Like Amanda Kai and other Austen authors, I watched the new Persuasion movie last month! It was… interesting. I couldn’t get into the romance, but the supporting characters were so fantastic, especially Mary, Sir Walter, and Mr. Elliot, that I may watch it again for them! Louisa was fantastic as well, and honestly had better chemistry with Captain Wentworth. My 13-year-old daughter was definitely rooting for her, and we were a little sad that we didn’t get to see her happy at the end! (Of course, my daughter was also rooting for the rabbit.)
Watching it made writing my own Persuasion story harder, as now I am half-rooting for Mr. Elliot! Henry Golding was just a fantastic, flirty protagonist! I really would have been happy with him winning Anne.
It reminded me of reading The Trouble with Flirting by Claire LaZebnik which is a fun young-adult retelling of Mansfield Park with a, shall we say, surprise ending?
Anyway, here is the next portion of my Persuasion story! Now that my life is settling down, I’m actually hopeful to finish this. Thanks for your patience and encouragement.
Despite Anne’s “inexplicable and inexcusable” flight that morning (as Mary described it), the day was still barely past its mid-point when the Lyme party had had enough of Mr. Elliot’s company indoors and could not wait to experience him out of doors.
He must walk with them.
He had already shown himself amenable to persuasion, in having re-rented his room at their same hotel, and such proof of good humor and good breeding was enough to convince them of his every goodness.
In fact, Louisa fell back a little walk next to Anne, the wind pulling at her loose curls, and she said as much to Anne. “He seems like such a fine gentleman! He was immediately willing to change his plans for us—though I think, more accurately—for you. Oh, Anne, I shall be so happy for you if that is the case! What could be more suitable—more wonderful for you! If Henrietta has Charles Hayter, and you, Mr. Elliot, and I, Captain Wentworth—”
“Oh, I know I ought not count chickens before they hatch or ducks before they swim or some such poultry-related metaphor, but I am so happy! I will say no more at present, Anne, only—he is such a handsome man! A widower too, which somehow seems better for you.”
In what fashion a man would be better for her after having an unhappy and short marriage, Anne was unclear, but she did not ask for an explanation. Mr. Elliot had deftly extricated himself from a conversation with Mary and returned to her.
Louisa skipped ahead to walk with Captain Wentworth.
“Something happening in that quarter?” Mr. Elliot asked her, nodding toward Louisa and Captain Wentworth.
“Yes, probably,” Anne said, “Did you hear her say so? I thought you were distracted by my sister.”
“I have uncanny good hearing; I can follow multiple conversations at once.” He smiled. “Particularly if I am more interested in the one I am not engaged in.”
“On the other hand, Louisa was not precisely quiet.”
“You are very reluctant to give credit where credit is due, have you noticed this?”
She laughed. “I suppose I so am weary of affirming quite ridiculous claims, that when I encounter a person of sense, they must pass a higher bar.”
“A person of sense! Now that is your first un-sought compliment to me, and I shall tuck it away to keep me warm tonight.”
Anne’s cheeks warmed at this teasing—a flirtation, in fact—but it also reminded her of the coming night. Which would bring on the coming day, when everything would begin again.
“Now, that look of pain has come back into your eyes,” he said. “What topic can I introduce to turn your mind to more cheerful avenues? I hear you will soon join your father and elder sister in Bath.” He paused. “Oh no, from your face, I see that is worse. I beg your pardon. I also find Bath wearisome, if that is any consolation. I shall go there now solely on the strength of knowing that you will soon join me.”
Anne tried to smile at this, but no thought of the future could uplift her now. If she were on her way to Bath soon, his presence would make it more bearable. She did not fear her sister’s sneers or her father’s neglect, but neither did she relish them. It would be nice to have someone in Bath who noticed whether Anne was alive or not. Who she might, in fact, enjoy spending time with.
But she wasn’t going to Bath. She wasn’t going anywhere.
The leaders of their party—Captain Benwick and Captain Harville—descended the stairs to the lower walk. She was about to tell Louisa to take care, but Captain Wentworth sharply ordered her not to jump. He did not remember this endless repetition of days, in which various members of the group had fallen, including himself, but he consistently encouraged caution now. Was he, in some small fashion, learning from the repetition?
The idea startled her, though it probably ought not have. She’d noted before his changing attitude toward the stairs.
Was it just him? Were others affected as well, even if they could not remember? It was an interesting idea. Did some portion of Mr. Elliot feel better acquainted with her because of their dozen or so “first” meetings?
More importantly, did some portion of Captain Wentworth’s resentment loosen as he and Anne spoke frankly over these lost, forgotten days?
Mr. Elliot was handing her down the stairs before she knew it. “Have a care there, the steps are slick. I saw the four of you walking here this morning and felt quite solitary. How much more am I enjoying this walk. Hope makes all the difference,” he said softly.
Anne felt a lightening of her spirits as she considered the possibilities of others learning from her unending loop. “Hope does make all the difference,” she agreed.
Captain Wentworth kept an eye on Anne as they walked, for he could not dismiss her “selfish drama” that morning (Mary’s words) from his mind as easily as the others did.
Anne was not dramatic, like Mary. She had dignity and poise and pride—perhaps too much of all three—but she never made a spectacle of herself for attention. She bore things within, and while he had mentally blamed her for hard-heartedness or even cold-heartedness over the years, he knew that she felt deeply.
When she had broken their engagement, she had been regretful, but collected. Whether she cried her eyes out after he left, he did not know, but she had not shown great emotion when he responded. She had not even shed a tear when he responded with frustration, and even anger… though to be fair, he had replayed the memory in his mind so often in anger, that he could not be sure he remembered it perfectly right.
Had she been crying? Had her heart been breaking?
Either way, she had remained self-possessed.
What then, could have sent her careening from the hotel with neither hat, shawl, nor gloves, ignoring the pleas of family and friends?
And what had brought her back—cold and windblown—with her foppish cousin Elliot?
Though—he glanced at them again as they descended the stairs—the man was not a fop, to be fair. He was stylishly dressed, but not extravagantly. He was gentlemanly, if slightly skirting the line of complete propriety.
Wentworth almost laughed at himself. It was not as if he was a pattern-card of propriety. He cared very little for the stuff, and only judged Elliot on it because he disliked seeing Anne on the man’s arm. He disliked the way Elliot leaned over her to hear her speak. He disliked his smile as he served her tea or whispered with her.
Wentworth shook his head. He did not want her anymore, surely. Why this sudden upset?
More importantly, why was Anne upset?
He’d thought, for one brief, heady, and vain moment, that she was overwhelmed by seeing him flirt with Louisa. He’d thought, with a quite reprehensible feeling of vindication, that she might still love him and that her own jealousy or heartbreak had sent her fleeing the room.
But he was not vain or cruel enough to indulge this thought for more than the briefest moment. He did not even want it to be true.
Yes, he resented that she had shown weakness in rejecting him, in not trusting him all those years ago, and breaking both their hearts on Lady Russel’s advice. But he did not want her to be miserable.
Why then could he not be happy—or at least indifferent—to Mr. Elliot’s fortuitous arrival and obvious admiration for Anne?
Louisa was behind him now, with quiet Captain Benwick, and Captain Harville stumped up to him on his injured leg. “You’re looking rather stormy there, my boy,” he said. “Aught amiss?”
“I am thirty-one years old, Harville, not twenty. I couldn’t be ‘your boy’ by any Christian application of math.”
Harville laughed. “Still, I feel old sometimes, and heaven knows I’m more experienced than you.”
Wentworth smiled. “If that’s all it takes…”
“Take this cousin of theirs,” he muttered. “Comes along and interrupts what could’ve been a very good thing for Benwick, unless my experience deceives me. M’wife and I were both thinking it was a very good thing for him, your visit.”
Wentworth frowned at his friend. “I don’t think I understand you. How should Mr. Elliot’s arrival harm Benwick?”
“It ain’t perhaps my place as to say, but that Miss Anne Elliot, as is Mrs. Musgrove’s sister, is a special one. No ordinary, empty-headed girl that one. And Benwick noticed. My wife did too. She got Benwick talking last night like he hasn’t for six months. Good for him. I know it’s early yet, and I wouldn’t think of him letting Fanny go so soon from his mind, but I wouldn’t mind if he’d someone else to think of as well.”
Wentworth shook his head instinctively. “Anne? I don’t think…”
“Well now, clearly there’s nothing to think.” He frowned again and shoved his hands in his pockets. “Unfortunate, that’s all. Nothing against the gentleman, but she’s something out of the common way.”
“Yes,” Wentworth agreed, though for different reasons. “She is.”
And for the first time in many years—picturing Anne kissing Benwick’s cheek, or Mr. Elliot pressing her hand so suggestively—he felt a strange surge of possessiveness.
He was the one who was supposed to kiss Anne. He was the one she should trust and long for.
But then Louisa called for him and he straightened his shoulders. What was wrong with him? Yesterday he had been lazily planning to marry Louisa in the spring. This must be some passing madness. He raised a hand to rub his forehead and didn’t catch the shout that came from behind him.
A cart of cabbages sailed off the upper Cobb, where a small market of sorts stretched out from one of the adjoining streets.
The chock for its wheels must have given way, and it sailed quite beautifully off the wall.
It was lined up to hit Anne and Mr. Elliot, and Captain Wentworth had no time to even voice a cry.
Her gaze rose to it even as it fell, and she—rolled her eyes? With an exasperated look, she and Mr. Elliot were dashed to the paved walk.
Anne awoke with her hands tucked under her pillow and groaned. “Cabbages? Truly?”
She rubbed the phantom ache in her chest. She waited for the crushing sense of doom that had ridden her, but it did not come.
Treading lightly, emotionally speaking, she found instead a small tender shoot of hope. Some change was possible in this inexplicable conundrum, and she was going to find out how much.
<End Part 6>