, and he felt better.
But what to do first? Sir Walter summoned the footman and ordered pen and paper brought to the table. He must write to her, of course. But first things must come first. Sir Walter selected a sheet and readied the pen. A dip into the inkpot, a moment for the pen to mend … and then across the top of the page he wrote: Guest List.
Lady Dalrymple sat on the sofa in the morning room, open-mouthed, reading and rereading the letter that her butler had brought in. Surely this was a jest! And yet …
"Mama?" said her daughter. "Is anything wrong?"
Wrong? Lady Dalrymple hastened to close her lips. What was she about, to be gaping like a fish! She folded the letter into a square. She ought to burn this. Any respectable woman would. But--she couldn't. The words, they were so beautiful!
Lady Dalrymple discovered she was trembling. Try as she might, she could not ignore the contents of the letter. What fire! What passion! Who would have guessed that Sir Walter Elliot had the soul of a poet? She took a shuddering breath. Her heart had not beat so rapidly since--since when? Had she ever felt this way?
"Will you ring for Hodges, dear?" she managed to say. "And take yourself off. I have something of a confidential nature to say to him."
"Confidential? But Mama--"
Lady Dalrymple wrinkled her nose. "Must I repeat myself, dearest?" she said.
But the session with Hodges proved most unsatisfactory, for he was unable to answer her questions. That the letter had come that morning he knew, but he had not been the one to answer the door. And so Lady Dalrymple summoned the housekeeper, the parlor maid, and the maid-of-all-work before she was able to ascertain anything about the letter.
"It was a sailor, ma'am, as brought it," said Sarah, blushing furiously. "He was a tall gent, tall as trees. In a Navy uniform. With gold on it."
Lady Dalrymple's brows went up. "Not a liveried servant?"
"Oh no, ma'am," said Sarah. "He was an officer all right."
Hodges made a shushing noise. Sarah turned to him. "I'm not funning. I know an officer when I see one, sir."
"Sarah was raised in Plymouth, milady," said Hodges.
Lady Dalrymple blinked. "He wore a uniform you say? With...epaulets?"
"Yes, ma'am." Sarah bobbed a curtsey. "He was a captain, right and tight. A master and commander, our Harry would say."
"Her brother, milady," amended Hodges.
Lady Dalrymple brought the letter from the bosom of her gown and unfolded it. "Hodges," she said slowly, "send for Barnes. Have her bring the box with my correspondence." There was something about the signature that was not quite right.
Impatiently Lady Dalrymple sorted through her letters. It was some time before she gave a crow of triumph. There was Sir Walter's letter...and signature. With shaking hands she put on her spectacles, went to the window, and placed the letters side by side. The signatures did not match--not at all.
Lady Dalrymple's heart resumed its wild tattoo. If Sir Walter hadn't written this letter, who had?
"Barnes," she said, "I want you to bathe and dress Sarah. She is to accompany me this morning."
"Sarah's presence is indispensable to me today, Barnes." Lady Dalrymple glanced at the clock. "I will be leaving for the Pump Room at eleven."
"But milady," said Barnes. "What will Sarah do at the Pump Room?"
"She will carry my basket, of course. See to it that she has one."
And so it was that promptly at eleven, Lady Dalrymple and Sarah set out--without Miss Carteret. She told Sarah to lower the window and wrap herself in the lap robe. "Study the people on the flagway, Sarah," she commanded. "Tell me if you see the officer who brought the letter."
Presently Sarah gave a cry. "That man," she said, pointing. "He has the look of him. But it isn't him, because the uniform isn't right."
Lady Dalrymple came as near to the open window as she dared. The man in question was tall and muscular. "But...he's so young, Sarah."
"Oh yes, ma'am. He's not an old man."
"Not an..." Lady Dalrymple's breathing became labored.
"Cook would say he's ..." Sarah paused. "Oh, ma'am, he's ... fine."
Fine. It took Lady Dalrymple some time to digest this truth. She gave herself a mental shake. She told herself she was a sensible woman. She told herself that she was too old for romance. And yet, in spite of everything, she gave a shiver of excitement. Almost she sighed aloud.
The carriage came to a stop, and Sarah obediently put her head out of the window. This time Lady Dalrymple heard her give a sharp intake of breath. She caught at the girl's arm. "What is it? What have you seen?"
"Milady!" cried Sarah. "There he is! Just crossing the street!"
Lady Dalrymple crowded to the window. And so, there he was. Nature had given this man a glowing, manly, open look. Certainly he was the sort of man who knew his mind, and more importantly, knew his own heart. Lady Dalrymple sighed. He was, in fact, at the perfect age. This was one of nature's little jokes, and she felt it keenly. The years which had destroyed her youth and bloom had only given this man more vigor, in no respect lessening his personal advantage.
But who was he?
Posted on 2009-03-14
It was with considerable agitation that Lady Dalrymple arrived at the assembly rooms. Never mind that she was a patroness of the event, or that a crowd was on hand to greet her. There was only one man she wished to see, the man who had written the Valentine. "I am half agony, half hope," he had said (along with many other things). Truer words had never been penned, and Lady Dalrymple felt it deeply. Had she not experienced the same sensations since receiving his letter?
Sarah, bless her, had recognized him: He was tall with a dark head of hair, a decisive chin, and manly shoulders. That he would be wearing a uniform Lady Dalrymple already guessed. She'd read enough novels to know that for the military man, the dress uniform was the finest set of clothes he owned. In her heart of hearts, Lady Dalrymple had given him a name: My Captain.
Was he rich? Was he poor? No matter. Such were his personal advantages that Lady Dalrymple would overlook any number of deficiencies. But why had the dear man written to her under Sir Walter Elliot's name? All that long day Lady Dalrymple had wondered about this, until her brain ached from the effort. Lady Dalrymple was not accustomed to strenuous thinking. She was also unaccustomed to wearing such a daring gown or such a tightly-boned corset, but these could not be helped. Her captain would be at the concert tonight, she was sure of it. And naturally she must look her best. Could she help it if this particular shade of silk was most becoming?
Still, exiting the carriage a bit of a chore. Sir Walter came prancing up and stood by as she straightened her skirts and adjusted her wrap. With his bright eyes and eager ways he put her in mind of some sort of animal. A squirrel! Lady Dalrymple quickly looked about, but her captain was nowhere to be seen. It was therefore safe to acknowledge Sir Walter's presence. Lady Dalrymple's eyes narrowed as she studied him. How could she have thought this man to be so handsome? Why, the hair at his temples was graying! And though his gold waistcoat was very fine, she now saw that the buttons were straining. Did this man, the darling of the widow's set, seriously have a paunch?
Sir Walter smiled at her with gleaming pride and made his signature bow, but Lady Dalrymple remained unmoved. At one time such gallantry would have caused many secret sighs, but no more. Why, she noted, there were wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, and he walked with a slight shuffle. Why had she never noticed these? Lady Dalrymple inclined her chin. Let the others in her circle sigh over this man if they wished. Her captain, after a disastrous battle, would be finer than Sir Walter Elliot on his best day!
For this moment Sir Walter had waited all that long afternoon. The blood had been singing in his veins since reading the Valentine. Sprightly was the only word he could summon to describe it. Truth to tell, there were other words to describe such lavish displays of affection--Sir Walter was no prude--but he would not lower himself to use bawdy, though accurate, expressions. At first he suspected that the letter was a jest, or that the lady was someone other than his noble cousin. But as he watched Lady Dalrymple exiting the carriage, his eyes nearly fell out of his head. It was true--it had to be! For staid and proper Lady Dalrymple was wearing a scarlet gown, very closely fitted. And to cap all, in her gloved hands she carried a nosegay of pink roses.
Pink Irish roses.
What confirmation! What ecstasy! Sir Walter puffed out his chest and stepped up to offer his arm. This was the perfect way to begin the evening--with a promenade, for the eyes of all were upon them. Sir Walter was in the habit of including a reference to his "noble cousin" at every opportunity, merely to solidify the connection. But now that Lady Dalrymple's heart was his, Sir Walter realized that his position in Bath was set for life! It was all he could do to keep from crowing.
He would have passed through to the Octagon Room, but Lady Dalrymple was not so inclined. She complained that she was cold--and no wonder, in that dress!--and that the longed for the warmth of a fire. So now Sir Walter found himself standing where he had before, along with Elizabeth and Mrs. Clay. Miss Carteret joined them and fell into conversation with Elizabeth.
Lady Dalrymple removed her hand from Sir Walter's arm and moved away. "Dear me," she said, addressing Mrs. Clay. "Such a crowd tonight. And so delightful to see so many fine men of the navy. I wonder, are you acquainted with any of them, Mrs. Clay?"
Sir Walter's jaw dropped. Never before had Lady Dalrymple acknowledged Mrs. Clay's presence. To speak to her was condescension indeed! He drew nearer to her side as they conversed. The topic brought a frown. Men of the military were always a worry to Sir Walter, for gold braid on a uniform had such a peculiar effect on women ...
But then Sir Walter recalled that concern for humankind was one of the fruits of True Love, and he felt better. Indeed, Lady Dalrymple's heart must be greatly enlarged, for she was searching the faces of the assembled group. Sir Walter drew even nearer. The scent of her perfume was intoxicating. He was now close enough to whisper into her ear, and yet Lady Dalrymple did not pull away. Emboldened, Sir Walter murmured, "I must compliment you on your roses, dearest cousin."
Lady Dalrymple made no reply. This, Sir Walter realized, was the only proper response for a lady of her rank. What an impossible position was hers! How could she acknowledge passion before all this rabble? Still, he must give a lover's encouragement. He said, with emphasis, "Your roses are Irish, are they not?"
She turned toward him then, and Sir Walter waggled his eyebrows. "Irish roses, as you know, are my favorite sort," he said. He winked.
She looked away quickly--was she flushed? And then Sir Walter heard a sharp intake of breath. Lady Dalrymple leaned toward Mrs. Clay and said something.
"I am not acquainted with that gentleman, milady," came the reply. "I daresay Miss Elliot knows. I will ask her."
Sir Walter cleared his throat. "If a name is wanted, you ought to apply to me," he said. "I don't see why you think Elizabeth would know. Which gentleman is it?"
A wave of scarlet blotches appeared on Mrs. Clay's neck. "That officer," she said, jerking her fan. "The tall one who is speaking with Anne."
Sir Walter's face fell. "Him? Why, that's only Captain Wentworth. He is no gentleman, Mrs. Clay. And, I might add, no fit acquaintance for Anne."
Lady Dalrymple made a strangled sound. "Went-worth?" she said. "Did you say Went--?"
Why, Lady Dalrymple appeared just as flustered as Mrs. Clay. This perplexed Sir Walter, until he identified the problem. Of course, Lady Dalrymple was offended by Mrs. Clay's lack of manners. The woman had practically pointed at Captain Wentworth in front of everyone.
And then Lady Dalrymple began speaking rapidly. Sir Walter understood it all. Talking too much, he knew, was another indication of love-passion.
"I must say, he is a well-looking man," she said. "A very fine young man, indeed. With more air than one often sees in Bath." Lady Dalrymple paused for breath. "Irish, I daresay."
Irish! Sir Walter's heart turned over in his chest. It was all he could do not to seize her hand and kiss it!
"And a captain!" continued Lady Dalrymple. "So fashionable to be a captain!"
Frederick Wentworth, fashionable? Sir Walter's frown returned. "By no means," he said. "Frederick Wentworth is nothing out of the ordinary."
Lady Dalrymple's lips parted but no words came out. At last she said, "Frederick?" in a quavering voice. "Oh, gracious! Named for a Prussian king. Fancy that!"
Sir Walter did not care for the direction this conversation was taking. For his daughter's sake he had kept himself aloof from the gentle art of flirtation. It now seemed that his darling cousin was attempting to arouse him to jealousy. If so, her attempt fell wide of the mark. Who would be jealous of Frederick Wentworth? "I beg your pardon?" he said politely.
Lady Dalrymple's eyes were bright. She inclined her chin. "We have lingered here too long, cousin. Shall we join the others in the Octagon Room?"
She held out her hand, and Sir Walter's abashed hopes blazed to life. "But of course," he said, and promptly offered his arm.
The opening movement was lost on Wentworth. The music was a luxurious background for his thoughts of Anne. Her stepping forward when he entered the Octagon Room was a delightful surprise, and a very hopeful sign. And then, when she took the time to share with him several frank opinions on the events of Lyme and particularly her insights into the engagement of Benwick and Louisa Musgrove, he could not help but make a forceful remark of his own. She seemed puzzled by the outburst, but had born it with grace. It was her declaring hope of seeing Lyme again that was the most encouraging of all her communications. For if the events had irrevocably damaged her opinion of him, surely she would not care to ever return to the scene of the debacle. Their scant fifteen minutes together gave him every hope that his mission in Bath would have more than an even chance of success.
When the patroness of the evening had entered, the crowd began to scramble for the best positions, and he'd been swept up with the crowd into the concert room, separating them. He had thought this unfortunate until now. With all her group gathered and seated, he was happy he had not been able to finesse being included.
Lady Russell was at the moment his main source of irritation. She pointedly stared his way several times. The older sister took the opportunity, when the music slowed, to take a shot across his bow in the form of what were meant to be withering looks. When he nodded to her, that attack ceased. Anne's father was playing the gallant with the Viscountess Dalrymple, while she seemed to devour what were undoubtedly clever compliments as though they were tasty morsels. Wentworth thanked God he could not hear their intimate tete-a-tete. Suddenly, both Sir Walter and Lady Dalrymple looked his way. She even raised her lorgnettes to give him a thorough up and down. He felt every bit the prize pig at an autumn fair. Their scrutiny left him with the distinct impression of being sized up for sale. Or slaughter. He took cover behind a group of gentlemen standing nearby.
The hide of bodies was fortuitous as he was at an excellent advantage to observe Anne. She sat this side of her cousin, the ever-present William Elliot. They shared a concert bill and he seemed endlessly to speak to her. Thump him in the head and be done with it, Anne, he thought. During a lull in the conversation, she looked in his direction. He very much regretted that he could do nothing to acknowledge it. There would come a time later in the evening. He would make his move later.
The intermission came and he tarried while members of Anne's party left their seats to obtain refreshments. He was amused to see her engage in a little strategic manoeuvring from chair to chair. He was pleased to see her settle just one chair short of the aisle. Approaching her would be simple as kiss my hand, and if she seemed willing, he'd capture the seat as his own and spend the rest of the concert in her company. He began some manoeuvring of his own.
Wentworth had waited too long to approach and most of the party was resettling themselves. Anne had remained at the end of the row, which did work in his favour. As he started to her, she saw him and smiled. It was a clear invitation.
They path was clear, when he head a feminine voice speak Sir Walter's name. "And the Baronet was adamant, no matter what his rank, that he is no fit acquaintance for Miss Anne."
He glanced back and recognised one of the ladies seated with Anne's party. He slowed his pace. So, Sir Walter still had no good opinion of him. Why would he, the man respected no one but his own kind.
Why should the baronet, or his opinion be of any concern tonight? Anne had set the example for him and now it was up to him to follow it, or surrender and go home to Gay Street. He approached the row where Anne was waiting for him.
He bowed and she nodded with a smile that reassured him he'd not read the signals wrongly. He looked a the seat, but hesitated when he saw a calling card marking it out for someone else.
"Are you enjoying the music, Captain? Italian is not the usual fare in Bath, but it is always good to broaden one's scope. Do you not agree?" She moved a bit closer to the empty chair.
Wentworth's mind was still on the card and whose it might be. He was relieved to see that the cousin was already seated in the next row, and very much occupied with Anne's sister and a sickly looking young woman with monstrous feathers in her hair. He looked back at Anne. She had caught him staring at the card.
She gestured to the card. "Oh, that. It must have fallen from my sister's bag. She is giving a party tomorrow night and was passing them out." Anne did nothing to move the card, but continued. "It is an extra I think. I have nothing in which to take it away. If you would be so kind as to take away for me. Or," she paused, and looked around. "Use it, if you are so inclined."
"Anything to aid a lady." He picked it up and tucked it into his breast pocket. This bit of luck made him hope that she would invite him to join her. And, in fact, she looked as if she was gathering courage to do that very thing when a hand appeared on her shoulder.
The cousin was making a fuss about something, and Anne turned to sooth the silly thing. Wentworth waited patiently thought several returning to their seats made comments about his being rude and a rather large obstacle in the aisle. He was about to seat himself when the cousin gave him such a warning look that he thought better of it. Thought Anne had seemed to make it clear his company was welcome, it would not do to embarrass her in front of all her family and friends. Just as she turned back to him, a woman made a to-do about his presence in the aisle, Lady Russell glared, and the cousin smirked. He lost his temper and curtly told Miss Anne he was bound for home.
"If you must go. But remember please, if you wish to use the card, we would be honoured."
Wentworth let the doorknocker fall and turned to Admiral McGillvary. "I'm sorry you've missed your favourite dinner, Paddy, but this will not wait."
"I don't see the point in dragging me around town, and then bringing me to this pretty little house." Patrick looked it over once more. It was tiny, would fit easily in the large ballroom at Belsom Park. But he supposed someone like Sir Walter Elliot, a man economising, must make do with whatever was available. But for the life of him, Patrick had no idea how all of them managed to fit in such cramped accommodations.
Wentworth fussed with his sleeves again. "I told you, I have a very bad feeling about all this. There is doom in the air--"
"Doom, good Lord, Wentworth, save the melodrama for your next game of Charades. What could possible go wrong?" He reached over and touched his friends arm. "Just stop with the cuffs, all right?"
Wentworth muttered something. 'What is taking the footman so long?" He reasserted their presence with more vigorous knocking.
"It's a card party, son, lots of cultured throats, parched and needing refreshing. This place can't have more than ten or twelve servants. They're all run off their legs attending to the genteel poor assembled." Patrick chuckled. He enjoyed nudging the captain's lower class sensibilities now and then. "Besides, there is nothing wrong. You delivered the note post-haste as ordered and I saw that Elliot got his. After that, there is nothing else to be done."
"About delivering that note--" Just then, the door opened. He handed a card to the footman. They were ushered in and their outer garments taken.
"Where did you get the invitation? I thought you were not quite to their taste?"
"Anne slipped it to me before the concert. But at the end, I allowed myself to be twisted around by her wretched cousin."
"Ah, and there were tears before bedtime."
"In a manner of speaking. I fear she will now regret giving it, or me using it."
The Admiral was put in mind of one of his smaller commands as they made their was to the main rooms. "Don't tell me they have one of those silly sliding wall rigs. Gad nothing to give an inferior man an overblown feeling of importance than the ability to make two tiny rooms into one middling-sized room." The room was indeed middling-sized, and it was packed tight with guests. Those with whom they stood in the announcement line, gave the place an air somewhere between a Turkish bizarre and Bartholomew's Fair. A sharp elbow in his ribs got his attention.
"I was saying, about the note to Lady D. I was a little … well, a lot late on that. I didn't get it to her until the next morning. It was fairly early in the morning…" Wentworth was completely gob smacked. McGillvary looked around to see what had done the work.
Once again, the sight of Anne Elliot completely underwhelmed the Admiral. He would never understand the power that such a mousy woman could hold over his friend. Just then a clattering at one of the card tables caught his attention; a pair of footmen swept in to deal with the spill. McGillvary found himself staring at a pair of wide eyes in a heavily lined, powdered face. The woman's improbably dark-colored hair fell in long ringlets over almost-bare shoulders. McGillvary recoiled, yet he could not tear his gaze away. Her lavish diamond necklace was not substantial enough to cover so much exposed flesh. And as for the cut and color of her gown, why, he was strongly put in mind of the streetwalkers of Portmouth. Aged streetwalkers.
He struggled not to laugh, for this was none other than the dowager Viscountess Dalrymple! Wentworth's letter had certainly hit its mark. And yet, somehow there was something wrong. McGillvary's eyes narrowed. The viscountess was now smiling coyly and making a play with her lashes. Not at himself (which would be nothing out of the ordinary) or at her would-be lover, Sir Walter, but at ...
Sudden comprehension nearly floored him. Now he understood why Wentworth sensed doom about their puckish stunt. He found Wentworth's hand and gave his little finger a hard wrench.
"Blast it all, Paddy!" Everyone looked around but saw no reason for Wentworth's outburst. "What was that for?" he whispered.
McGillvary shifted very close. "You blue-footed booby. You delivered the note in daylight, didn't you? In fine neighbourhoods, my friend, the greatest intelligence is ascertained in the mornings. Curtains are wide open and fine ladies are sipping their tea … just hoping to catch their neighbours in some juicy bit of scandal as the fascinating parade of humanity trots by."
Wentworth just stared at him.
"I'll wager this Dalrymple woman knows precisely who delivered the letter," continued McGillvary. "I fear this wind will blow very ill for you, my friend. Look there." Wentworth looked -- and stiffened.
"Me!" he hissed. "You're the one who talked me into this ridiculous--"
"Admiral Patrick McGillvary of Bath," a voice intoned. "Captain Frederick Wentworth of –" The footman turned to receive the information. After he was told, he looked puzzled but continued. "Captain Frederick Wentworth of Dished."
There was a general murmur through the assembled guests, but the gentlemen moved into them with such confidence that ever after, many of the fine guests were adamant that the Wentworth family was from an estate in "Dished." Many assumed it was in Ireland.
McGillvary took another glance at Lady Dalrymple. Her color had returned. She had her fan working now, and she continued to simper at Wentworth. "We had better pay our respects to the host, my boy," he said. "And then you'd best get down to brass tacks with Miss Anne before you hit the reef and sink."
Wentworth just stood there, transfixed, no doubt, by the behavior of Lady Dalrymple. McGillvary got a fix on the baronet and started through the crush. He took pleasure in being recongnised by several of the guests -- though none dared to look him the eye and require that he acknowledge them. The social circles of Bath were tightly woven and brightly defined. This gathering was most definitely beneath him, and those in attendance knew it.
The baronet turned and gawked like a simpleton. To his credit, the man's breeding was excellent. Sir Walter recovered quickly and offered an impeccable bow. "Admiral McGillvary. I am honoured. You do my daughters and me great credit in attending our little party." He indicated that the Admiral should look behind. As he did so, he met with a pair of dark eyes coolly gazing at him over a red silk fan. "My daughter Elizabeth." McGillvary could tell, were the fan to be lowered, the face would be uncommonly young and beautiful for the likes of Bath. Suddenly, the fan snapped shut and its owner turned away. To his delight, he was right about the young woman's beauty. "And in the pink is my daughter Anne."
McGillvary reluctantly looked away from Elizabeth to the second daughter. He was heartened to see that her father's introduction was not enough to distract her from his friend. The baronet half-coughed, half-called to his guests, "As you see, my daughter is going out of her way to show a bit of kindness to one of our fellows in service to the King."
The Admiral was not certain which of the parties Elliot held in more contempt, Wentworth or his daughter. Along with twitting Wentworth's lower class sensibilities, he enjoyed torturing the privileged as well. He stepped over to the couple and took Wentworth by the arm. This was going to be good.
McGillvary decided to follow Sir Walter's lead likewise raised his voice for the benefit of the guests. "I am glad to see my friends are treated so well by your family, sir." He ignored Wentworth's glare and continued speaking. "May I present my good friend and fellow officer, Captain Wentworth. He is here to see you about--" McGillvary paused. Wentworth was smiling broadly now, and Miss Anne's eyes returned the smile. Her eyes also asked a question. McGillvary looked again to his friend.
"Yes, now!" said Wentworth in a stage whisper. He spoke, McGillvary realized, not to him, but to her. This cinched it. Casting aside his friend's careful instructions, McGillvary came to a decision: Wentworth must make his strike now, not later.
All eyes were on them, which suited McGillvary's purposes perfectly. "To continue," he said smoothly, "I have come on behalf of my friend here, who is rather tongue-tied at the moment..." He paused while the guests clucked and tittered, "... to request a private interview, Sir Walter."
Sir Walter drew himself up. "Now?" he said, spreading his hands.
This put McGillvary so forcibly in mind of a cock crowing over its dunghill that he laughed. Some of the guests -- the ones how knew him -- began to look uncomfortable.
"My business will not wait for your convenience, Sir Walter." McGillvary gave the assembled company his most charming smile. "If you will allow us but a moment?"
"No. That I shall not do."
Sir Walter's chin was so high that McGillvary found himself staring into the man's nostrils. He shrugged. "As you wish. I will speak before your guests, who are, no doubt, intimate friends. Ladies and gentlemen, I beg leave to broach a rather delicate subject which concerns a member of Sir Walter's family."
The silence in the drawing room was now palpable. Wentworth stood at rigid attention, a bit pale, but self-possessed. After a pause, McGillvary said, with emphasis: "I am speaking, of course, of the subject of matrimony."
There was a sharp intake of breath. Out of the corner of his eye McGillvary caught the reaction of Sir Walter's eldest daughter. Could it be that she had noticed him after all? "I do not speak for myself," he hastened to say, "but on behalf of my honourable friend here. To put it plainly, Captain Wentworth is in the market for a wife. And he has set his sights on one of the members of your family, Sir Walter."
At one of the tables there was a movement, and a chair went crashing back. "Oh, Captain! My Captain!" said a throbbing voice. All heads turned.
"Have you come to ask permission?" cried Lady Dalrymple, speaking to Wentworth. "Dearest sir, my foolish cousin is not the head of the family! And besides, I am certainly of age! I am able to speak for myself! And I say, yes! A thousand times, yes!"
McGillvary glanced at Frederick's face. His expression was priceless -- and so was Sir Walter's. But McGillvary knew he must end this farce quickly. "Why, thank you, Lady Dalrymple," he said easily. "Miss Anne will be so pleased to know that she has your unfailing support. Sir Walter, my friend seeks permission to pay his addresses to your youngest daughter. And, knowing Frederick as I do--" Here McGillvary paused to share a grin with the room, "--he will do so without delay."
The company erupted into cheering, and McGillvary held out his hand to Anne. She laughed as she came forward, and looked his way with a smile so bright that McGillvary had to admit that she was rather pretty.
"Evidently the old boy sees better than I think," he said to her. Miss Anne nodded and mouthed, "Thank you, sir," as he brought her to Wentworth.
The ladies and gentlemen were applauding and hooting and calling for a speech -- except for Sir Walter. McGillvary beckoned for a footman and gave an order. The baronet needed a stiff drink. And so, for that matter, did the poor dowager viscountess! Wentworth and Miss Anne disappeared, hand-in-hand, into the midst of the chaos.
And is there any doubt about what happened next? Well, I suppose there is really; we have left you in rather a doubtful spot. But, safe to say, there is another holiday coming and Sir Walter will have another adventure. Though, this wasn't really HIS adventure, was it? But that's not really the point.The End