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A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapters 1-3 (Post 1)

October 26, 2017 04:19AM

A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity


A Persuasion and North & South Crossover
By Morgan A. Wyndham


Licensing Note Based on Characters and story lines from Persuasion by Jane Austen and North and South by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, with influences from the BBC miniseries of North and South. Text from Jane Austen is in purple. Text from Elizabeth Gaskell is in blue. Text from the miniseries is in green. The tense, pronouns, or wording of these quotes may be slightly modified to fit the scene.

Summary: Thirty- seven years after she finally married the love of her Life, a 64 year old Lady Anne Wentworth (nee Elliot) observes a curious interaction at the Great Exhibition in London. When she sees Margaret Hale and John Thornton playing through the same melodrama that she and her husband acted out so many years ago, she feels she must intervene.

Chapter 1: The Great Exhibition


London, October 12, 1851

Lady Anne Wentworth allowed her eyes to wander the impressive displays of modern machinery that surrounded her as she and Frederick listened to to a presentation given by a Mr. Thornton, cotton manufacturer. He was outlining the new machinery he had installed in his mill and the benefits to both the health of his workers and productivity and output. Her eyes fell on an elegant young woman as she wandered into the periphery of their group. The intent look the young woman settled on Mr. Thornton tugged at forgotten corners of Anne's heart. She knew that look. She was certain she had worn just such a look of admiration, love, desperation, and regret frequently in the fall of 1814. The talk shifted to the recent strike in Milton and Anne noted the moment that Mr. Thornton espied the young woman. His face took on an altogether different but still sadly familiar expression: prideful loathing with an undercurrent of pain and regret. His tone turned bitter and he spat out toward the young woman. “Miss Hale here knows the depths we men in Milton have fallen to. How we masters only strive to grind workers into the ground.” The comment was undoubtedly full of anger, hurt, and pride and meant to injure Miss Hale on a deeply personal level.

The arrow struck home as Miss Hale briefly paled before narrowing her eyes and responding. “I certainly do not think that, as Mr. Thornton could tell you if he would know me at all!” Miss Hale spun around to make a hasty retreat.

Mr. Thornton's face showed a moment's sorrow at his hastily spoken insult and he hurried after her, hovering close to her as he said, “I have presumed to know you once before and have been mistaken.” The scene was so heartbreakingly familiar to Anne and she fancied she could read the events of the past and the sentiments of the present from just this short interaction. He had loved her. She had refused him. He was angry. She now repented and was suffocating under the pain of a seemingly unrequited love. Anne also knew by the violence of his anger and the warmth of his gaze that he loved her still, if he would but admit it to himself. She shared a glance with Frederick to see if he drew the same parallels as she had, but he was distracted in conversation with Mr. Lattimer.

Two groups converged on the pair, ending their tete-a-tete, even though Mr. Thornton did not diminish the space between them. Of Mr. Thornton's party, a young blond woman – presumably his sister – tittered and praised Miss Lattimer, who in turn raked Mr. Thornton with a proprietary gaze while shooting Miss Hale haughty looks. Most of Miss Hale's party remained detached, casting interested glances at the group. Anne recognized a Mrs. Shaw – an insipid woman with whom she shared a slight acquaintance – cast a disdainful eye over Mr. Thornton. One of the gentlemen of Miss Hale's party approached and Miss Hale unguardedly called him Henry, but then seemed to shiver away from properly introducing him. Henry clearly taunted Mr. Thornton with his intimacy with the young lady and dismissed his career as a tradesman by suggesting his brother's desire to “dabble in cotton.” In turn Mr. Thornton's eyes took on a hard glint of jealousy and pain as he cynically rebuked Henry. In addition to whatever misunderstandings existed between the principal couple, there was some level of opposition on both sides from their family and friends.

“I must go. You may enjoy the machinery like an exhibit in the zoo. I have to go and live with it. I must get back to Milton today,” Mr. Thornton growled.

“Give our regards to the Hales. You must tell them how the London break is suiting Miss Hale. Don't you think, Thornton?” Sneered the haughty young Henry, intentionally baiting Mr. Thornton, “Doesn't Miss Hale look well?” Miss Hale pierced the young gentleman with a quelling look, but as Mr. Thornton was occupied in glaring down his rival, he missed her reaction entirely.

“Good day.” Mr. Thornton said with resigned pride as he turned away.

“Tell my mother I will be home soon with so much to tell her.” Miss Hale's desperate plea tugged at Anne's heart. Mr. Thornton paused to listen, but did not even turn to acknowledge her request. This would never do. Anne moved quickly to intercede.

“Mr. Thornton, it is a shame you must be off so soon.” Mr. Thornton started slightly at being addressed as if he had forgotten her presence – a common occurrence as Anne had a tendency of fading into the background to observe until she could be of use. “I had hoped to learn more about your efforts to modernize your mill and improve conditions.” She could see his impatience to be away, and added an inducement she knew he would not be able to ignore. “Mr. Lattimer had told us you were looking for investors.” Frederick eyed her cautiously, but at her reassuring glance he nodded and waited for her to continue. “If you could delay your departure until tomorrow, we would be delighted to discuss the matter over dinner at Wentworth house.”

~~~


John Thornton was torn. He had been introduced to Sir Frederick Wentworth and his wife as potential investors, but had assumed that they would loose interest just as quickly as all the others he had met with that weary day. He knew that he could scarcely afford to turn away any potential investors for the mill, but he was fighting the urgent need to flee from Miss Hale's earnest expression and Mr. Lennox's proprietary manner towards her. Fanny interrupted his reverie with a frustrated, “Oh John, don't be such a stick in the mud! A dinner in London at the home of a baronet! We cannot refuse!” Crass as her outburst was, he knew she was correct.

He bowed slightly and replied, “thank you Lady Wentworth, we would be honored.”

His heart dropped as Lady Wentworth then turned and said sweetly to Miss Hale's aunt – who had remained on the fringes of their group – “Mrs. Shaw, would you care to join us? As we are all acquainted and the young gentlemen have shown an interest in cotton manufacturing,” – John scoffed, as if their interest in cotton was any more than a fleeting frivolous thought – “it shall be an enlightening experience for us all.” His eyes shifted of their own will to Margaret's face, which was suddenly pale and drawn. He silently prayed for Mrs. Shaw to decline. Fashionable people, of course, always had dinner plans.

~~~


Mrs. Shaw looked at Margaret's worried expression. She did not like to promote any further link between her niece's reputation and the tarnish of Milton. However, one simply did not turn down a dinner invitation by the wife of a baronet without reason. It had been a long time since her youth as a ward of Sir John Beresford, and she was loathe to admit that her circle of friends was no longer as exalted as it used to be. Although they had some rather modern notions about the roles of the nobility, the Wentworths were undoubtedly good ton and a worthy social connection to cultivate. “We would be delighted Lady Wentworth!” Margaret started and glanced uneasily at Mr. Thornton. Poor dear. I would not like to acknowledge the connection either, but we cannot help it!

~~~


Before the groups parted, the remaining introductions were made and it was decided that the party consisting of Sir Frederick and Lady Wentworth, Mr. and Miss Thornton, Mr. and Miss Lattimer, Aunt Shaw, Margaret, Captain and Mrs. Lennox, and Mr. Lennox would all meet again that evening. Margaret's mind boggled somewhat at Lady Wentworth's ability to host an impromptu dinner for eleven with mere hours of time to prepare. They must be rather wealthy. She silently hoped that they would invest in Marlborough Mills, Mr. Thornton deserved success and his employees deserved stability. Margaret was already searching her mind for a way to refuse the invitation without giving offense, but could find no immediate means of release.

Chapter 2: Reflections



As they left the Crystal Palace and returned home to alert the staff of their impending visitors, Frederick Wentworth contemplated his wife's actions. Anne rarely put herself at the center of attention like that unless it was to the benefit of some unfortunate soul. He had detected no impending danger to those present, so he was at a loss. “Would you care to fill me in, my dear? I too was intrigued by Thornton's modern theories on production, yet hardly enough to merit a dinner party and an investment.”

“Gladly Frederick, do you remember the fall of 1814?” He grimaced at the comedy of errors and blunders that accompanied their reunion after eight long years of separation.

“I try not to, it was not a happy time.”

“No, it was not. And yet, I just saw it playing out again before my own eyes. The admiration and sorrow in Miss Hale's eyes, the anger and hurt in Mr. Thornton's eyes, and the cool disdain and matchmaking schemes of their families and friends. It was all so achingly familiar.”

His eyes spoke a silent apology to Anne for his abominable behavior at that time – an apology that he had made many times in so many ways, and yet he could never absolve himself of the guilt. Looking back on their recent encounter, he had to admit that he hadn't picked up on this drama at all, “I believe you and I attended to different conversations.”

“Indeed, you listened to the speech whereas I was focused on the silences.” She paused in contemplation then continued, “I believe I once made you a promise that I certainly never should, in any circumstance of tolerable similarity, give such advice to a young lady in need as I received from Lady Russel in the year six. In nearly forty years, I have never had the opportunity to attend to that promise, I believe I must now before anything drastic occurs to ruin those young people's happiness forever.”

Frederick cupped her face tenderly and replied, “that's my Anne, always sacrificing for the good of those in need. How do you propose we accomplish this feat?”

“I am not yet sure, though I expect that a detailed account of our own history might suffice.” Anne fell silent in a moment's reverie as she though back on their memories. After a minute her face took on a determined look. She was no doubt mentally calculating the necessary preparations for their unexpected guests. As soon as he had handed her out of the carriage in front of their London townhouse she began giving gentle orders to the household staff – a benevolent captain to her own tightly run crew of faithful retainers.

As he retreated to his study to flee the uproar of last minute preparations, he contemplated their situation. It would no doubt come as a shock to some of their guests to find that the wife of a baronet would spend the whole of the afternoon in the kitchens helping relieve her staff of the unexpected hassle, but a great captain always shared the burdens with their crew. Even after all of these years, she continued to amaze him with her sweet temper, obliging nature, quick mind, and resourcefulness.

He had been raised to the rank of baronet for his heroic role in the battle of Navarino in 1827. The title meant little to him, far less than his elevation to Admiral had. Yet, for all of his heroism in the battle and indifference to the pretensions of nobility, he had accepted the honors for Anne's sake. Her role had been nearly as crucial in the aftermath as his had been during battle. While many women would shrink from the horrors of war, his Anne had forged into the carnage and come to the aid of the wounded. She tirelessly nursed injured men from both sides of the conflict and bolstered their spirits when all was pain and despair. She deserved the title as much for her own heroism as he did.

More importantly, the title restored her to the role she was born to. While rank had never held much weight with Anne personally, it was paramount to her father and her friend Lady Russel. Her father, Sir Walter Elliot, revered the baronetage as most patriarchs revered the family bible. In spite of his earlier disdain for the navy as: “being the means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of,” Frederick was quite sure that Sir Walter had never treated Anne with half so much tenderness, pride, and deference as he had the day he had proudly amended the Elliot entry in that prodigious tome to reflect her new title. Sadly, his health had begun to fade by that time, and he had unfortunately passed before the new edition of the tome was printed which included the new Wentworth baronetcy.

Frederick was still uncomfortable with the useless deference the title attracted from members of society. He had once been a poor orphan embarking on his first voyage in the Navy. He had once been a young man in love with little to recommend him beyond his charm and potential. The world had disdained and mocked him then, and yet now they bowed and scraped. He was certain that Mrs. Shaw's acceptance of Anne's invitation had more to do with their title than their company. Although he had not been so aware of the undercurrent of the conversation as his observant and empathetic wife, he had noted Mrs. Shaw's disdain for Mr. Thornton and the emphasis she placed on Lady Wentworth as she accepted. He fancied he saw a resemblance between Mrs. Shaw and Lady Russel in their rigid ideas of propriety, suitability, and hauteur yet lacking much of the keen intellect that Lady Russel displayed in other areas. If Anne was correct in her assumptions – as he was sure she was – he could see that lady endeavoring to separate her niece from a worthy man because he was in trade.

~~~


The afternoon at Harley street passed in nearly as much uproar, though far less productivity, as at Wentworth House. It seemed that while they had been out, Edith's son Sholto had developed a mild fever. The poor little lad was irritable and uncomfortable and for some time occupied all three ladies attention. It was soon discovered, however, that Margaret's serene nature was best suited to soothe and calm the child in comparison to his mother's anxious petting and grandmother's nervous dismay. Margaret finally convinced them to leave the poor boy to her care as they went to fret over their attire for the evening. For a time, Margaret had hopes that she could cry off of her dinner engagement to care for the boy. After all, a dinner that included Mr. Thornton, Henry Lennox, Aunt Shaw, and Anne Lattimer would be extremely uncomfortable for Margaret.

Unfortunately, – or rather fortunately if Margaret would get past her own worries and think of her poor exhausted patient – Margaret had finally gotten the child to sleep just before Edith returned to the nursery. She was already resplendent in her evening wear and informed Margaret that she had sent her ladies maid to help her dress. The child was asleep and there was little Margaret could do for a sleeping sick child that his nurse could not likewise accomplish. She therefore had little choice but to go dress for the evening.

Chapter 3: A Proper Model



Edith and Aunt Shaw had sighed disparagingly over the simplicity of Margaret's gown when she descended – what will Lady Wentworth say! – but as Margaret had been delayed while tending to the child and she had only packed a limited selection of gowns for this short trip there was nothing to be done. As they were shown into the Wentworth's comfortably elegant parlor – the last of the party to arrive – Margaret smiled to herself at Lady Wentworth's equally simple gown. Her ladyship apparently noticed Aunt Shaw's critical eye and preemptively explained, “I do apologize for my haggard appearance, but I found I could not put my kitchen staff through the exertions of a last minute dinner party without aid and was therefore delayed in dressing.”

“Are you presently understaffed Lady Wentworth?” Asked Aunt Shaw incredulously.

“Oh no, but I find I cannot be so selfish as to add additional strain on their usual resources on a whim of my own without lending what help I can.” Aunt Shaw gave a disapproving look but had better breeding than to criticize a member of the peerage on her household affairs. Of the younger ladies, Edith, Miss Thornton, and Miss Lattimer had brows creased with confusion as if such an action had never occurred to them. Margaret merely smiled and thought back to a time when she spent a day starching linens so that Dixon would have time to prepare tea for Mr. Thornton. While such an afternoon of labor clearly diminished Lady Wentworth's stature in her Aunt and cousin's eyes, Margaret found herself liking her the better for it.

~~~


John Thornton sat uneasily in the lavish London parlor. He was out of his element mixing with nobility. Fanny sat beside him on the settee preening like a peacock. She was engaged in a lively conversation with Lady Wentworth and Ann Lattimer about music. She would occasionally cast none-too-subtle hints in his direction about her desire to attend a concert in London while they were here. He knew that she wanted to see and experience more of London, but he had obligations back in Milton that needed attending. He was not a gentleman of leisure, free to fritt about town on a whim. At the moment, Lord Wentworth was engaged in a conversation with Mr. Lattimer about the ethics of empire. He wished to join their conversation, maybe even apply some of the philosophical insights he'd gained from his sessions with Mr. Hale. But in the understated elegance of this room he felt nothing more than a great rough fellow, with not a grace or a refinement about him and his courage to engage in polite conversation failed him.

As if to lend validity to these insecurities, Mr. Henry Lennox arrived and after greeting his hosts latched on to John. The man had obviously noted his partiality toward Miss Hale that morning and intended only to highlight the disparity between them. He recalled a former conversation with Miss Hale about the difference between a gentleman and a true man and felt the weight of Miss Hale's disapprobation encompassed in Henry Lennox's speech. He launched into a prolonged conversation about London culture, asking for John's opinions on plays, operas, and museums and loudly feigning astonishment that he had never attended them. He made particular note of Miss Hale's favorite activities and indicated that they had experienced them all together. Fanny and the other ladies heard the substance, if not the tone of the conversation and joined in – giving a larger audience for Mr. Lennox to embarrass him in front of.

The entrance of the party from Harley street did little to soothe his anxiety. Miss Hale was everything that was poised and elegant and lovely. She fit in perfectly in this world. He felt his heart squeeze at the realization that this was where she belonged, not stifling in dirty smoky Milton. The ladies embarked on a discussion of Lady Wentworth's appearance and assistance with the kitchen staff which he didn't altogether follow. He had noted nothing amiss in her ladyship's attire. Though it did tend more towards the simplicity of Miss Hale's habits than the extravagance of Fanny's, he could never see that as a flaw.

As if reading his thoughts, Mr. Lennox leaned in and said in a low voice. “You think Miss Hale looking well, don't you? Milton doesn't agree with her, I imagine; for when she first came to London, I thought I had never seen any one so much changed. To-night she is looking radiant. But she is much stronger. On Friday evening we walked up to Hampstead and back. Yet on Saturday she looked as well as she does now.

John started at this statement. 'We!' Who? They two alone? He thought in a panic. He was flooded with jealousy. This morning Miss Hale had referred to this man as Henry, a clear sign of intimacy that he had never received from her even as she threw her arms around his neck to shield him from the rioters. Here was a man – a gentlemen even – who fit into her world far better than he ever could.

John would have sulkily remained in this brooding melancholy had not Fanny's screeching voice penetrated his thoughts “Oh, Lord Wentworth, this is such an impressive drawing room! And to live so close to Hyde Park!”

~~~


Frederick Wentworth had been covertly observing Mr. Thornton since his arrival. The man clearly felt out of his element to begin with and the cunning Mr. Lennox had made a point of gleefully prodding at those insecurities. As Frederick was far more sympathetic to Mr. Thornton's plight than Mr. Lennox's, he thought he would take this opportunity to even the playing field.

“Thank you Miss Thornton, though I do fear it will be a rather tedious evening if you all persist in my Lord-ing” me all night.

“Indeed, you no doubt prefer Sir Frederick.” Inserted Mrs. Shaw with a fawning voice and an imperiously smug look at Miss Thornton.

“In my own home I would rather you just call me Wentworth. The title means little enough to me – a hollow honor in reward for a brutal battle. I can't help but feel that I purchased the honor with the lives of far too many good men under my command.” He paused to enjoy Mrs. Shaw's smug look fade into a look of horror. “I would also gladly answer to Admiral as that was an honor that I worked hard for and gained through my own merit.”

“But surely you do not spurn your elevation to the nobility,” chimed in Miss Lattimer, “I feel that the practice of elevating military heroes, or …” she paused and batted her eyelashes at Mr. Thornton, “even magistrates and other civic leaders is a perfect way of replenishing the nobility with the best and most active men of our society.”

Well, she's about as subtle as Louisa Musgrove was, thought Frederick. “I do not begrudge others the honor of such elevation, but I myself once suffered cruelly for the preservation of rank, and therefore I have little desire to dwell on it further.” The effusive Miss Thornton, sensing some diverting intrigue, urged him to explain.

Anne sent him a subtle look of gratitude for deftly steering the conversation to their advantage before taking a tone of mock solemnity. “I'm afraid the fault is my own. A case of star-crossed love.”

“Oh how romantic!” Breathed Mrs. Lennox as she instinctively slid her hand into her husband's, “do tell us your story!”

~~~


All of the ladies echoed Mrs. Lennox's entreaty and Mr. Thornton found himself more interested in the story than he ought. After his own recent ruminations on gentility, he was keen to hear how this played out. The old married couple told their story with a synchronization that spoke of longstanding harmony and familiarity.

Lady Wentworth began, “Frederick and I met when I was just nineteen and fell quickly and deeply in love.”

“I was on shore leave and visiting my brother, who was a curate at Monksford, in the vicinity of Anne's family seat of Kellynch. One day I was assisting my brother on his charity rounds, when we entered the cottage of the poor widow of a tenant farmer. She had been grievously ill and all alone. I entered the cottage to the unexpected sight of this lovely creature, on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor.”

“The poor woman had been so ill and unable to leave her bed that the cottage was in a frightful state. I could not, in good conscience leave her in that environment. And so I happily tended to whatever needed doing.” Mr. Thornton was struck by the memory of Miss Hale's friendship with the dying Bessy Higgins and her visits of mercy to starving families during the strike. He hadn't approved at the time, but these attentions did speak to her nurturing nature. “I was mortified when the door to the cottage opened and the most handsome man I'd ever seen stood there looking at me in all my disheveled state.”

“She need not have worried, she was beautiful with her cheeks ruddy with the exertion and her hair coming out of its pins, even the smudge of dirt on her forehead was charming. It was not long before I realized how clever, sweet, and obliging she was. I was half in love with her before I even heard of Sir Walter Elliot or his exalted place in society.”

“Frederick was dashing, charming, and so very attentive. I was so wrapped up in his stories of heroic deeds at sea and our conversations about poetry and books that I never quite got around to speaking of my family that first day.”

“After about a month I knew I couldn't live without her, so I proposed and thought my heart would burst with feeling when she accepted.”

“For two days were were blissfully happy and nothing could dampen our spirits.”

Wentworth's face darkened as the plot turned, “Then I was obliged to apply to her father, Sir Walter Elliot, for her hand. He did everything but refuse his consent, though he did spend a half hour berating me for my presumption at aspiring to marry one of his daughters, the degradation of such an alliance, and finally, the negative effects of frequent exposure to the sea on a man's appearance.” Wentworth concluded with an exaggerated eye roll and shake of his head.

“My father, god rest his soul, was not an intelligent man. He was, however, a baronet – the highest ranking member of our local society – handsome, and vain. Rank and appearance were his primary concerns. An attachment to a naval Captain who had yet to earn his first ship and make his fortune was unacceptable even for his least favored daughter.”

~~~


“The idea of a man who must work and toil for his fortune was offensive to Sir Walter,” Wentworth spat. Margaret's cheeks burned in shame as she recalled her response to Mr. Thornton's declaration of love: Your whole manner offends me. She herself was guilty of judging Milton in general, and Mr. Thornton in particular for similar reasons.

“But I was not so weak as to be swayed by such trivial arguments. Frederick was certain of his future success, and I had enough faith in his abilities to believe him.” Unlike me, who assumed that an honorable man wanted me as a mere possession because he was in trade, thought Margaret.

“Then Lady Russel returned from a prolonged visit.”

“My own mother had died when I was fifteen, so my godmother, Lady Russel, stood in her place as my maternal advisor. Lady Russel was of a similar mind to my father in regards to our engagement. Unfortunately, as a lady of sense and true feeling, she made a far more creditable case against our marriage. She made arguments about our youth, where I would live, the insecurity of his fortune, the danger of battle, the possibility of his death and my being left a destitute widow. But the argument that persuaded me at last was that I would hold him back. Either he would pass on opportunities that were dangerous but profitable if he had a wife at home or he would be reckless in his pursuit of prize money and put himself in danger. I could bear any deprivations for myself, but I could not bear the thought of ruining Frederick's prospects or endangering his life.” Lady Wentworth's eyes began to mist as she finished her speech and took her husband's hand.

“And so Anne came to me the following day and broke our engagement and my heart in the process. I had heard only her father's arguments and would not allow her to explain further. She had used me ill, deserted and disappointed me; and worse, she had shewn a feebleness of character in doing so, which my own decided, confident temper could not endure. She had given me up to oblige others. It had been the effect of over-persuasion. It had been weakness and timidity.” Wentworth sighed and paused. “I redirected my love to other emotions: anger, resentment, and pride. For the sake of protecting my wounded heart, I turned my back on the only woman I'd ever loved.” Margaret felt Mr. Thornton's eyes on her as she stubbornly kept her eyes on her lap. He had avoided her whenever possible since his fateful proposal. She thought of his parting declaration after the proposal: 'Now I love, and will love. But do not be afraid of too much expression on my part.' Had he since conquered his love, convinced himself to reject it? Reject her? Or did he avoid her because it was too painful?

“I had to live with my decision, much as I regretted it,” Lady Wentworth said. Margaret's eyes raised involuntarily to meet Mr. Thornton's before fixing again on her hands in her lap. She struggled to maintain her composure, but she alternately feared then hoped that he had seen the regret in her own eyes. Her opinion of him had steadily risen since his proposal and she had almost instantly regretted her cruel way of refusing him.

“Lady Russel took me to Bath and paraded me in front of other men. Titled men. Wealthy men. Suitable men. But who were they to me? I even received an eligible offer from a very dear friend. However, though my family and friends had convinced me that it was my duty to break my engagement to the man I loved, they could not convince me to love a man I did not. I was not prepared to marry another while my heart beat only for Frederick. Years went by with no word from Frederick but what I could find in the newspapers and the navy lists.”

“It's not that I didn't think about contacting her, renewing our understanding. Once I had a few thousand pounds and a stable ship, I knew the only thing that could complete my happiness would be to have Anne by my side. But I was still too hurt, too suborn, too proud.”

“Eight years passed. In which span of time my father and sister had so badly mismanaged our household budget that we were forced to let the house.”

“By cosmic intervention, my sister, Sophy, and her husband were the tenants who rented Kellynch hall. You can imagine my shock when I came ashore, a successful Captain returning triumphant from war, only to find my sister installed in the very house that saw my greatest triumph and my greatest defeat.”

“Had I removed to Bath with my father and older sister, I would have been safe from his presence, but my younger sister was ill and required my presence to nurse her. Therefore I was but three miles away when Frederick visited his sister. I knew he did not care for me, otherwise he would have contacted me in all of those years.” Wentworth began to protest at this, but his wife shushed him. “This is my part of the story, my love. Anyway, I feared an awkward meeting. Equally dreading being noticed or ignored by him. The first evening we were to dine together I even managed to stay behind to care for my injured nephew to give myself a brief reprieve.” Margaret gasped. Had she not contemplated that very maneuver tonight? Margaret looked up at her cousin Edith with a worried glance, hoping she did not see the parallel between her actions tonight and Lady Wentworth's story. Edith – who probably would not have made the connection had it not been for her intense gaze – cast a confused glance first at Henry, then at Mr. Thornton. Oh dear. She could be sure of an inquisition from her cousin tonight

“When I showed up at the dinner party, I assumed that Anne had intentionally avoided my company and took it as a sign that she no longer cared for me. I was still angry and resentful and decided to prove how little I was affected by the situation by throwing myself into a flirtation with the two eligible ladies present.”

“I spent the next several weeks quietly dying inside while I watched my Frederick flirt with my two good friends and relations Henrietta and Louisa Musgrove. I could not go a day without seeing or hearing about his romantic intrigues and worse yet, being applied to for my opinion on which of the young ladies he would choose.” Margaret passed a jealous gaze at Anne Lattimer – whom she had seen constantly on Mr. Thornton's arm since she had refused his proposal. She felt rather than saw Mr. Thornton's eyes on her.

~~~


Is that what I've done? John thought to himself. He had not actively sought out Anne Lattimer's company, but when he saw her in company with Miss Hale he had certainly shown preference to Miss Lattimer. He had justified to himself that he was only trying to make Miss Hale more comfortable by not flouting his unrequited love, but Miss Hale was certainly looking at Miss Lattimer with jealousy. Jealousy!

“At first, having convinced myself that Anne was nothing more to me than the villain who broke my heart, I sincerely tried to attach myself to one of those girls. But I soon realized that I could not care for them. Indeed, no woman I had ever met could compare to Anne. Nevertheless, I persisted in the belief that I would never marry her. Anyone but her. I was determined to willfully misunderstand her, and continued my attentions in order to hurt her.”

“Eventually, he singled out Louisa Musgrove to the point that an engagement was every day expected by both her family and his.”

“Unfortunately, it took a blow to the head for me to realize my own feelings and the folly of my behavior.” Mr. Thornton heard the resounding clash of a teacup inelegantly hitting its saucer and realized he had done it. He looked across as Miss Hale brought her hand to the small scar still present on her hairline. The terrifying memory of holding her limp body in his arms as a dark ribbon of blood streamed off her pale lifeless face tormented him so that it took several moments before he realized the story had paused and half the eyes in the room were on him.

Fanny – the only other person there who knew of Miss Hale's injury the day of the riot – glanced between them and uttered an undignified “Ugh!”

“I'm so sorry, I was wrapped up in the story and was clumsy.” He responded sheepishly, “please continue.”

Wentworth gave him a knowing smirk then continued, “On a short excursion to Lyme, we were walking on the cob when Louisa Musgrove insisted that I jump her down from the steps – an indulgence that I'm ashamed to admit I allowed all to freely in the past. After I'd jumped her down, she insisted that she do it again, just to enjoy the thrill of it.” He paused as he struggled to repress the guilt.

His wife continued for him. “She jumped a moment quicker than Frederick was prepared to catch her and hit her head on the pavement.”

“The whole party was lost in terrified confusion, myself included. Although there were two battle hardened veterans present, only Anne remained calm. She somehow managed to calm two hysterical women, an anxious brother, and two stunned Captains into emergency readiness. She was magnificent. It was at that moment that my emotions came rushing back to me in the full force of her superiority to any other woman.”

Thornton was barraged with a rapid succession of images from the day of the riot: Miss Hale urging him to speak to the mob as human beings; her rushing out to calm them as he had succeeded only in further enraging them; her throwing her arms about his neck to shield him from their ire; her lifeless body in his arms; and finally his own strangled voice as he cried 'Oh, my Margaret—my Margaret! no one can tell what you are to me! Dead—cold as you lie there, you are the only woman I ever loved!' “A calm head in the face of chaos,” he murmured to himself.

Wentworth cast him another appraising glance and replied. “Exactly! Strong, calm, and rational in the wake of a disaster. That's my Anne!” And my Margaret! Thornton thought.

“While this epiphany was slowly dawning on Frederick, I had ordered Captain Benwick to fetch a surgeon and Frederick to carry Louisa to our friends' lodgings nearby. Unfortunately, with such a head wound, there was little to do but wait and see if she regained consciousness.” Thornton remembered the excruciating pain of walking away from Margaret's still form. He was duty-bound to deal with the aftermath of the riot, but was plagued with uncertainty of her wellbeing for that long weary afternoon.

“Anne had been sent home by her selfish sister,” Wentworth sneered.

“Mary claimed a greater right to nurse her than I because she was her sister-in-law.”

“Even though she proceeded to spend the recovery period lamenting about her own invented illnesses, demanding attention, and all around getting in the way rather than actually nursing Miss Musgrove.”

“It was Frederick's insistence that there was no one so proper, so capable as me to care for Louisa and the intensity and ardor with which he proclaimed it that first alerted me to his returning feelings.”

“And her pretty blushes and intense gaze as she replied that alerted me to her continued affections. For the first time since we were reunited I understood her. But no sooner had I come to this monumental discovery than I was informed that my flirtation with Miss Musgrove had led to the belief that an understanding was forthcoming if it did not already exist. I was wretched. I finally had happiness within my grasp when it was cruelly yanked away again. Miss Musgrove did eventually wake up and slowly her health began to improve. I knew that after my unguarded behavior and the role I played in her injury, I would have no choice but to marry her if she so desired. However, I reckoned that I might be able to decrease her attachment to me through absence. So I took an extended visit to my brother in Shropshire. I spent a miserable month in worse despair even than I was in when Anne had initially broken my heart.” Wentworth paused for a moment for dramatic effect and said in a somber tone, “until I finally got the letter.”

“The letter?” gasped Miss Lattimer, perched at the edge of her seat.

“It would appear that while I was away, my good friend Captain Benwick had taken to reading poetry to the invalid to entertain her as she recovered. They had miraculously fallen in love, he had proposed, they were to be married. I was free!”

“I say, a fine friend he turned out to be!” Pipped up Captain Lennox, “to be making up to his good friend's intended. While she was on her sickbed too!”

“One has little control over who one falls in love with Captain Lennox.” Came John's quick reply, before he had a moment to think the better of it.

“Nor when,” replied Miss Hale softly, with a sad sheepish grin towards him. John's heart kicked faster in his chest. Did she really just imply that she loves me or am I merely reading too much into her response?

“Well, I will never say one word against him given the outcome!” Wentworth said with a smile as he lifted his wife's hand to his lips.

Everyone laughed assuming the tale was over. “Unfortunately,” said Lady Wentworth followed by a pregnant pause.

“Unfortunately!?” This time the youthful exclamation came from Mrs. Shaw, who was quite as enraptured by the romance as the younger girls.

“Unfortunately,” continued Lady Wentworth, “my sister Mary is a rather indifferent correspondent. She wrote to me in Bath to tell me to expect Louisa's marriage, but she neglected to inform me of the groom. As the last I had heard was the general expectation that she would marry Captain Wentworth, I expected the worst.”

“Meanwhile, I hurried to Bath as quickly as horses could take me. I had been in Bath less than a day before I heard the rumors that Miss Anne Elliot had been spending ever so much time with her cousin, William Walter Elliot. The same William Walter Elliot who was to inherit Sir Walter's title and estate. William Walter Elliot who was unabashedly and publicly enamored of his cousin despite being in mourning for his wife. I feared I was too late!”

“So there we were, both in Bath, both completely besotted with each other, but fearful we had lost the other. Luckily, word did eventually reach me that Louisa was to marry Captain Benwick and put an end to the worst of my fears.”

“I was not so fortunate. The first time we met in Bath, we managed a very civil conversation with only half the awkwardness and twice the affection of any we had had in the recent past and it began to raise my hopes. Only to be quickly dashed by the sudden appearance of Mr. Elliot who immediately whisked Anne away in a rather familiar way.”

“You see, he had been part of our family party on our excursion and we had already arranged for him to escort me home after he returned from an errand. I would far rather have had Frederick's escort but there was nothing to be done.” Part of the family party, thought Mr. Thornton. As Mr. Lennox was part of Margaret's family party. That gentleman had actively been asserting his own intimacy with Margaret, but John had seen no evidence that she thought any more of him than a relation.

“As I had no means of knowing this, I was left stranded in her wake with a party of ladies and gentlemen discussing what a fine match they would make.”

“We met again at a concert in the octagon rooms.”

“Where we had a rather intimate discussion about Miss Musgrove and Captain Benwick that was a poor mask for a discussion about our own situation.”

“You see, Captain Benwick had been engaged to a lovely young woman whose family required that they wait until he made his fortune before they marry. Finally, he returned to shore with his prize money and promotion only to find that his beloved fiancée had died of a fever. You may see the parallels. I expressed to Frederick my hopes that in spite of this tragic past Captain Benwick and Louisa Musgrove would be happy.”

“And I made the closest thing to a declaration as I had dared in eight and a half years. I replied that 'A man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman.'” With this truth rattling through his head Thornton turned a gaze of adoration on Margaret. Look up! Look up at me! I'm sure she would see the truth if she would just look up now!

~~~


Margaret could not look up. Wentworth's sentiments so closely resembled Mr. Thornton's own assertion of his continued love that it was painful. She had scorned that love. She had abused him and chastised him so horridly when all he wanted was for her to share his love. True, she hadn't had a high opinion of him then, and she hadn't returned his affections, but she could have been kinder.

“Although the pomp and flow of the evening soon separated us,” continued Lady Wentworth, “I spent the first act deliriously happy. Frederick loved me, the concert was well performed, and I heard my father acknowledge Frederick's acquaintance and even describe him as a 'a very well-looking man' – high praise indeed from such a shallow man.”

“The first act was not as pleasant for me. I was forced to stand to the side and watch as Anne shared her smiles with her odious cousin, who was continually leaning in closer than proper, whispering, and acting altogether too intimate. Behind her were her father and Lady Russel, glowing with approval at the pair in front of them. I was miserable. They had persuaded her once, might they not persuade her again? This was not just any man, but Sir Walter's heir!”

“He came to me during the break reverted back to a grave and dour mood. I had nearly talked him into good humor when I was applied to by Mr. Elliot to translate some Italian. I turned back to a flustered Frederick hastily making his retreat. It wasn't until that moment that I realized the cause of his mood was jealousy!” Margaret glanced between Mr. Thornton and Mr. Lennox, at the moment they were glaring at each other. Mr. Lennox with a derisive smirk. Oh dear, Henry thinks he has the advantage here.

“In the end, we owed our mutual understanding to an overheard conversation. Anne was discussing Captain Benwick's rapid transition from grieving lover to eager bridegroom with our friend Captain Harville and how it reflected on male constancy.”

“I began by arguing that women do not forget men as soon as they forget us. Which Captain Harville took as a slight on male constancy. After a some debate I concluded that women have the unenviable privilege of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.” Margaret's gaze was again squarely focused on her lap. She was certainly not a model of women's constancy. She felt the eyes of the two men who had offered her their hands boring into her. Towards one her feelings were constant from that day, she felt a brotherly affection and camaraderie for Henry but nothing deeper. Towards the other, her feelings were decidedly changed. Where once there was anger and disdain, now was only respect and admiration. While she couldn't claim she felt the same all-consuming love that he claimed for her, she realized that she did love him.

“As you may expect, this conversation was a sweet torture to a man who had been desperately in love with the speaker for eight years and a half. It clarified two points to me. First, that Anne had been constantly, unwaveringly, in love with me all along. Second, that Anne didn't believe I had loved her as faithfully.” Wentworth looked at Mr. Thornton as he continued his story. “But what is a man to do when he finally realizes that his love is returned by the most extraordinary woman alive but finds himself trapped in a crowded drawing room full of well-meaning but oblivious friends and relations?” Margaret couldn't help raising her eyes to Mr. Thornton's as a faint blush spread across her cheeks. She fixed her large expressive eyes unflinchingly on his and awaited his answer with baited breath.

~~~


Oh god! Mr. Thornton gripped the arms of his chair to prevent himself from leaping out of it and claiming her as his own in some strange presumptuous way. There was no mistaking the affection in Margaret's eyes as she silently urged him to respond. Could she really love him? Had her feelings altered so much? His heart was pounding in his ears. Though he usually had a tight restraint on his emotions and expressions, he was certain that he was grinning like a fool. Wentworth seemed to be waiting for his response.

He responded in an unsteady voice, “I suppose it would not do to throw caution to the wind, declare your undying love and devotion, and beg her to marry you on the spot?” Margaret smiled faintly and gave a barely perceptible shake of her head, but her magnificent eyes reflected love and understanding. This was not the moment for declarations, those would come later.

“Good heavens!” Tutted Mrs. Shaw, “no gentleman would put any lady he truly loved through such an embarrassing public display!”

“No, my Anne would not appreciate sharing such a private moment with a room full of spectators, but I felt that if I didn't express myself immediately my heart would burst.” Wentworth continued. “Luckily, I had been engaged in writing a letter, so I found myself sat in front of an inviting blank sheet of parchment. I wrote her a letter assuring her of my continued love and affections, my hopes for the future, and finally offering my heart again to her, for really it had never left her possession.” Having no parchment at hand, Mr. Thornton had to hope that his steady gaze conveyed the same to Margaret.

“He discretely passed me the note and disappeared before I even had time to react. As most of the party had departed at the same time as Frederick, I found myself unobserved and at leisure to read the letter which laid to rest eight an a half years of worry, despair, and loneliness. I wanted nothing more than a half hour's silence to collect my thoughts, then the opportunity to seek out Frederick and accept at once. Unfortunately I was soon joined by my family and was so overcome by my emotions that I could scarcely string together two words. My relations became quite fearful of my health. Instead of solitude, I found myself the center of fretful solicitude. My brother-in-law insisted on escorting me home to rest.”

“Fortunately, when I joined them on the street her obliging and oblivious brother-in-law turned her over to my care.”

“And instantly all symptoms of ill health evaporated and I was able to quickly and thoroughly assure Frederick of my own feelings and accept his proposal.”

“Although we still met with resistance from her family and Lady Russel, Anne was no longer a naïve girl to be talked out of her own wishes. We were married within a month.”

“Thirty-seven years, five ships, two children, a baronetcy, and five grandchildren later and my love for him has only matured and grown.” Lady Wentworth concluded the story to a mostly rapt audience. A collective sigh was released by all of the ladies and a few of the gentlemen as well.

Mr. Thornton had held Margaret's gaze as long as possible, but when she again lowered her eyes shyly to her lap he looked about him. Margaret's aunt and cousin appeared to be too enthralled in the Wentworth's love story to pay him much heed at the moment, but Mr. Lennox's attention was oscillating between Margaret and himself. He knew it was petty, but he threw a creditable imitation of Mr. Lennox's earlier sneer back at him.

As if on cue, the butler arrived to announce dinner just as the excited chatter that followed the Wentworth's recital began to die down.

Author's Note: This is what happens when you watch North & South while writing a Persuasion fanfic. I had originally intended this to be a quick one-shot, then I got carried away. The first six chapters, as well as the final chapter feature Anne & Frederick (and can be read independently as a novella if you wish), the rest focuses on Margaret and John as the active love story. I've got the whole story written at 15 chapters, if you would like a pdf of the whole, please e-mail me at cynicallycharged@gmail.com.
SubjectAuthorPosted

A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapters 1-3 (Post 1)

MorganAOctober 26, 2017 04:19AM

Re: A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapters 1-3 (Post 1)

LUEOctober 27, 2017 06:36PM

Re: A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapters 1-3 (Post 1)

Lucy J.October 27, 2017 06:32AM

Re: A Circumstance of Tolerable Similarity Chapters 1-3 (Post 1)

EvelynJeanOctober 27, 2017 12:45AM

Yes!

Maria VOctober 26, 2017 07:07PM



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