Persuasion Janeicillin: Part One
"You wished to speak with me, Captain Wentworth?"
It took all of Frederick's willpower, the ingrained inscrutability of nine years in command, to maintain his composure.
“Indeed I do, Sir Walter. I have something of great importance to lay before you.”
“Yes. Anne suggested you might call today. You do understand that I am escorting my cousin, Lady Dalrymple, and Miss Elliot to a card party this evening and have only limited time to spare before I must attend to my preparations, but as Anne was insistent, I made sure to lay aside a quarter of an hour for you.” The impecunious baronet's smile was intended to convey the full honor of such condescension, but Frederick only perceived its absurdity.
“Then you know my reasons for requesting an audience?”
“I do, and let me assure you that I feel quite confident bestowing my youngest daughter's hand on you. When we last discussed such an arrangement, it was, of course, out of the question, but I am not blind to how you have distinguished yourself. Why, Lady Dalrymple herself commented on your fine appearance.” It was of some chagrin to Sir Walter that this young man seemed totally insensible to the magnitude of such a compliment, but as he supposed him already overwhelmed by the honor of marrying an Elliot of Somersetshire, he overlooked the offense. “Of course, you do understand that current circumstances might render it inconvenient for the estate to part with the entirety of Anne's portion, ten thousand pounds, at this time. I will write to my lawyer, Mr. Shepherd, and he will advise me as to what can be done.”
With that, Sir Walter felt he had covered all the salient points of interests while behaving exceedingly handsomely throughout the interview. It was unfortunate his future son-in-law did not share this opinion. Frederick Wentworth felt all that remained unsaid. What did it matter if Sir Walter Elliot no longer deemed him a nobody? With five-and-twenty thousand pounds, and as high in his profession as merit and activity could place him, should he be thankful that he was now deemed quite worthy to address the daughter of a foolish, spendthrift baronet, who had not had principle or sense enough to maintain himself in the situation in which Providence had placed him? He felt nothing but scorn for the pompous man before him, one of the most worthless specimens of humanity he had the misfortune to encounter (and this from the man who once captained Dick Musgrove!), but love for his daughter, a woman of such perfections that her paternity was astonishing, held his tongue. He bowed so curtly that Sir Walter was left in wonder, bemused by the odd manner in which some men respond to good fortune, and exited the room, just pausing long enough to bow in response to Elizabeth's acknowledgment when he encountered her in the passageway before departing Camden-place.
“Captain Wentworth left rather abruptly, Father,” she commented lackadaisically as she entered the smaller drawing room, gracing a particularly elegant chair with her equally elegant self.
“Poor man! He was quite overwhelmed by my generosity, I am sure, and removed himself rather than make a spectacle. Quite right to have done so, too. Few things are more diminishing to a man's person than an excessive display of emotion, and the morning light is particularly unfavorable. I had wondered that Anne should not have thought of it – to arrange for me to speak with Captain Wentworth one evening when we are at home – but now that I have seen him in broad daylight, I find his complexion perhaps the most impressive I have encountered amongst our naval man, and as Bath has given me ample opportunity to observe the race, I feel I can speak with some expertise on the subject.”
“The concern must be for what the future will bring. Having already been so exposed to the elements, and very likely to be so again, I think I can do no better service for him than to recommend the constant use of Gowland when aboard ship. I shall do so when we next meet.”
“I am sure he will receive your advise just as he ought. Captain Wentworth has an unusual degree of countenance for a man of his station. His presence will be an asset to my drawing-rooms.”
“I agree. A very acceptable match for Anne, all in all. Captain certainly sounds better than a mere Mister, and I do believe there must have some connection to the Strafford family after all, though it be distant and possibly unknown. It would not do for Captain Wentworth to pursue the acquaintance, of course, but the name sounds rather well, do you not think? Anne Wentworth. My daughter, Mrs. Wentworth.”
Elizabeth could not be as enthusiastic as her father on such account, for the notion of being both the eldest and only unmarried Miss Elliot was far from felicitous, but she found ample consolation in knowledge that Anne's ineligibility would restore Mr. Elliot's attentions to their proper quarter.
Lady Russell had only just entered the salon when her goddaughter was announced. Readily did she acquiescence to her admittance. A visit with Anne was always a pleasure, and under current circumstances, Lady Russell was quite prepared to encounter a lady experiencing the second bloom which only love can bestow. However, she was not braced for the the vision that entered. Before her stood the image of Anne Elliot – not the near daughter she had reared for so long, but her dear departed friend. Never had the younger Anne so resembled her mother. Here was the woman whom the vain Sir Walter Elliot had found beautiful enough to marry. The roses on her cheeks and sparkle in her eyes had greater depth than the simple bloom of youth, so unappreciated until its inevitable departure. Here was beauty of soul, exploding in full force after prolonged containment.
“My dear Anne, don't you look lovely this morning! I wasn't expecting you until this evening.”
“I had my reasons for wanting to escape Camden-place, and have long delayed an intended visit to you. Are you at leisure?”
“For you I have all the time in the world. Do sit down.”
“Thank you, Lady Russell.”
Such formality was unusual in Anne, who had always felt more at ease in her godmother's home than her own, and it gave Lady Russell pause. Anne was amply aware that she approved of Mr. Elliot, so why hesitate to share her obvious success? Never before had she more clearly felt the justice of her own words, “You are your mother's self in countenance and disposition,” and never before had she more wanted Anne to be the future Lady Elliot.
Anne, feeling the necessity to speak, said, “I have something of great import to impart to you, which I hope will not cause you undue distress.”
Lady Russell's smile twitched. At such a moment, what could Anne possibly say to distress her?
Anne continued, “I have been given an offer of marriage, and I have accepted.”
Here the smile grew firm. “My dearest Anne! From the first moment I saw you together, I was sure how it would come to pass. You have my utmost felicitations.”
Anne looked concerned. “From the very first, madam? I was always of the opinion that you disapproved of Frederick.”
The smile fell. “Frederick?”
“Yes. Captain Wentworth. You thought I referred to Mr. Elliot?”
“Oh, Anne! I'm afraid I did.”
She rose and took a chair closer to her godmother, clasping her hand warmly. “I could not marry Mr. Elliot, even if he had asked me. There are things you do not know about his character. We could not be happy together. I will tell you all.”
And so she did. Anne revealed the entirety of Mrs. Smith's disclosures regarding Mr. Elliot to Lady Russell. His ill-usage of those who had been true friends to him, and his irreverence for the Elliot name, predictably shocked the upright lady. To have been so familiar with such a moral bankrupt was distressing in itself, but to have been so blinded by pleasing manners and desirable connections shook Lady Russell on a deeper level. By failing to discern Mr. Elliot's true character, she had failed Anne. She recalled her own bad advice to Anne on the subject - "A most suitable connection everybody must consider it - but I think it might be a very happy one" - and shuddered at the thought. She said a silent prayer of thanks that her goddaughter had not been forced to learn what misery life with such a man could bring. Here sat Anne beside her, sparkling and glowing with a healthy radiance presumed long lost to age and sorrow, and the man who inspired her dear girl's happy countenance was the very same man she had once advised her against. Now that she reflected on the matter, Anne's looks had been in constant state of improvement ever since her stay in Uppercross. Lady Russell had observed it with pleasure when Anne had arrived at the Lodge, but had failed to attribute the cause to its source: Captain Wentworth. How very wrong she had been in all her attempts to guide Anne!
They had sat for several moments in silence, Lady Russell contemplating her many blunders while Anne continued to caress her hand affectionately. Finally, the elder lady spoke, feeling very much like the woman she addressed, whom she had known since birth, was her superior in understanding. "I know not how you can ever forgive my interference all those years ago."
"I do not blame you, no more than I blame myself for being guided by you. You have stood in place of a mother to me, for which I am immeasurably grateful. I know you only acted as you thought best."
"But what of Captain Wentworth? He has no ties of affection to me, nothing but you to help secure my forgiveness. He must resent me terribly."
Anne worded her response carefully. "I believe he did, but recent events help negate the past. It will take time, but I have great hopes that you will be friends before long."
“I could not bear to lose your company, Anne.”
“There is no fear of that. Soon you will learn to love Frederick as a son, increasing your intimate circle, not contracting it. We shall have wonderful times together at Kellynch.”
Lady Russell managed a weak smile. It would be awkward, but she would try.
Captain Wentworth restlessly paced the stairs leading up to the gravel-walk as he waited for Anne, his temper still disordered by his meeting with Sir Walter. Valiantly did he struggle to bring himself to order before Anne arrived, but all was in vain. His mind would not be quieted.
“How dare the pompous fool, blessed with ready-made reputation, which he did nothing to earn, condescend to me? Captain of the Laconia! Had his parents sent him to sea, I would have whipped the self-satisfaction from Sir Walter Elliot's soul, if I had to scrub it myself! How am I do bear him? I swore to myself eight years ago that I would never allow him to treat me like an inferior again, but the man knows no other means of proceeding! If I hadn't seen him kowtow to his great cousins with my own eyes, I would think he ranked himself royalty. Whoever created the title Baronet surely had no notion that one day someone as undeserving as Sir Walter would inherit it!”
So his mind raved on, his thoughts only interrupted when a gentle, “Ahem,” caught his ear, followed by a musical laugh that wiped the severe countenance from his mien, revealing the sentimental smile that was only for Anne. Without a word he took her hand and, having placed it securely upon his arm, lead his betrothed to the gravel-walk, where they had enjoyed their first moments of true understanding.
“You were quite intent upon your musing. May I presume their subject was your meeting with my father?”
He grimaced, “Sir Walter Elliot, forgive me my dear, is an insufferable fool. I will never say so again, so you need not reprimand me for expressing such sentiments towards the man I must thank for your existence, but I must expunge the bile this once, while I still do not call him Father.”
“You shall hear no censure from my lips. He has given you his blessing?”
“He has expressed gratification in our engagement, yes. It seems I have Lady Dalrymple to thank for being the making of me; she was so good as to declare me handsome, thereby negating my many other shortcomings.”
“Oh dear,” Anne sighed. “At least we face no opposition. I would not have enjoyed marrying against his will.”
“But you would if necessary?”
“I am no longer a girl and may marry where I choose.”
“And Lady Russell?”
“Is ready to make amends for the wrongs of the past. The news was shocking to her, I admit, but after laying Mr. Elliot's sorry history before her, she had little choice but to admit that she had been completely wrong in her previous opinions. She has taken up a new set of hopes, and they are entirely focused on you, my dear Frederick.”
“I love to hear you say my name, Anne.”
“I remember, Frederick.”
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