Happy 4th of July week! We packed up our entire home last week and our stuff is on its way to West Virginia. Thanks for the encouragement about moving, everybody! I’m so glad its done. Now, my family has made it to the fun part. We are taking the long way around to see a few cool places (Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, Carlsbad Caverns) and to visit my family in Houston. It’s a warm summer–I hope everybody has somewhere to cool off or get wet.
In the meantime, here’s the next part of my Persuasion short story. Thanks for reading!
While Mr. Elliot escorted her back through Lyme, Anne’s distress lessened.
One simply could not remain on the pinnacle of despair for very long, or at least, Anne could not.
Mr. Elliot had let her recover herself in silence, as they wound their way back through the blustery streets to her hotel, but when she apologized for his trouble, he seemed to feel she was done wallowing.
“Nonsense. It’s an honor to meet my cousin, and though I wish that it was under better circumstances, I won’t regret these.” He hesitated. “I don’t wish to overstep, but I am not overly familiar with your situation. I know your elder sister currently resides with your respected father, Sir Walter, and your younger sister married into a good family. I am afraid I am ignorant as to your status.”
“You are tactfully asking if I ever married? No, sir. At present I have been visiting my sister and her children. Her in-laws are most welcoming.”
“Ah.” There was a wealth of understanding. “I am sure you are a most excellent aunt and kind sister.” He squinted at her. “I suspect you play piano at their impromptu dances, when you are not cast as nursemaid on fine evenings.”
This was so en point, she could not help a small chuckle. “I quite enjoy playing, and I am fond of my nephews.”
“That is exactly what I should expect you to say! It is most gratifying to have first impressions borne out. I think that from your countenance alone I could derive your answer word for word.”
Anne tripped over a raised cobblestone, and he nimbly put an arm around her waist for a moment to steady her.
“I find most people are like that,” Mr. Elliot continued. “Now take that old seaman there. He’s got the lines of age in his face, but not the lines of wisdom. I suspect he was a lackluster seaman as a youth, and a cantankerous one as an old man. He is tight-fisted with his family, though not cruel, and free handed with his friends, though more from pride than affection. Trust me, I have a knack for these things.”
The man in question had a worn gray cap on his head, a similar shade to his gray pullover, and a somewhat sour look. “He may be all those things,” Anne answered. “But you have no way of knowing. You certainly cannot preen yourself on guesses that are neither confirmed nor denied.”
“Ah, a skeptic. How then if you introduce me to your family at the hotel–my family, perhaps i may say!–and I shall see how I do there.”
Anne shook her head. “If you were honest, you might offend me, and if you were dishonest, you would prove nothing.”
He was silent for a moment, guiding her around a ditch that cut through the walkway. It looked to be filled with brackish water and muck.
Anne suddenly realized what she’d said. “I do not mean that my sister and her extended family are not estimable people, but the sort of foibles and weaknesses you might see in their faces could not reflect well on anyone.”
“With another woman, I might ask whether it was their foibles and weaknesses that sent them into the street without gloves,” he pressed his hand over her cold one on his arm, “but I will not insult you by asking. You seem the sort who could bear with all manner of foibles. Therefore it was something worse that sent you out.”
The hotel was ahead of them, the Cobb visible beyond it. “I cannot explain.”
“I will not press you. I will however, be more vulnerable than I generally approve of. May I tell you that I was on the way to Bath expressly to visit your father and sister? I have not behaved in that vein as I ought. As a young man, I thumbed my nose at rank and society. Now I would amend my errors, but it was not merely to repair the breach that I am going to Bath, I also hoped for… shallI I sound maudlin if I say friends? A community, perhaps. Family.” He pressed her hand again. “Meeting you has been a great stroke of good fortune or providence, for I already know we could be great friends. A meeting of minds.”
She did not immediately answer. He was definitely an intelligent man, witty and sharp. She already knew she could more easily and pleasantly converse with him than with her father or sisters.
However, she had been drawn into a surprising amount of emotional intimacy with him due to her desperation. Was it wise to let it continue? He might read faces, but she could read very little from him. He did seem genuinely glad to know her.
And beyond that, what was the point in worrying? Tomorrow he would forget her again.
“I should be glad for a friend,” Anne said. “And I will gladly introduce you to the party at the hotel.”
To Anne’s consternation, as they approached the hotel, they interrupted a search for her. Captain Wentworth had just come rapidly from the Cobb and met with Anne’s brother-in-law Charles.
“No one on the Cobb has seen her for the last hour–” the Captain began, but then saw her. “Anne!”
Charles and he both rushed toward them and Anne felt her face flush uncomfortably.
Her life may be stuck in an interminable loop, but that did not make fuss and bother any more acceptable.
Captain Wentworth reached them first, his long legs outpacing Charles’ shorter legs and rotund figure.
“Are you well, Anne? This is not at all like you.” His hands rose as if to grasp her shoulders, and hovered uncertainly, as if to grasp her face or her hands, but then fell.
“Yes, I am sorry,” Anne said. She offered no explanation, for there was none.
Captain Wentworth took a deep breath. He straightened his shoulders and took a step back. “Thank you for returning our friend to her hotel, sir.” It was only when he finally addressed Mr. Elliot that the Captain’s eyes flickered with recognition. “I believe we saw you on the Cobb this morning, sir.”
Anne performed quiet introductions as Charles joined them. The Captain’s eyes flashed to her when he found out Mr. Elliot was her cousin.
It was the most attention he’d shown her since his return, but Anne was so wrung out with emotion she felt neither joy nor pain. He was concerned for her, of course, but that was all. He was a warm-hearted man, a chivalrous one, who could not see her in suffering or danger without being affected.
Anne appreciated it, but was too tired even to feel the smallest flutter.
“I think we must go in at once,” Mr. Elliot said, “For my dear cousin’s hands are like ice.” He did not relinquish her hands as they all entered the hotel.
Anne retired to her room to change–her dress had gotten dirty on the streets–but she did not curl up in bed as she half-longed to do.
She had something else to think of now, and it helped.
She rejoined the others in the parlor, and by steadfastly apologizing with no further remarks, succeeded in quelling questions about her sudden flight.
The main uproar was about Mr. Elliot, as per usual, but this meeting was rather unlike several of the previous iterations. Mr. Elliot was more attentive to her, more searching with his eyes. When hot tea was brought and those who had been searching had returned, he repositioned himself to the settee near her.
“Now that young man,” he murmured for her ears only, “is interesting.” His gaze was on Captain Benwick, the young man who had lost his fiance the previous year. “From his face I should say he has the soul of a scholar but the career of a seaman. He does not study the Byronic, but I should think he has an apt classical allusion for most of life.”
Anne couldn’t feel his commentary was appropriate, but in honesty she replied, “You are not far off. He loves poetry more than classics.”
“Aha, but a reader, like yourself. And that lady,” he indicated comfortable Mrs. Harville, “is an excellent, hard-working wife, happy to have her husband home, though he does make a mess and probably invite crowds of friends over with no warning.”
This so accurately summed up the truth that she smiled. “You have some perspicacity, sir.”
His eyes then turned to Captain Wentworth. “You notice I am not referencing your family, dear cousin, for I would never offend you. Now this man…”
Anne had stretched out her hand before she even realized. “Pray do not.”
The good Captain–with a fine profile and a bold Navy bearing–was discomposed by his whispered conversation with Anne. Something going on there? He did not think it, but clearly the man cared more about her than as a casual friend. And her response was most telling. An old affair perhaps? He really was quite good at ferreting these things out.
It must be over, however, or Anne would not have described her life as empty. Perhaps there had been a misunderstanding between them.
Whatever it might be, the Captain’s misfortune was Mr. Elliot’s gain.
Mr. Elliot had heard several weeks ago of Sir Walter’s stay in Bath. He was a notable enough peer to be gossiped about. Some of the gossip had made Mr. Elliot very uneasy. It was rumored that Sir Walter and his daughter had a friend staying with them–a widowed Mrs. Clay–and that she was making herself quite indispensable to the aging Sir Walter.
Mr. Elliot had no intention of losing his inheritance to a late son of a second marriage. The best way to scotch such things, he hoped, was to make himself part of the family. Elizabeth, his eldest daughter, had had some such thoughts years ago.
Mr. Elliot was not one to underrate his charms, and he suspected it would take him less than a month to make her think so again. She was older now, and probably more eager to be married.
He didn’t expect much of the marriage, but he’d already had one that was unpleasant. What was one more?
But then, to meet Anne in such a way…! She was clearly a woman of superior understanding, even a woman of humor. Her despair today had stolen some of her bloom, but she was very pretty in a quiet way.
It was not too much to say that Mr. Elliot decided within five minutes of meeting her that he would far rather marry her than the barely-remembered older sister.
So if there had been some falling out between her and Captain Wentworth, so much the better.
He smiled at the man when Anne was distracted by her sister, taking Anne’s tea from her and refilling it, before gently restoring the cup to her.
The Captain clearly understood his claim and a spasm of some strong emotion crossed his face. It was quickly wiped away, but Mr. Elliot was startled.
Perhaps he had better work quickly. Certainly Anne was a prize not to let slip away.