Here is the third excerpt from my indulgent ‘Persuasion meets Groundhog Day’ short story! Thank you for bearing with me as I explore this fun idea. 😉
In personal news, my family is gearing up to move across the country in a few months: from California to West Virginia! It’s an exciting move, hopefully a good thing for my family, but it’s consuming a lot of my time and pretty much all of my emotional energy! If anyone has purging tips, moving mantras, or overarching paradigms for dealing with change, I’m all ears. 🙂
It has reminded me of a quote from one of my favorite Georgette Heyer novels, Frederica: “It was surprising, Frederica thought, how much benefit was to be derived from two nights of unbroken sleep. She felt very much better, far less depressed and irritable. Her affairs having been taken back into the Marquis’s capable hands, she had very little to worry about: none of the complicated arrangements attached to the removal of a family from a house in London to another a hundred miles distant, and no housekeeping cares to contend with at the end of the journey. To one who, from early girlhood, had never had a respite from these, this was bliss indeed.”
I mean, is that a reason to fall in love or is it?? 🙂 I say yes.
Lyme, For an Indeterminate Length of Time, Part 3
She would never chastise Mary for her dramatics again. Sometimes one simply needed to voice their frustration.
Anne kept the pillow over her face, breathing in the faint fiber scent of cotton and the musk of the feathers inside. She heard the sloop with its merry horn docking outside. She heard Mr. Elliot leave his room.
Anne did not get out of bed. She told the serving maid to please inform the ladies of her party that she wasn’t well.
And it was true, she wasn’t well. She felt quite ill with uncertainty and confusion.
Unfortunately, she was not left alone to ponder the exigencies of the universe. Mary could not bear to be supplanted as the most delicate one of the party. She had no sooner heard of Anne’s indisposition than she was feeling vilely unwell herself.
Her voice carried from the private dining room to Anne’s small room. The hubbub was almost enough to make Anne relent and get up, but she could not bring herself to face the Cobb, to face Mr. Elliot, to face Captain Wentworth… any of them!
Of course, she could not exactly avoid the family. Henrietta and Louisa came in to check on her, assuring her they were most concerned, and how happy they were to stay another day or two in Lyme. “I’m sure you can’t be ready to travel this afternoon!” Louisa declared. “I told Captain Wentworth that you would be determined to give no trouble to anyone and would push yourself far past what you ought! No, I have decided that we shall stay at least two more days. No, no, I have made up my mind, no one can gainsay me, least of all you, my poor, dear Anne! I have sent a letter to Mama and Papa already, so there is no difficulty.”
Even kindly Mrs. Harville came to visit Anne, and in a quieter tone and with ready sympathy, offered her own mixture of tonic—“Nothing fancy, my dear, just what I take myself when I am feeling poorly.” She eyed Anne and then added, “Or, if you will, shall I take the lot of your companions out to see more of Lyme today? Sometimes being left alone is the best tonic.”
Anne laughed. “We’ve only been acquainted a few days, but you seem to know me, ma’am.”
She patted Anne’s hand in a motherly way. “I feel as if I might, and no mistake. Now you rest, my dear, and I will take everyone away from you.”
Anne fell into a fitful sleep, but when she woke, it was early morning, and her hands were tucked under the pillow.
This time Anne rolled to her back and lay blinking up at the ceiling, which was white, except for a water stain in one corner which left a cloudy set of overlapping circles.
She could not stay in bed another day. She would go crazy. She would not be left alone, oh, no, everyone would feel the need to be solicitous and kind to her again and it was enough to make her downright indisposed.
Anne rose and washed. She left the dress hanging on the hook and took another from her valise. At least that was one small decision she could control today. She lost no time buttoning up her half boots with the hook and going to the dining room.
“I’m desperate for air,” she told Henrietta. “Let’s go for a walk.”
“Just what I was thinking! You are the best of good companions, Anne.” Henrietta chatted on about her beau, Charles Hayter, and his chances of getting the living for the church in Uppercross.
Anne responded dutifully, if absently. She focused on drawing large breaths of the windy sea air. She watched the high thin clouds blown by the wind, followed in by thick, puffy clouds which intermittently blocked the sun. It was not too cold or too dark, however. The clouds were just enough to make the lighting dramatic and to show how fast the wind was blowing at higher altitudes, as the clouds scudded across the sky.
Although it was November, it was a beautiful day in Lyme. Under other circumstances, she would be happy to live here for the rest of her life.
She lurched away from that thought. She would not think about this endless string of tomorrows, not right now.
When they met up with Captain Wentworth and Louisa, Anne was still in a state of detachment. She smiled to see him—it was difficult for her not to do so; she loved his face so well—but she also saw him with more detachment than she ever had before.
While still a fine, handsome man, grooves had been drawn across Captain Wentworth’s forehead and between his brows, deeper than she’d realized. His skin was not the sunburnt red that her father couldn’t stand, but it was rough. His hair line was retreating, and his shoulders were perhaps not as broad as she remembered.
It didn’t change how she felt. Indeed, it caused a rush of tenderness to see him, for once, not as the larger-than-life man of her deepest regrets.
When Henrietta and Louisa rushed ahead—this time because they both claimed to have seen a flying fish—Anne smiled wistfully as they walked along. Her strange detachment allowed her to enjoy walking with Captain Wentworth without the usual self-consciousness or gentle regret.
Captain Wentworth watched Louisa and Henrietta pointing and exclaiming, though he doubted they had actually spotted a flying fish. Fishermen occasionally caught Mediterranean flying fish near Devon, in the southwest, but Lyme was a bit farther north. Mainly tropical fish, they were.
Despite his gaze toward the choppy steel waves, he was very aware that Anne was watching him. It wasn’t as uncomfortable to be around her as it had been at first.
He’d almost thought to leave the neighborhood when he’d realized how closely she was related to the Musgrove family. Before he could make that rash decision, however, he’d gotten pragmatic. He wanted to marry, and Louisa and Henrietta were perfectly fine. If there was a tiny crumb of vindictiveness in his motive—finding a wife in front of Anne—he had yet to admit it to himself.
It had not been so very awkward. Anne effaced herself in a way she hadn’t when she was young. She’d always been refined and quiet, more observing than being observed, but now she could practically melt into the wainscotting.
Others might not notice her, but he always seemed to know when her eyes were on him. It was a consciousness he would be glad to purge but could not seem to do. He didn’t love her anymore; he was certain of that. His consciousness of her was more like an echo of his former regard, the way his navy friends described the phantom awareness of a lost limb; of what ought to be part of them, and yet was not.
She had been his great passion—he wouldn’t love anyone like that again—and she had been his greatest disappointment. Not so much because she had denied him, he could forgive that, but because she had denied herself. She’d denied who she was and what she wanted and what she believed about life.
And she was still watching him.
“Everything well, Anne?”
Usually, a direct address was enough to send her eyes skittering to less painful territory (less painful for him), but she only shrugged.
“No,” she said, “but then, things rarely are completely well in life, are they?”
Her eyes were different today. He found himself struggling to look away. “No.”
“It’s not like we imagined when we were young. Very few fairy tales.”
His mouth tightened up defensively. “I didn’t want a fairy tale. I just wanted—” you, he almost said.
“I’m sorry,” she said simply. His breath caught. This was the first time they had addressed the past. The first time they hadn’t pretended to be the merest acquaintances.
“I’m so sorry I hurt you,” she said softly.
But what did that mean? She was just sorry she’d hurt him? Not that she’d broken their engagement? He didn’t want to have this conversation.
He smiled tightly. “It’s in the past. The distant past. No apologies necessary.”
She looked sad but didn’t drop her eyes away from him. He resented that her gaze still had the power to keep him at attention. It was worse than presenting before a commanding officer.
“I’m surprised you never married,” he said abruptly. “They tell me Charles Musgrove asked.”
His hope that she would break away in confusion was disappointed.
She merely looked thoughtful. “I couldn’t, could I? It would not have been fair to him.”
“Fair to him? That didn’t seem to trouble you with me.” His years of anger were beginning to surface. He had been so bitterly disappointed when she broke off with him. For so many years, he’d indulged his anger at the thought of her. Anger was less painful than grief. “And I hope you don’t mean to imply that it would be unfair of me to wed Louisa.”
Her strange detachment finally broke. “No, I didn’t mean that. Although—it is a little too clear at present that you don’t care whom you marry. You must try to love her if you marry her. She’s a wonderful girl; it won’t be hard.”
“Try to love—” he snorted. “How dare you lecture me about love? I wasn’t the one… I would have…” He shook his head, feeling less like a seasoned captain of the British Navy and more like the tortured boy who’d left her. “I don’t think this is a topic either of us can address profitably with the other. You must excuse me.”
He strode onward to retrieve Henrietta and Louisa. To his surprise, they had actually spotted a small school of Mediterranean flying fish, and he tried to regain his equanimity as they watched the small pewter-colored fish jump and soar over the water.
He was still thinking about their conversation when they went back to the Cobb and up the stairs. The stairs distracted him—he felt a strange tug of uneasiness as the ladies went up. There was a man at the top waiting to go down, and he looked at Anne in admiration.
Captain Wentworth turned to look at her also. She looked different today. The wind had given back her color, and her mood was strange and direct. She was, for a moment, the distinct and brilliant woman he’d fallen in love with.
He was so distracted that his foot slipped on the third step from the top. His arms windmilled quite ridiculously, but he could not regain his balance. He fell backward and a sharp pain in his head was the last thing he knew.
Anne woke in the hotel with a gasp, her hands tucked under the pillow, and Captain Wentworth’s name on her lips. “Frederick, no!”
<End of Part 3>