Read Part One
Anne and Frederick were to dine with the Crofts that evening, where they were sure to receive the warm and sincere good wishes that are to be expected upon an engagement, but which had been so lacking in the reception of its news thus far. Mr. Elliot had looked forward to seeing his fair cousin, whose behavior at the Elliot's card party earlier that week had confused him. He hoped to learn what caused the arch look in her eye, and regain any ground he might have unknowingly lost in her favor. Upon entering the select gathering, he looked around for her eagerly, and his disappointment was acute when he perceived Anne's absence. Spotting Lady Russell, who was engaged in conversation with an old acquaintance of her husband's, he rapidly making his way to her side, attempting to garner her attention with all the confidence of an honored friend.
"Lady Russell! I hope this evening finds you well? I do not see your god-daughter amongst us tonight. Can we expect the pleasure of her company?"
Lady Russell gave Mr. Elliot a cold look, causing him no little surprise, and said, "Anne is dining with friends this evening. As you can well perceive, there is no one here to particularly engage her attention." With that she resumed her interrupted discourse with the decrepit old man by her side, leaving Mr. Elliot bewildered and concerned. He proceeded to seek his cousins for information. After completing the necessary obsequiences, he readily questioned Sir Walter, "I am sorry to not see Miss Carteret amongst us. Does she remain unimproved? A cold is a dreadful thing to endure; she has my utmost sympathy. I imagine Miss Anne is, once again, denying us the pleasure of her company for the sake of an ailing friend?"
"No, indeed. She is dining with my tenant at Kellynch, Admiral Croft, who is brother to her newly intended, Captain Wentworth." Mr. Elliot's face blanched, but Sir Walter pair him no heed. "A fine man, Wentworth. He will make a handsome addition to the family. I had quite despaired of ever seeing Anne marry. She is certainly no debutante in her first bloom, but she has done well for herself. My dear cousin, what think you of this turn of events?"
Though Lady Dalrymple was not an intellectual woman, life at the pinnacle of society had honed her eye for gossip, and she quickly perceived what Sir Walter did not: the shock his words caused Mr. Elliot, and the pain concealed behind Miss Elliot stoic mien. Delighted to see the love triangle that had been the talk of Bath crumble before her noble eyes, she hastened to make the most of her companions' discomfort.
"It is a fine match for Miss Anne, Sir Walter. I am sure the fears of her remaining at home have quite plagued you, as she is on the wrong side of twenty-five, but I have always thought Anne a very pretty woman for her age. Indeed, I believe that many a man will be sorely disappointed upon learning this news, which one cannot commonly claim for a lady nearing thirty . Please send the Captain and herself my very best wishes for their future. If they will make haste and marry in Bath before our departure, it would be my pleasure to attend the ceremony."
Sir Walter beamed, while Elizabeth and Mr. Elliot struggled for composure. "It would not be the same were we forced to enjoy this occasion without your company, my dear lady."
Lady Dalrymple looked pleased with herself, though her contentment stemmed more from her own malicious toying with the feelings of her younger companions than from satisfaction at the approaching nuptials. The latter was only a pleasant diversion, but Elizabeth and Mr. Elliot were an ongoing source of amusement. While Miss Elliot only betrayed the slightest flush at the mention of Anne's age, when she turned her attention towards a distracted Mr. Elliot and failed to engage his attention, her consternation became quite apparent. That gentleman excused himself for the company of Colonel Wallis, and Lady Dalrymple gloried in Elizabeth's predicament. However, having no eye for the actions of the inconsequential Miss Clay, the great lady failed to notice her equally satisfied countenance. Only Sir Walter remained complacent, quite charmed by the prospect of the consequence Lady Dalrymple's presence would add to his daughter's marriage.
In Gay Street the atmosphere was markedly different from that of an elegant card party. Admiral and Mrs. Croft, Captain Wentworth, and Anne made delightful dinner companions. The conversation was stimulating, while good feeling and harmony reigned. Mrs. Croft was in transports over her brother's engagement, and all were charmed by her effusions.
"I have so longed for Frederick to find the right lady with whom to settle down, and quite despaired the day would ever come." Her brother chuckled. "Oh I had no doubt that you would marry someone, my dear, but I had almost given up hope that she would be the right lady. Louisa Musgrove is a fine girl, no doubt, but I do not think she would have made you happy, Frederick.Your minds are too unequal, and you do not want a silly wife, which is what she would have become had you married her."
"Nonsense, Sophy! Either of those Musgroves would have done fine for Frederick. They are admirable and charming ladies, but I too am pleased with how things have turned out. I've always liked you, Miss Anne, as I think you know very well."
"But you are quite mistaken, my dear admiral! I have seen it before. A man of Frederick's parts weds a pretty and amiable young wife, a few years removes the novelty of their acquaintance, and the pert ways that once charmed begin to frustrate. The man grows to despise his wife, and her personality suffers in turn, exasperating the situation, and ending in misery. But marry a woman like our Anne - you do not mind me calling you by your given name, do you my dear? - and she will be the making of you! I could not be more pleased!"
"Nor could I," grinned the Captain. "I knew a woman eight years ago who I thought none would ever equal, and it is my undeserved good fortune to have been proven wrong. She has surpassed herself."
Anne blushed. How much his words regarding the alteration the years had enacted upon her person, so kindly conveyed to her by her sister Mary, still tormented was Anne's private concern. Now was not the occasion to quibble. "Oh Frederick! How can you? Only a man blinded by love could say such a thing, but I do not begrudge you your besotted state. Indeed, it is all that is charming!"
"Well said, Miss Anne. Well said indeed!"
"If we must begin our life together in a haze of fantasy, I do hope I know well enough to make the most of it, Admiral!" They all laughed harmoniously.
"I suppose you will now change your tune about allowing women aboard your ship, Frederick," said Mrs. Croft with a mischievous smile.
"Yes, we shall see him do as you and I, should we be lucky enough to have another war, worrying the entire fleet with requests of transport for his wife."
"I must say I hope that we find ourselves rather unlucky than otherwise, if good luck means war," put forth Anne.
"Exactly how you should feel," confirmed Admiral Croft, with a knowing twinkle in his eye. "One cannot expect a young lady, with no previous naval ties, to appreciate the problems peace brings to sailors. You will learn to think of it otherwise. You will stand by his side, will you not, Miss Anne, if the opportunity should arise? I think you would make a fine sailor. You have the look of one."
"No matter what life may bring, I plan to face it with Frederick," she smiled consciously. "I only hope, should I be tested, that my legs prove seaworthy."
"I have no doubt they will. But do you all really believe my prejudices so easily overcome?" questioned Captain Wentworth. "No, I assure you, it will take more than the acquisition of a wife to make me feel differently regarding the question of allowing ladies aboard. You will recall that my previous prohibition was against a family of ladies. Only one will be tolerated on my ship." He looked at Anne meaningfully.
"Delightful! That will suit perfectly, until your children are born," Mrs. Croft announced gleefully.
"You see, Anne, what Sophia really wants is not a wife for her brother, but a mother for her nieces and nephews."
In a similar, playful vein did the conversation continue. The future was looked forward to with great anticipation, and all it's potential blessings were discussed in turn. It was quite late when Captain Wentworth and Mrs. Croft accompanied Anne home to Camden-place, where she was surprised to find her sister and father still in the drawing-room, discussing the evening's events.
"There you are, Anne," her father greeted with spirit. "You will be quite gratified to know that Lady Dalrymple is decidedly pleased with the addition of Captain Wentworth to our family circle. Which reminds me, you must ascertain if he has any Irish descent. Our cousin is most convinced he must, though I maintain he must some connection to the Strafford family after all. He has quite the look of Sir Robert about him. Both are fine, well-looking men, would you not say so, Elizabeth?"
"Both are tall and well-formed, undoubtedly, but Sir Robert is rather fairer than the Captain."
"Perhaps. It maybe so. Nevertheless, some investigation is in order, would you not say so, my dears? Now Anne, have you decided upon a wedding date? It would be most convenient if it took place rather sooner than later, so that Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret may attend. Would six weeks be sufficient time for your preparations?"
"I hardly know, Father. We have yet to discuss the matter in detail, though neither of us want to wait for much longer," we have had quite enough of that, she added silently. "Frederick will go to the Cathedral tomorrow to speak with the bishop. "
"Very well. I've written to Shepherd regarding your settlement. I see no reason why you cannot be married quickly, perhaps even within the month."
"It might take a bit longer than that to provide a wardrobe and carriage, Father," said Elizabeth, without looking up from the needlework she was assiduously pursuing.
"Not much longer, I am sure!" he replied optimistically. "Well I am for bed. It is rather late, is it not, and we've all had an exciting day. Good night, Elizabeth. Anne."
Seeing her sister persist in her work, Anne also chose to delay retiring, quite curious, in spite of herself, to learn how Mr. Elliot reacted to the news of her engagement, as Sir Walter's discourse indicated he surely had. Gently she broached the subject with her sister, "Mrs. Clay has retired as well?"
"Yes. Penelope was quite fatigued upon our return and went immediately to her room."
"Was it a pleasant party?"
"No. I am afraid it was not. The rooms were hot, and the company lacked elegance."
"How did you find Lady Dalrymple and her daughter?"
"Miss Carteret is ill, Anne, as you would surely know if you paid her the slightest attention," Elizabeth sighed, "and Lady Dalrymple is in perfect health, as always."
"And Mr. Elliot?"
Elizabeth finally looked up at her sister, her eyes flashing. "He seemed not his usual self. Nor did Lady Russell, for that matter. The two barely spoke a word. He spent nearly the entire time in converse with Colonel Wallis, except when he partnered Mrs. Clay in a rubber."
"Was it his conversation that was so stimulating as to wear Mrs. Clay out?"
The sisters' eyes caught, each perceiving the other's discomfort with this turn of event, though for entirely different reasons. Anne had not yet learned to trust Mrs. Clay, and while Mr. Elliot had been blunt in his disapprobation for the lady, this public display of companionship upon the heels of what had every appearance of being a clandestine meeting in Bath Street made her suspicious. Elizabeth, while she would never dream of her friend being so presumptuous as to form a tendre for Mr. Elliott, was nevertheless angered by his attention to Mrs. Clay, especially as it seemed to be attained at her own expense. However, as the sisters were not close, and neither had any wish to make the other a confidant, the subject was dropped. Formal good evenings comprised their only parting words.
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