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An Officer and a Gentleman

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Anne was in Bath when she had the letter from her father. 

The missive had arrived the evening before, and she had very much intended to sit down to her table and read it, not often receiving mail from Kellynch– but that very fact suggested, she had thought, that its news would be unpleasant to her. Perhaps Sir Walter wished her home; perhaps Elizabeth had been engaged at last, and she would be bound by duty to attend the wedding. 

So she had found, in the end, that she was not able to face breaking the seal, and instead had snuffed out the candle and gone to bed.

The following day, she had only time to eat her breakfast after she rose. In the face of a damp, drizzling morning, she drew on her greatcoat and boots, again spied the letter, and tucked it into her pocket before striking out into the gray streets.

Rosen’s was warm and cheerfully lit as always. Though it might have an air of threadbareness, the floors were swept clean; though the premises were small, the countless glass and earthenware jars were always well stocked with willow bark, meadowsweet, camphor and other such articles. There was no one in front; she shook the rain from her coat and folded it over her arm, and proceeded into the back room.

There, as she had expected, was Mr. Rosen, absorbed in mixing powders. He turned; the front of his apron was dusted white.

“Always early, you are,” said he with a nod. “Do you eat of a morning, or do you run straight here in your sleep?”

“I do eat,” smiled Anne. It was true, generally; she did forget some days, busy as she was. 

“Good, for you’re thin enough.” He wiped his hands and turned again to his work; she set her coat aside and went to fetch a retort from the shelf.

His direct speech had startled her at first, but she had grown used to his manner once she had realized it was all kindly meant. She had come in one winter morning, all her clothing then ill-fitting and diligently darned, and waited in a corner apart from the throng of customers– when the crowd had thinned somewhat, Rosen had spied her standing nervously by the aniseed and beckoned her to him.

“What do you want there, lad, trembling like a mouse?” said he.

She paused. “Sir, I–”

He had peered at her from across the counter. “Have you a cold? I don’t like for my customers to catch sick on my premises– though I daresay it would be an efficient way to ensure their return.”

Anne had no cold; she had been attempting to lower her voice, and instead of a confident, boyish tenor had produced a sort of gravelly whisper. There was no way to explain the matter without awkwardness, however, and so she shook her head.

“I had heard from my neighbor, sir,” she had said, working to smooth her tone, “that you wished for an assistant.”

The apothecary adjusted his spectacles. “You’re a bit young to my eyes. Know you anything of the trade? What exactly can you do to assist me?”

A little crushed, Anne had straightened and forced herself to meet his eye. This, at least, she had prepared for. 

“I have worked in a stillroom all my life,” said she, “and I have a good knowledge of distillery and simple remedies; I am neat and punctual; I write a good hand; and I can read Latin. Besides, I have nothing to do with myself but work, and you will find me a fast learner.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Stillroom, eh? Latin? What manner of Bath apprentice-boy are you?”

To this question, she found she could give no satisfactory answer. The apothecary’s scrutiny sharpened; something in his look had changed, then, and she had very much feared the game was up. 

“Well, whether you be an underfed working lad or some queer kind of lady–” Anne stiffened– “it is true that I’m not so young as I used to be. Latin– that’s not nothing. Hie ye back tomorrow, and we shall see how I find your learning.”

And she had, and had proven herself at least able to copy a receipt and follow directions; Mr. Rosen had taken her on, and learned her name but little more about her; and months had gone by, nearly two years and a half, long enough for her carefully saved wages to be transmuted into properly fitted clothes and decent food for her table. She had never in her life been poorer, and never in her life been prouder.

No, that was not so, she thought, setting out the shavings of hartshorn. She had been prouder, and happier, too, before now– but that was past. She supported herself, and lived well enough alone, and had no cause to wish for more. 

The touchy process of dry distillation occupied her for the rest of the morning; by the time she had produced enough hartshorn salt to satisfy Mr. Rosen, and burnt herself twice on the hot side of the retort, any hint of melancholy had been pushed aside. So, too, had any thought of the letter.

It was near one, sitting down to her brief dinner, that she heard the crinkle of paper in her waistcoat pocket. She brought it out, and looked over her shoulder; Mr. Rosen was in the front, managing the customers. With a restrained sigh, Anne slid a nail under the familiar imprint– the letter would have been sealed in the study, where Sir Walter kept his signet ring, for he thought it looked too large and ugly on his hand– and unfolded the paper.

She ate as she read, to save time; halfway through the letter, she nearly dropped her fork. 

-

Kellynch Hall was almost exactly as Captain Wentworth had remembered it: the gardens quite as neat, the gravel drive quite as smooth, and the grand house quite as imposing. The familiarity chilled him. 

But as he stepped down in front of the tall, cold entryway, no tall, cold Elliots came to bow to him– instead it was his own Sophie who threw her arms around him, and pressed his hands, and asked how he did. 

“For we have had little news of you, these past months,” she said, ushering him into the house. “I knew better than to worry, after your long career, but I do long to hear more of your doings than the Gazette will tell us.”

She had invited him to visit the moment she had word that he was ashore; when he read the name of the Crofts’ new residence, he had been on the point of refusing, but then had dismissed such a move as mere cowardice. He would see his sister, and that was that; nothing else signified.

They were passing now into the drawing room, with its high ceiling and heavy curtains. Eight years ago he had stood here as Sir Walter Elliot haughtily questioned his prospects, and had answered every barb with level words and a straight back; he had hardly felt the insult. None of the furniture was moved since then– for all its spotless fashion, the house had always had an air of petrification. The chaise and mahogany writing-table stood where they must have since the first of the Elliots sniffed and turned up his ennobled nose, and Wentworth fancied that if he were to look underneath them he would find dust that dated from the reign of Charles the Second.

Sophie was looking at him; he cleared his throat.

“I have done very well for myself,” he said, “and of course I shall bore you with the whole story as soon as I sit down– but how did you come by this place? Hardly in your usual way.”

As she explained, he felt relief sweep over his bow. The Elliots gone– absconded to Bath or some such place– no taste to meet the tenants who were saving them from debt– that was one vexation, at least, he might be spared.

“I am sure you itch to be back at sea, Fred,” said Sophie, “but as you are run aground for the time being, what will you do with yourself?”

“Yes, Fred, what pretty girl’s heart shall you break before the next war?” 

Admiral Croft had come into the room– from the library, Wentworth knew– and shook his hand before dropping himself onto the sopha. Wentworth had been Fred since his earliest girlhood, his family agreeing almost at once that Florence was an ill fit, and when he had joined the Navy as a mid the nickname had transmuted very well into Frederick on all of his official documents. He was still not quite certain what Admiral Croft knew of his particular situation, having been married to his sister for so many years, but he had at least said nothing to the Admiralty.

“I hope not to break anyone’s heart,” he replied, a little wryly. 

“Ha! Then I suppose you will marry one of ‘em.”

“Oh! If you push the matter, he will stay a bachelor all his life out of spite.” Sophie laughed, and turned to Wentworth. “You have always been damnably proud, if you’ll pardon my saying it– you would go your own way or go to perdition, even before you could walk quite well. I know better than to force your hand.”

He smiled in spite of himself, but before he could make any return about headstrong sisters setting poor examples, he faltered. Behind her on the wall were hung a set of stiff, formal portraits: Sir Walter and Lady Anne the largest, of course, posed with her gloved hand upon his arm; Miss Elliot directly to the right, imperious and beautiful, and the youngest, Mary, beside her; and on the left was Anne.

It was an old portrait, done some time before he had met her, but a striking likeness. Even the unfeeling style of the painter could not dull the dark eyes, the delicate lines of the face, the soft, knowing expression. He had returned his miniature; he had not seen her face in eight years.

“What, no retort?” Sophie tilted her head. “You are looking very serious all of a sudden.”

“Am I? Well, no matter. I was rattled about in the carriage; I must be tired.”

She questioned him no further; all the same, he realized now it was not possible for him to stay here as long as he had planned. Kellynch Hall was an oppressive place, in more ways than one– Wentworth had come full of defiance, prepared to realize a victory over the Elliots and over himself, but the past hung over this house like a shadowy pall, and it damped his spirits. He had no wish to concern Sophie and the Admiral with his blue-devils, and did not like them himself. Wentworth was not naturally melancholy, and this sudden dejection made him restless.

The next day, he claimed a previous engagement with the Hartnells; he had nothing of the kind, but he had friends whom he knew would forgive his dropping in unexpectedly. The Crofts pressed him to stay, of course– they won from him a promise to visit again soon, which he did intend to keep. He would be glad of their company again, once he had sorted himself out. 

Starting away from Kellynch, he felt his heart lift, and if it were not so light as he had anticipated, he felt certain that time and distance would put him right again.

-

The letter had been customary enough, for all its shocking content; it had begun with the cheerful assertion that Sir Walter and Elizabeth would be decamping to Bath for the present, along with some person by the name of Mrs. Clay. Anne was unsure what her position might be; she thought it unlikely that Elizabeth had indeed at last found a woman she thought to merit the title of particular friend, as Sir Walter wrote, but the alternatives made her deeply uneasy. After this opening followed a few blithe sentences in which the words retrenchments, family position, and financial obligations swanned after one another as if the writer had tried to discharge them from his pen, and his mind, as quickly as possible.

Lastly, before the yr. fond Father, was writ the assertion that Anne would of course come to stay with them; it would be beyond anything to have a daughter so near, and not present to make a fourth at whist.

Back in her empty rooms, Anne toasted cheese over a rather weak hearth fire and attempted, in the fast-dimming evening light, to sort matters out.

Sir Walter’s debts had caught up to him– that much was clear, and was a circumstance a long time in coming. He had let Kellynch Hall, and was coming to live in plainer style at Bath– a surprisingly sensible course of action, in which she read Lady Russell’s hand. He intended for her to return to the household– all well and paternal, but she anticipated some difficulty in explaining to him why she went about in men’s clothes, and had put her lady’s education to use as a druggist’s assistant in a decidedly rough part of the town. 

She had difficulty explaining it to herself, on occasion. Skirts had served her well enough for the majority of her life; she had never liked them, but she had been resigned to play the good daughter, and even, at one point, had looked forward to being a good wife– but that was by the by, and when an opportunity came, the half-formed longing that had lurked for years behind her conscious thoughts had pushed her to seize it.

Anne had come to Bath three years ago on the advice of Lady Russell. That good woman had determined, after years of urging her to mix more in society, that what she must need after all was some peace; Kellynch was too confining, and a change of scene, a breath of sea air, would do her good. Anne had protested quietly that she did not care for Bath, and that after all she had her duties at home. Lady Russell had not allowed these objections to be serious; Anne’s thoughtfulness was only to be praised, but she would make everything right with Sir Walter, and find her some snug little rooms from which she might go to the assemblies, if she wished, and walk on the shore.

In the end, it had taken only a little convincing. Once Sir Walter had been persuaded to believe the scheme his own idea, he had thought it a very good one, and settled a decent allowance on Anne to provide for her living expenses. He had been on the point of hiring a companion for her, but she, now resigned, had stepped in at this juncture and gently insisted there was no need– she would take a room near her old school friend, now a Mrs. Smith, and they would be quite comfortable together. She did not mention Mrs. Smith’s circumstances, and Sir Walter did not ask. 

So all was arranged, and off she had gone to her little rented rooms in Bath, among the spinsters, the invalids, and the countless whitewashed walls. Indeed, her surroundings were a little dingier even than she had expected, but she did not much mind. In the main, she staid in her room and read by the wall, or visited with her friend and did what small services she could for her. It was odd, to have no daily round of household duties to see to. 

The first few letters she received from Kellynch made complaint of the many annoying affairs that had suddenly to be managed, which seemed to have fallen out of the clear sky– all the little matters Anne had wordlessly dealt with out of habit, before her departure– but the mentions of this trouble gradually dwindled, and over time so did the letters themselves.

Her mind, she had found, turned less and less to home; the substance of her life became the still quiet of her quarters and the intermittent rain blowing in off the sea. It was a colorless existence, but a comfortable one.

When the letters resumed they were quite different, both in style and substance. Almost apologetically, Sir Walter began each by talking of economy, and meandered on until he came to the point– that money must be saved, that the whole Elliot family must be prepared to make sacrifices, and that in short, once, twice, and yet again, he would be reducing her allowance.

By the third letter, Anne had merely sighed. Each time, she had made economies– she had saved her candles, canceled her subscription to the circulating-library and worn two shawls rather than waste firewood, even, in the end, dismissed the maid-of-all-work she had hired after giving her the names of several wealthy Bath families. Anne, like her mother, had always had a good head for a balance sheet, but after several months it had become clear to her that her best efforts would not be enough. 

So she was faced with the question that she had been determinedly ignoring for weeks: why did she not simply go home? She had been against the move to Bath, and the journey back would be easy enough. 

The answer, it happened, she had known all along– she did not want to return. She had grown used to solitude, and found she preferred it to her previous life; she was little more neglected here than at Kellynch, and considerably less imposed upon. It was perhaps selfish, but she was determined to remain, and on her own terms.

The thought of taking up work of some sort had crossed her mind soon after. At first, she viewed the prospect with the apprehension and slight shame of a gentleman’s daughter, bred up to believe that to earn money was to degrade herself as a lady– but her natural practicality won through. If she would not work, she would have to beg money from her father or friends, and she would not beg.

She considered taking on needlework or mending for her neighbors, but was not certain she could make enough to live on, and besides she had already done some of that mending as a matter of friendship; it would look odd to ask payment now.

It had occurred to her then that she could do considerably better for herself in a man’s trade.

The jolt of queasy excitement that struck her at this thought made her shy away, but it stayed lodged in her mind. It was not a completely foolhardy notion. She had known someone– she had known persons– who did so. But she had never thought it possible in her own case, saying to herself, if I were braver– if I were a different sort of woman– if I were younger, and had dared take the chance–

Now she argued each point again, staring out her narrow window, and with every repetition found herself less convinced. Anne had thought herself quite finished with wanting, but this want, once stumbled upon, would not quietly lay itself down in the grave with the others.

Once she made the choice, the scheme had progressed very quickly. Mrs. Smith she told at once; she would notice, their being such close neighbors, and besides Anne had her speculations about the woman. These were confirmed– she said nothing about her own inclinations, but Mrs. Smith, eyes suspiciously bright, embraced her and said of course she would do whatever she could to help. She cut short her hair and lent her clothes that had belonged to her late husband– “for he won’t be needing them now,” she said– and had given her even a pair of her own sturdy boots. Anne cut a rather awkward figure at first, and was well aware of it, but when she strode across the room and felt the solid weight of the coat across her shoulders, the click of her bootheels on the floor, she had turned away from Mrs. Smith to hide her joy.

Things had continued very well, until this last letter. Anne shifted in her chair; a whiff of smoke caught her nose, and she quickly retracted her toasted cheese from its drift toward the flames. A brief inspection revealed that it was only a little singed; she took an unenthusiastic bite, and began to think in earnest.

The object of first importance was to write to her father. Pen and paper, then– she drew up a letter to Sir Walter commending his plan, but regretting that she could not join him, for she had agreed to visit Mary at Uppercross for several weeks and was bound to keep her promise. Her next letter was addressed to Mary Musgrove, saying that if it would be convenient, she would come by stage within the next few days to keep her sister company awhile, as she had often entreated her to do. Anne stared at the page a moment– after a short consideration, she crossed out by stage. No sense in giving Mary additional cause for nerves.

There, the matter was settled; she set the two letters aside to be posted tomorrow, and went to undress for bed. Another night, she and Mrs. Smith might sit together and knit, or talk literature, but Mrs. Smith was holding one of her gatherings tonight, and would be busy until the small hours. She had often asked Anne to come– even gently suggested that she might meet several interesting young women– but Anne always declined. Mr. Rosen kept her busy, and she had never liked to keep late hours. Besides, she could not quite find it in her heart to go and watch the interesting young women flirt with each other, when she herself was so quiet and plain, and had not much left to say to anyone.

-

Wentworth’s friends were, indeed, happy to welcome him. Jack O’Shea raised an eyebrow when she opened the door upon him and all his traveling cases, but she ushered him in with no question, saying roughly that she would stow his luggage abovestairs. Knowing better than to dispute her, he stepped into the narrow hall with its old, well-waxed floors to wait out of the damp.

“Still got your captaincy, I suppose, Wentworth?” said she. “No trouble with the Navy?”

“No, sir,” he replied, catching her meaning at once, “I only needed a place to stay on short notice– and I hoped to see you and Mrs. O’Shea. If it is any trouble, you must pitch me out on the street at once.”

“Nonsense.” She put down one of the cases for a moment to clap him on the back. “Didn’t I say you were always welcome? Didn’t I tell you never to bother with writing ahead? Don’t you accuse me of going back on my word, now.”

He did no such thing, and she stumped up the stairs with all his things in her hands.

O’Shea’s life had been very like Wentworth’s own, or very like his life might have been had he been a little poorer. She had sailed for several years as a foretopman on a merchant marine, before being found out and summarily thrown over the gunwale at the nearest port; the next decade or so she had spent whaling up near the Arctic Circle, where, she said, it was cold enough that the sailors never took their clothes off; now she and her wife Kitty ran a small tavern here in Bath catering primarily to sailors, to whom she was grizzled old salt Mr. O’Shea. 

He had stumbled in years ago with a pack of other young officers; when he had seen big, solid O’Shea carrying a tray of pewter tankards, her wiry hair cropped close, her hands laced with scars, and the faded edge of a tattoo curling out from beneath the cuff of her shirt, he had been struck by a sort of lightning-bolt sensation nearly akin to falling in love. He had come back, day after day, until she saw what he was about; they had been fast friends ever since.

Wentworth heard the creak of the floorboards, and turned to look down the hallway. Kitty O’Shea, in a pretty calico gown, stood outlined against the dim lamplight with a knife in her hand.

“Why, young Wentworth!” she said warmly. “We’d not looked for you. Come you in, eat with us– Jack, this knife ought to be sharpened, or it is liable to slip and cut my finger off.”

“That I cannot have,” O’Shea said over the bannister. She came down, plucked the knife from her hand, and kissed her gravely upon the cheek. Wentworth looked on, not bothering to hide his smile.

They took supper in the kitchen behind the main room of the tavern; O’Shea, rather jokingly, refused to allow Kitty the knife again, and insisted on cutting up the fowl and vegetables for the stew herself. Kitty rolled her eyes in good-natured exasperation, and hung the kettle over the hearth to boil.

“She made that knife herself, I’ll have you know,” she told him, ushering him over to a chair. “Scrimshawed the handle on a voyage north and had a knifemaker join on the blade. Stumped through the door after two years at sea and gave it me cool as you please, the madwoman. I never kissed her harder.”

“You’ll fluster the Captain, Mrs. O’Shea,” called Jack from the iron stove.

“Happen I will, Mr. O’Shea,” retorted Kitty, crossing her arms in mock indignation.

She had rather more grey in her densely curled hair than she had when Wentworth first had met her, and deeper crows’ feet about her eyes– yet she was still beautiful, with her soft, round arms and deep brown skin, her bluff practicality and teasing laugh. Even as a green lieutenant, he had seen her knowing smile, the way Jack’s hands settled about her waist, and known deep in his bones that one day he would learn what it was that they had built between them, and find it for himself.

They ate round the kitchen table, simple food and plain talk. He found it a bit jarring, after the formality of the boardroom, to be addressed on such blunt terms, but if anyone had the right to quiz him, it was Jack O’Shea. After a little raillery on the subject of his dress– his coat in particular, a fashionable new article in dark blue wool that O’Shea disdainfully called fancy – he related some of the best stories from his most recent cruise, and had Kitty laughing into her hand and Jack pounding the table. 

But there was an objection to one of his accounts– he could not have made it out of the harbor so quickly, not at such-and-such a time– and they sat late into the night discussing tides and shoals, and the various merits of every port in which they had ever weighed anchor. Kitty, being a sailor’s daughter, had quite as many opinions as Jack and Wentworth.

Some time after midnight, he yawned and excused himself. As he left the kitchen he saw, out of the corner of his eye, Jack drawing Kitty toward her without a word. It was a familiar sort of gesture, the product of long years spent together. He turned and ascended the stairs.

The next morning he woke with a start, a phantom bell ringing in his ears. He dressed methodically, setting everything just so, and then realized, feeling himself at a loss, that he had nothing to do. There was no daily ship’s routine to see to; he must shift for himself, and fill his own time.

O’Shea must have noticed his wrong-footedness, for when he appeared in the tavern proper she told him to remove from the premises and find somewhere to spend his coin.

“This town is a pleasure-ground for you officers,” said she. “Do you go and drink sulphur-water, or dance the waltz, or some such thing; we have diversions enough here.”

“Oh! But come back this evening,” put in Kitty, “for we’re engaged to go to Smith’s, and you ought to be there. Lucky that you came to Bath when you did.”

Wentworth spent the day wandering aimlessly about the streets. He nodded to a few of his acquaintance– no one he knew well– and a few women with whom he was not at all acquainted, who blushed very gratifyingly. Despite Jack’s confidence, there was not much in the way of entertainment here until evening. At six, with a slight headache, he returned to the tavern and found the O’Sheas at the door in their Sunday dress, a brown tailcoat and blue round gown respectively.

“You’ll do nicely,” said Jack with a glance at his clothes. She took up her battered cane, Wentworth his hat, and Kitty her bonnet, and off they went.

Smith, as it so happened, was an invalid widow, whose small apartment must be cramped enough with only herself to occupy it; but she seemed not to mind a crowd, and beamed when she saw the three of them tacking toward her chair through the crush of guests.

“How glad I am you could come!” she exclaimed, and shook hands with them all in turn. 

“My friend Fred,” O’Shea said when Smith paused, “here visiting with us.”

“Well, you are most welcome,” she said, and he felt himself so. There was a motley array of food set out, which he suspected had mostly been brought by the guests– Jack set down a large bottle of cider upon the table– and the people swarming the refreshments were just as variable.

Some had the distinct pinchpenny air of Bath spinsters, but in spite of their plain dress they flirted and joked with great spirit, often with one another. There were working women, too, a few more of them after O’Shea and Wentworth’s fashion; whether in skirts or trousers they mixed with all the others, quite at their ease. He saw men, if not so many; some decidedly mollyish, some very stolid-looking tradesmen. No one was rowdy, for the walls here were thin, but they all seemed to know one another, and they pulled him in at once.

“A sailor, you say?” queried a fellow with unfashionably long hair. “You’d not know the first mate of the Dragonfly, I suppose? No? Ah, no matter– I expect a letter any day now, but he always writes so abominably late.”

“No indeed,” said a woman in response to Wentworth’s question, “I never read Byron– but come, we were talking of poetry, let me give you the names of some authoresses I like much much better. That for Byron!”

He spent a very pleasant evening tossed from one side of the room to the other on the swells of conversation, quarreling good-naturedly about the Navy, tribadism, and the Spirit of the Age, and washed up at last beside Smith, who was situated by the fire, sipping at some of O’Shea’s cider.

“I hope you are enjoying yourself,” she said, raising her glass in his direction. She was a wan, tired-looking woman, but her eyes glinted whenever she smiled.

“Very much! I have not been bullied so heartily since before I was made post.” Belatedly he realized he perhaps ought not to say anything about his career– O’Shea had only introduced him as Fred, after all– but he doubted he was in much danger here.

“I am glad; I invite people here expressly to pummel one another for my benefit. I am shut up here, you see, and I must bring the world to me.”

“Well, I am pleased to have been brought,” he said, and meant it. 

He did grow weary, sometimes, of forever watching the pitch of his voice and the set of his shoulders. It was a relief to be among people who were not much interested whether he was a man or a woman, except as it affected their chances with him. He told her so, and added that he was afraid he had already very much disappointed a young man who had been pointedly laughing at all his jokes.

“And the worst of it is, I have a damned terrible headache, and could not think of a way to let him down gently,” he said. “Poor fellow, how his face fell!”

She laughed, but then turned to him with concern. “Does your head hurt so much?”

“I daresay I will survive, but it is a distraction.” His temples pounded; it had grown steadily worse since he arrived, to the extent that he wondered if he might be coming down with a fever.  He had succeeded in ignoring it in favor of enjoying the evening, but now he felt it wearing at him.

Smith must have seen something of this in his face, for she winced sympathetically.

“I have dreadful headaches myself, these days,” she told him. “If you are still in a bad way tomorrow, you might go to Rosen’s apothecary in ––– street; he mixes an excellent tincture of willow bark. Besides, I have a friend who works for Mr. Rosen, and so I like to send business his way whenever I am able.”

“A-ha! I see it now; you are using me, now you know my affliction,” Wentworth exclaimed, and they continued in this vein until the O’Sheas came to fetch him.

He was not much recovered in the morning, which annoyed him; time was that four hours’ sleep would have cured him of anything. Well, he was not twenty any longer, to be careening about ignoring the demands of his body, and so after breakfast he took himself off in search of Smith’s apothecary.

With his steady sense of direction and rudimentary knowledge of Bath, he found the place in good time; it was one in a line of tall, narrow shops, crammed in end to end. The glass-fronted window displayed a variety of goods, all more or less what one would expect of an apothecary. Painted upon the lintel in neat white letters were the words Rosen’s Medicines, Herbs, etc. It certainly seemed the place, so he pushed open the green door and went in.

It was pleasant and clean, though small; two men were present, one reading an account-book and the other stocking the shelves. The first, a stocky man with grey in his dark curls who must be the Mr. Rosen mentioned over the door, looked up over his spectacles and nodded.

“Morning to you, sir; what may I do for you?”

Wentworth bade him good morning, and explained his errand. The man by the shelf stilled, seemingly having some difficulty with the jar in his hands.

“Well, that is easy enough,” said Rosen. “Can you reach the tincture on the shelf, there?”

“Certainly, sir,” was the low response from his counterpart, who must be his assistant. 

While he reached up to the row of small bottles, Rosen commiserated with Wentworth about the weather– dreadful this week, enough to make half the town sick– and scratched away at his accounts. Idly Wentworth wondered how Sophie was getting on at Kellynch Hall. She would like the gardens, very probably; she had always been an out-of-doors sort of woman, and she and the Admiral liked to ramble about whenever they were ashore together. 

“I have it here,” said the assistant, glass bottle in hand. He crossed the floor and gave it over to Rosen. Something about the timbre of his voice, the dark shade of his hair, drew Wentworth’s eye to him, but he had already turned away, and was stepping across the threshold into the back room. This spark of recognition was not new– very like his feelings upon seeing O’Shea for the first time, or any number of others like him– and he supposed this must be Smith’s friend, whom he had been sent to benefit.

“Here we are,” said Mr. Rosen, pushing the tincture across the table, “a spoonful in your tea ought to suffice. If it really worsens, though, we carry laudanum. Oh, Elliot; come and have a look at this, will you? I cannot make the numbers come out quite even, and you know some little articles slip my notice.”

The assistant paused in the doorway– then turned and came over with slow steps to inspect the account-book, head bent down. 

Wentworth’s first impression was of a slight, neat man, dressed with almost Quaker propriety in a plain dark coat and trousers– the very type of a young doctor or apothecary, sober and professional. Yet something about him set him on edge, made him peer closer. The assistant held up the book to Rosen, and as he did so he met Wentworth’s eye. 

Wentworth had been somewhat rash as a younger officer, disinclined to hold his tongue, and on one memorable occasion a friend had struck him in the face for an ill-judged remark made in the middies’ mess. He was hardly less staggered now, staring at the pale face of Anne Elliot. 

She recognized him, he was sure of it; her eyes were wide and her lips pressed tight together, and the book dipped in her hand as if her grip had faltered a moment. As when his friend had hit him, the first sting faded into a sort of dumb shock. Dispassionately, as though observing a painting in a gallery, he took in the powdery smudges on her cuffs, her cropped hair, the pale discoloration on her hands– chemical burns, perhaps, long healed but still evident. When he had seen her last, her hands had reached out to him, soft and flawless, a lady’s hands, and unable to stop his going.

“I think you may have undercounted Mr. Greening’s purchase, Mr. Rosen,” she said quietly. “He bought sal volatile, and a few cakes of soap.”

With that, she disappeared into the back room.

“Why, so I have,” Rosen exclaimed, and corrected the error with his pen. “Ah, I’ve kept you waiting, sir– my apologies.” He named the price, and Wentworth counted out the money, not heeding where he put down the coins.

“You need not stare,” Rosen chided him, following his eyes to the doorway. “She’s a good lad, is Miss Anne. Everyone has a harsh word for her kind– and there certainly seem to be a good many of them about these parts– but she is worth more to me than three shiftless apprentice boys.”

“I do not doubt it,” Wentworth said politely, “indeed, I only– Miss Anne and I were acquainted some years ago.” He hardly knew what he was saying; there was no reason for him to talk of such things to a shopkeeper, but the words came falling out. His voice sounded measured to his own ears, almost a drawl.

Mr. Rosen gave him a keen look. “Indeed?”

“Oh, yes; I was merely surprised. She is so altered I hardly knew her again.”

“How strange,” said Rosen, just as calmly. “Good day, sir; I hope the tincture answers your needs.”

Out on the street, he strode off the way he had come, his mind all a-whirl. He had never expected to see her again, and certainly not in such circumstances. The apothecary had been put out with him for saying such a thing, and doubtless he was justified, but Wentworth had only said what was true. Anne, like himself– he knew not what to think.

His headache was worse. 

When he returned to the O’Sheas’, he was distracted and irritable, and Jack told him in no uncertain terms that if he was determined to be such a damned ill-tempered dog, he could go and drink in another tavern, and inflict his barking upon others. At that he apologized; he climbed the stairs to his room, paced the floor for a quarter of an hour, and then, for his temples really were pounding, sat down to administer the tincture of willow bark.

Well, he had at any rate been spared the unpleasantness of wondering about her, he reasoned to himself. There need be no more bitter imaginings about prestigious engagements, or wealthy lady friends to whom Sir Walter was too blind to object– Anne Elliot had ended a junior druggist in an unfashionable part of Bath, and a proper tom into the bargain. He supposed she would settle with one of the faded old maids populating the town, and he wished them well together.

Kitty called to him from the foot of the stairs; he rose to go to her, and was disgruntled to find that his headache had completely evaporated.

Chapter Text

The stage rumbled along the open road, swaying somewhat from side to side. Anne gripped the rail; the motion was more exaggerated on the top of the coach, and she had no desire to fall off and break her neck. A few of the other passengers cast her furtive, curious looks– whether because they thought she was too young a boy to be traveling alone, or a woman in disguise, or because of her air of pinched unhappiness, she did not know. 

She had never passed consistently for a man, and in all earnestness did not much wish to; she preferred to be with Mrs. Smith, who would call her my dear Anne and cut her hair as a barber would, or Mr. Rosen, with his rather confused but well-meaning Anne my lad and clever girl you are, Elliot. Among wider society, she walked a razor wire, ducking in and out of shops before they could realize what she was, and shove her out themselves. It had happened a few times before. She had had some idea that male dress would give her greater freedom, and in her choice of profession and movement about the world, it had; but her circle of acquaintances, never large in Bath, had shrunk to those who were like her or would accept her, a painfully small number. Fear, loneliness: these she had not anticipated.

It was evident, though, that not everyone in her situation was so afflicted. Anne watched the grasses along the road shiver and dance as the stage drove past. She had recognized Captain Wentworth the moment he entered the shop; he had the same self-assurance she remembered, the same upright shoulders and engaging manner. Rosen had not hesitated to call him sir , nor defend Anne against him, as if he were a man who might sneer at her in disgust.

Indeed, he very nearly had. Rosen had repeated his words to her, indignant on her behalf, but she could not deny the justice of what the captain said. She was altered, very much so, and it was not his fault if he liked a pretty young girl better than someone who was stared at on stagecoaches.

The left front wheel went over a stone, and the whole vehicle jolted. She caught her hat just in time to prevent it making a desperate escape for parts unknown, and then, jamming it firmly back upon her head, leaned against the rail to watch the countryside fly past. The fields were green and beautiful, crossed with hedges and old oaks and maples; between the ever-changing scene and the constant clatter of hooves and wheels, she was nearly able to cease thinking altogether.

Uppercross was much as always. Mary was afflicted, Charles was absent, and the Musgroves aflutter with concern and petty conflict. The cottage’s familiar disorder made Anne itch a little to lay eye upon it, but she repressed her urge to neaten and straighten, and instead followed her instincts to the sitting room.

Hearing her boots upon the floor, Mary looked up and made a half-hearted movement as if to rise; then she appeared to think better of it, and sank languidly back into her heaping of blankets. 

“So you are come at last!” she said, in failing accents.

“I hope I do not inconvenience you; I know I gave short notice.”

“No, no, I really require you here; I have been very poorly. I would have written you, but you have been so busy, I do not doubt, gallivanting round Bath, that I could not think of asking you to sit by a sickbed.”

“I have hardly been gallivanting,” Anne said with a half-smile, and removed her hat. 

Mary sniffed. “Well, I declare I know not what else to call it, when you go about masquerading as a man, and peddling medicines, and say I must not tell our father anything of the matter. You have always been so very contrary, Anne. You never think of respectability.”

This was such an unfamiliar portrait of herself that she could say nothing to contradict it. “The more I learn from Mr. Rosen, the better I shall be able to do for you,” she said instead.

That argument appeared to pacify Mary, for she was seized with a brief yet pitiful fit of coughing, and made no more objections.

Anne had always liked Uppercross. In the past, her tastes shaped by Kellynch Hall, full of her father’s grandeur and her mother’s good taste, she had found the house and its inhabitants rather old-fashioned, somewhat vulgar; but her society had been different of late, and she could not find fault with roughness and bluffness as she had formerly done. For the most part, the Musgroves treated her ‘peculiarity,’ as they called it, as a great joke, which was not so bad as it might have been. Pleased to be let into the conspiracy, they kept the secret from their neighbours with admirable spirit. When she and Mary arrived for breakfast the next morning– Mary miraculously improved– Mr. Musgrove rose to shake her hand as he would a man’s, saving a certain smiling, self-aware exaggeration.

“Ah, Miss Anne!” he exclaimed, “I have hoped for you; I vow you keep the peace as no one else can. My daughters, the crazy creatures, are in need of settling.”

“Indeed, Papa, we are not,” said Louisa, “and if you would only listen–

Thus Anne was at once pulled into the dispute, Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove cheerfully soliciting her support from one side, and Henrietta and Louisa tugging her sleeve from the other. She did her best, not entirely certain, as she had just come through the door, what the trouble was– something about the family pianoforte– and was fortunately saved from having to give more than a sympathetic ear by the arrival of Charles Musgrove. 

“How d’ye do, Anne?” he said idly, gun still over his shoulder.

Mary bristled. “You would know how she did, Charles, had you been at home when she arrived– or when she woke this morning! You are so taken with your shooting, it is a wonder that you ever set foot indoors.”

“Lord! Mary, I have not yet eaten,” he protested.

“I am well, Charles,” Anne said hurriedly, “and I am very grateful to all of you for your hospitality.”

Having damped the smoldering powder, she turned to her toast and eggs. This was no great price, she reminded herself, to avoid Sir Walter’s summons. For more reasons than one, she was well out of Bath.

Later that day, Mr. Musgrove came upon her again, as she was examining Mary’s herb garden for the snails whose rapaciousness, Mary insisted, was destroying her mint. 

“Out of doors already, what?” said he, rounding a bush. “Good, good; nothing like fresh air; but you ought to be careful of your complexion, dear girl, for I’m afraid the young men these days have a great dislike to a freckled face.”

“I shall keep it in mind, sir,” she said dutifully, still searching. There were in fact a few snails among the mint, but they had done very little damage; not all the King’s fleet, she thought, could demolish a patch of mint once it had sunk in its roots. She plucked one off a stem, and watched the creature retreat into its curved shell.

“O, you are very good to see to the garden so. I’d meant to ask you to look at a few of our elms, as a favor to Mrs. Musgrove and myself– she says they have a blight, and I say they have not, and no matter how many walks we take through the grove, we ain’t in accord. You’ve a keen  young eye, and–”

“I should be pleased to,” Anne told him, raising herself from her stoop. “I have some little experience doctoring people, now; I shall certainly try my hand at doctoring trees.”

Mr. Musgrove was pleased, and after a cursory hunt for more offending snails she accompanied him to the elm grove, where he indicated to her the trees over which they had been quarrelling.

“I don’t dispute that they look ill,” he said, as though meaning to carry on the debate, “but I see no blight, not upon a one of ‘em.”

Anne nodded, and examined the first tree. It was a slender elm, growing very straight yet rather stunted; nothing appeared to be the matter with its bark, nor its roots, but it had very few leaves for a trees of its size, even at the beginning of autumn, and those that clung to its branches were small and pale.

“Might I see the others?” asked she.

“This way; it may prove a sad puzzle even to a lady-doctor, Miss Anne. By the by, I hope you haven’t anything to do with blood and sick, writing out receipts for that apothecary of yours. Sworn to silence I am, of course, but you know what Sir Walter’s thoughts would be, were he to find it out.”

She gave an involuntary shiver. The second tree was a little distance off, and as they approached it she saw that it was crooked; several of its roots breached the soil one side, and the trunk leaned sickeningly to the other; half its leaves had fallen already.

“Not sure I like it myself, come to that,” continued Mr. Musgrove, “All these Tom Jones adventures are well and good, but ought you not to settle, Anne?” He cleared his throat. “Take the advice of an impudent old man, and marry. Many fellows want a wife of good sense, not some sparkling flibbertigibbet.”

Half listening, Anne put a hand on the trunk of the elm. It really was precarious; it looked as though a strong wind could bring it crashing down for good.

“That apothecary, now,” he said, “he’d surely make a fine husband. An Israelite of course, but he sounds honest from what you say. Christians are two a penny in England, and honest men a good deal rarer.”

She sighed inwardly. If Mr. Musgrove was attempting to marry her off to Rosen, he really must consider her situation desperate. There had of course been much she could not say to the Musgroves about her circumstances in Bath, but in her anxiety to reassure them that she was in no danger– and party to no immorality whatsoever– she had perhaps given the impression that her work at the apothecary was little more than chaperoned note-taking, more the enthusiasm of a fading woman in love with a shopkeeper than a real occupation. They seemed not to suspect her of sapphism in any degree– a strain to the imagination, but for safety’s sake it was a good thing.

“He is honest, sir, but I doubt he will marry,” she replied. “The death of his late wife… I think he wishes not to risk such a grief again.” 

All true; but again, just as Anne had intended, he took something more from it. His face fell. 

“Ah, well– best not lose heart. Other chances will come,” he said, gruffly comforting. “But there is the last tree, down by the end; what’s the diagnosis, hey, doctor?”

The last tree was small, like the other two, and had several bends in its trunk. The same sickly-looking leaves shuddered in the breeze; as she watched, a few broke loose and were flung away into the air.

“I can see no sign of blight,” she said, “nor rot, nor pests.”

“I tell my wife so every morning,” he agreed.

“Yet something must be the matter. Would you walk by them with me just once more? It may do no good, but I should like to see them again, all at once.”

Together they circled the elm grove, and Mr. Musgrove told her that she ought to have seen Mrs. Jordan play William in Rosina

“‘Twas the ‘eighties, when there were still actresses worth seeing in London. She played such a sprightly breech role, she was just like a charming, romping boy! You might have took a lesson from her; indeed, Miss Anne, you are a little too serious about it; a little too mannish. Those odd, frock coat-ish gowns you used to wear, before Louisa spied you in the fields in trousers– those were nearer the mark.”

“I think they might have been too drab for Mrs. Jordan,” she contended. At first she had attempted to compromise when out of Bath, and worn the plainest, most severe women’s clothes she owned; once Louisa had seen her out walking properly dressed, and related the story to her family, she had decided there was little point in keeping up the ruse.

“Perhaps, ha-ha! Magnificent woman. But you’ve a queer look on your face– whatever is the matter?”

Anne had been studying the trees as they walked; now she frowned, and slowed her pace. “These elms– the sickly trees seem farther apart from the rest of the grove. Do you suppose they might wither, or lose their strength, without the roots of their neighbors to anchor them?”

“There’s a query for a botanist,” said Mr. Musgrove. “They might do, if they were far enough away. Can a tree die, think you, from being alone too long?”

By the manner in which he bit his lip, it was evident that he was calculating the cost of having the trees cut down, as opposed to planting new saplings around them– but still Anne found that she was not able to answer him.

 

The Crofts to visit– she was alarmed at first, when Mary told her, but her curiosity to see the sister of Captain Wentworth began to get the better of her. She had heard a great deal of Mrs. Croft, years ago; if she was the same woman that had been described to her in such glowing terms, she would be a worthy acquaintance indeed. She had no expectation that she would know of Anne Elliot, or recognize her, and was prepared to lock away all her prior knowledge of the woman so that they might meet on equal terms.

What Anne was not prepared for was the degree to which Sophia Croft resembled her youngest sibling. She made her bow, and when she came up, was face to face with a handsome, weather-beaten woman in her middle age, with the upright figure and high cheekbones on which her regret had lingered for so long.

“What a pleasure to meet you, Miss Elliot,” said Mrs. Croft, and smiled Fred Wentworth’s warm, good-humoured, close-lipped smile.

Mary’s sons were fascinated with the admiral, and before the introductions were hardly over he was sat down upon a sopha, being entreated very earnestly by the boys for a thrilling story, if he pleased. This drew over the rest of the Musgroves, and before Anne was quite aware of it she and Mrs. Croft were by themselves, several paces from the rest of the company. 

“You must not have any fear for my husband,” she said. “He loves to entertain children; no poking and prodding will sway him. It would take worse boys than these to discomfit him.”

Anne glanced over, and saw him holding out his hands above the boys, as if to measure a ship so big from bow to stern.

“I am– I am glad to hear it, ma’am,” said she. “It is a kind man, generally, who has time for children– if that is not wrong to say of an admiral.”

“So long as he is not facing the French, I think there can be no objection to his being kind!” The fine lines around Mrs. Croft’s eyes creased with amusement. 

“I suppose that is a sailor’s duty: to be fierce at sea and gentle ashore.” She hoped she sounded disinterested.

“I certainly think so. Of course I am a partisan for the Navy, but I think it a just prejudice. I have always found sailors to be gentlemen– in the best sense of the word,” said Mrs. Croft, and her conviction reminded Anne forcibly of an afternoon many years ago, which she had thought long since put out of her mind.

It was not long into their courtship before Captain Wentworth had informed Anne that he was a woman, or that in any case the term suited in most respects– but he had been anxious to add that he was just as much a gentleman as any man, and if she could not like a woman, be he ever so dashing, he would of course withdraw his suit at once.

“Suit?” Anne had said with a broadening smile, and blushed very much. She had been rather startled by her own giddy interest in him, having since fifteen considered herself fairly proof against marriage; however, she supposed, the possible candidates had always been men.

Captain Wentworth had begun a querying sentence, but he never finished it, for she had gathered up her courage and kissed him gently at the corner of his mouth. 

Although, naturally, he had returned the kiss, he had not pressed the advantage; he had merely taken his hands in hers, when they broke apart, and the pressure of his grasp had said everything.

“Indeed, I am of your mind,” Anne said quietly to Mrs. Croft.

Their talk after that was all of how the Crofts found Kellynch; amiable, complimentary conversation, not at all dangerous. Anne played her part with good grace, and as soon as she was able, slipped away.

There could, of course, be no continual avoidance. She and Mrs. Croft were brought together often over the course of the next several days, whether visiting with Mary and the boys or out walking with some others of the family. They talked, as was only proper, and soon enough Anne, already disposed to like, found herself able to see in her a woman and a character in her own right, and not the mere echo of flesh and blood. 

She seemed possessed of a cooler temper, a view of the world more shaded by age and experience– and if her honest speech, her openness and friendly solicitude, were so familiar that Anne was continually stung by sharp recollection, why, that was no fault of hers, and she could not but be forgiven. They spoke on every conceivable subject, from sewing to sea-battles, and from England to the Indies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she was unruffled by Anne’s particular oddness, and did not even deign it worthy of comment until they had been acquainted for some weeks.

“I must tell you,” she said as they walked down the road one day, some ways ahead of Mary and the Miss Musgroves, “it does me good to meet such a one as you. I hope you will pardon my bluntness, but I am always cheered when I come upon a woman who has the sense to know who she is, and the courage to hold to her guns.”

Anne, who could not recall ever having been praised for her courage, clasped her hands behind her back to keep from fidgeting with her waistcoat buttons.

“I could not do so till I was married,” Mrs. Croft continued, “and even since, with the love and the approval of my husband, I have felt often judged for fleeing the straight and narrow path to sail with him. I like to see others who have set off into the hedges.”

“I have hardly had your adventures.”

“But I dare say you have met with disapproval, or anger, even; been made to feel outside womanhood, or personhood altogether, for only wanting what you know is right for yourself.”

At that Anne met her eye, and the warmth and understanding she found there made her feel uncomfortably exposed. She nodded.

“You are good to be so understanding–”

“Oh, I’ll have none of your so understanding and too kind. Some things you have been through I can never understand, I’m sure, but we are not so foreign to each other as the world might think. If Fred, stubborn creature, has taught me one thing, he has taught me that.”

And this woman might have been her sister-in-law! But there was no point dwelling on impossibilities. Anne swallowed and said, as easily as she could,

“Fred?”

“Why, yes– my brother Captain Wentworth, late of the Laconia. I ought to have mentioned him sooner! He has come to stay with us at last, at Kellynch; and I hope will visit the Musgroves with us very soon. You and he would have a great deal to talk about.”

 

Despicably, Anne was almost relieved when poor little Charles was injured. The fact of Captain Wentworth’s coming to supper, and then the date, had gradually been fixed, and it had loomed over her until she could think of little else. When her sister and her husband burst through the door of the cottage, all her dread was forgotten in an instant. A crisis, at least, she felt able to meet with a level head.

“No, no,” the elder Charles said over her shoulder as Mary spoke frantically of the apothecary, “he is ill himself– he cannot come. I– Anne, he will not come.”

She heard the crack in his voice. “No matter; send for him when he is well again. Until then, I will do my best.”

They were all gathered round the bed where the boy was laid, Mary weeping into her handkerchief, and Charles staring down at his son’s small body as though afraid he might disappear.

“I mean no disrespect,” said he, “but are you really– do you feel you can–”

“I can examine him, at least,” she replied, in the same firm tone she used to calm overwrought children, “and see that there is no great harm done.”

She was not precisely unqualified; Mr. Rosen tended broken limbs and bashed heads very often, being the best source of medical knowledge in his neighborhood, and had shown her how he went about determining what afflicted the sufferer, and what measures ought to be taken to heal them. She had never done so on her own, but that knowledge would do the Musgroves no good. The parents must be kept calm, and the child seen to at once.

Anne ran a hand through her hair, collecting herself. She proceeded carefully to check little Charles’ head and neck for any sign of damage. Nothing there to worry her– if there had been, she might have despaired at once. Next came each of his limbs in turn; his hands were badly scuffed, but there was little bleeding, and no breaks that she could discern. 

The trouble came down to a dislocated collarbone. She could feel the small, telltale bump near the shoulder where the joint had surely torn loose, and when she pressed her fingers lightly against it, he paled and cried out. 

“I am sorry, Charles,” she said gently, “but I think I can promise you you will be better soon.”

Things could have been a good deal worse, and a good deal better– indeed, she was still unsure whether there might not be damage to the spine– and she had to console herself with the fact that the collarbone, at least, would heal almost on its own. Had it been the shoulder dislocated, she would have had to wrench it back into place, a procedure she had assisted with but in which she was not confident. As things were, rest ought to do more for the boy then her little ability.

“If I put that arm in a sling, and he stays abed a week or so, I think he may be none the worse,” she told his father, rising from beside the bed. “Of course you must ask the apothecary, but–”

He nodded, and wrung her hand with all the force of suppressed emotion.

Anne, naturally, watched over him the next few days, aided by Mary, who held the water-soaked cloths Anne brought to the boy’s forehead and wept softly in the corner. He was cross from the pain and the confinement, but his injury grew no worse, and she began to feel easier about his spine.

With such encouraging signs, when Captain Wentworth arrived at last at the great house, Mary was quite sanguine about leaving the cottage to indulge her curiosity, and Anne– Anne was glad to sit alone with little Charles and tell him stories, exercising all her power to make him smile, and was nearly able in doing so to forget how the captain’s face had changed when at last he recognized her.

-

Sophie had told him he would like the Musgroves, and Wentworth was inclined to be pleased with them. The parents were jovial; their two daughters were pretty and high-spirited, and brimming, from the moment he met them, with wide-eyed interest in the Navy. The eldest son was a good enough sort, and–

“Anne cannot come tonight,” explained the younger Mrs. Musgrove– something about her son, sick in bed. “Going on very well– I would have stayed, but she insisted on sitting with him.”

How like her, he nearly said, but here, of course, he did not know her, and kept the remark to himself. 

He made himself agreeable, and permitted himself the harmless fun of flirting genteelly with the Musgrove girls to pass the time; despite this promising start, even his luck could not last forever. After a slew of untroubled visits, he was invited to dinner one night to find a familiar figure standing by his sister.

“Here is some one you must meet, Fred,” she said with a smile, and extended her hand toward Anne Elliot.

They were introduced; he made her a stiff bow, and she returned it, saying all that was proper while avoiding his eye. It was a performance that must have satisfied any untrained observer, but he could feel Sophie’s puzzled eye upon him. He returned to her and the Miss Musgroves, who stood by her side, and began to query them about Uppercross– what walks? what hunting? From the corner of his eye, he saw Anne retreat to the far side of the room, and stop by the window to look out. She looked older, markedly older, than the girl-memory who had shadowed his dreams for years; her color was gone, and there were the suggestion of lines beneath her dark eyes. She stood with her hands clasped behind her back, a dull grey-crow figure, the glint of her watch chain the only shine upon her. 

He had really convinced himself, after their chance meeting in Bath, that he cared nothing about her; but now he felt an uncharitable stab of triumph. Let her see how it was to be forgotten– she had forgotten him easily enough.

He was exceptionally charming at table that night, and felt the rest of the party respond accordingly; the older Musgroves applauded his sea-stories, the younger gasped at the peril– of which he told them only a small part– and Sophie and the Admiral teazed him good-naturedly for showing away.

“You make it sound,” said his sister, “as though you are constantly struck by hails of cannon whenever you leave port! The whole fleet would be sunk by now, if naval warfare were conducted as you describe it.”

“He’s not far wrong. The service is dangerous, my dear, you know it well enough,” put in Admiral Croft.

Anne, several chairs down, picked wordlessly at her meat.

“Oh, but you sea-officers seem not to mind,” said one of the girls– Henrietta, he thought. “You must be very brave, to face the French, and to sail in such faulty ships as the Asp.

“Nothing wrong with the Asp ,” the Admiral objected again. He knew as well as Wentworth, of course, that the Asp had hardly been fit to be broken up for firewood, so riddled with rot and barnacles she had been, but it was his duty to contradict his hot-headed juniors, and Wentworth’s to agree with him.

“Indeed, she was good to me. She did not drown us after all; and I assure you I was glad to be at sea in any ship, in the year six.”

At that, Anne looked up. Her expression was shuttered, but he fancied he saw a flicker there, a momentary twist of emotion. She saw him observing her, and cast her eyes back down to her plate.

Wentworth returned to the conversation. They wanted to hear about war, about his doings once the peace had ended, and he could say with perfect humility that there was a great deal to tell. Prizes taken, fortunes won; it was a glowing story, and all the better for its few omissions. It was unnecessary to mention that he had jumped for the Asp so eagerly because he had hardly cared whether he lived or died, in the year six; there was no call to note, in his stirring accounts of battles, the many little injuries he had sustained and seen to himself, because he could not undress in front of the surgeon. Fear of defeat, and worse, of discovery; the stately isolation of the great cabin; these were irrelevant. Without such spots of tarnish, the little history gleamed like steel. He had long since ceased, of course, to imagine an account of those years in which he had a wife to share in his victories. He hoped Anne was imagining it now.

After the meal, they had dancing. He heard Louisa Musgrove’s eager exclamation, and so went up to her with a ready will and held out his hand.

“Would you honor me?” he asked. She put her hand promptly into his own, and led him out to join the set.

It was a country dance, sprightly and quick, and he felt his spirits lift as they leapt into the figures. He had always liked to dance; even with a merely tolerable partner it was good sport, but with a talented dancer, who shared one’s keen pleasure in a maneuver pulled off, in trust in the face of risk, it was a joy. Miss Louisa was such a one, and when she let her momentum carry her almost out of the set, he thrilled at catching her.

A flourish in the music set ahum some sympathetic string in his memory, and he looked over to see Anne seated at the instrument. He knew that little spring from one note to the next, knew that she added it to set off the measures she liked best, and was irritated with himself for recalling it. He pulled the Musgrove girl rather closer to him, when next they stepped together– her breathless smile made him good return.

“You dance so well,” said she.

“I aim to please.”

Down the set they went, and back up; he had no need to treat her like porcelain, for her enthusiasm matched his, and perhaps even overtook it. Across the room they flew, and as they reached the end the instrument, and its player, were brought into view again. The piece ended; they all bowed; Mr. Musgrove called for a reel. He heard only a brief rustle of pages before the music began again.

“I do admire her playing,” Miss Louisa, making her curtsey. “We always have better dancing, when she comes to visit.”

They wove about one another, and then linked hands to turn back to their original places. The motion must have knocked something loose in his brain, for he found himself asking abruptly,

“Does she ever dance?”

Miss Louisa glanced over her shoulder as they whirled round. “Anne? Oh, no, never– indeed, who would she dance with? A pretty–” they parted, and joined hands again– “a pretty figure she would cut, standing up with a girl, and how droll to see her dance with a man! Besides, I doubt she can like to.”
    “No?”

“She must prefer to play– she always does so.”

They passed quite close by the pianoforte, as they traced through the steps, and he had a very clear view of the musician, still and solitary in her black coat, her face turned to the keys. The lively tune that wound about the room seemed to come from another source entirely.

Chapter Text

The whole of Wentworth’s stay at Kellynch, he would have told any one of his friends, was very pleasant. To ride over beautiful country, and be again with family, and eat at a good table with amiable company, would give a high degree of enjoyment to any man; and he was sensible of his good fortune.

Still, he could not be easy. He was full of the same restlessness that had driven him away from Kellynch in the first place; now, spending much of his time at Uppercross, it was more acute, but he refused to retreat again.

The Musgroves seemed unsure of Anne’s proper place in their world; she would be one day in the parlor, winding yarn or minding children with the women, and the next out rambling with the men, inspecting the grounds and searching for game. This was a difficulty. Though he scorned to avoid her, he never knew where he would come upon her from one day to the next, or how long they would be in company, and he was kept continually unsettled, unsure of his footing.

It was on one such day that he found himself walking beside her, trudging in silence through dry leaves. They had all gone out shooting– the men, and Anne, and Wentworth– and they made their way through the woods of Uppercross under a lattice of half-bare branches. They had downed few birds so far, and hoped to have better luck a little farther from the house. 

From his left he heard a familiar noise, and turned his head to see Anne, as they walked, reloading the extra fowling piece they had brought. She went through the motions efficiently, businesslike– powder, wadding, down with the ramrod, a twist of shot from her pocket, and more wadding– as if she had had some practice. Wentworth blinked. She hunted now, he supposed somewhat bitterly, watching her tamp down the charge– and likely chewed tobacco, and swore and spit into the bargain. In the hour they had been out she had not fired herself; he had not thought she liked shooting, but then time had proven that he had been greatly mistaken in her.

Ahead, the Musgroves halted; he stopped, and looked about.

“There,” said Charles Musgrove in a low voice. He nodded toward a rustle in the bracken– Wentworth raised his gun, and then recalled that he had fired already. He stepped to the side, to indicate to the Musgroves that they should take their shots.

Anne, now a little behind him, cleared her throat.

He looked back at her; she held out the fowling piece to him. 

“This ought to do,” said she.

He nodded; took it by the stock, a little stiffly; she accepted in return his empty gun. Taking a step back from the rest of the party, she brought out her powder flask again. Wentworth hesitated a moment– but she was absorbed in her task, and the under-gamekeeper had begun beating the bushes. He turned away, leveled the gun, and fired at a flicker of speckled wing.

The grouse leaped for the treetops, and fell still to the forest floor. The sharp report sent the rest of the flock into the air; two more shots cracked out, and another bird dropped.

“Oh, well done, Captain!” cried the elder Mr. Musgrove.

The under-keeper waded into the brush with his bag to gather up the game, and Wentworth looked down at the gun, still warm, which he held in his hands.

Anne took no shots herself, and when they returned to the house, was gone before he could thank her. Just as well; it would have been awkward to wait so long, when he had said nothing before.

They had intended to shoot again the next day, but were prevented by the arrival of a driving autumn storm. Cold rain fell over the hills, and the warmth of Uppercross became suddenly more appealing than the prospect of wet powder and muddy boots. Mr. Musgrove ushered him in, with a commiseration on the weather– “Nasty squall, Captain, indeed it is–” and showed him to the parlor, where sat Mary Musgrove, working at her embroidery, and Anne.

She did not see him enter at first; she was over on the sopha, occupying her small nephew. Behind her, rain spattered against the window. 

“Good heavens, Captain Wentworth!” exclaimed Mary. “Charles is upstairs, I am afraid– he will be pleased to see you. If you will be so good as to wait a moment–”

“Certainly, ma’am,” he replied. Anne blinked, looked up at him– then the boy poked her in the throat, and she returned her attention to him.

Mr. Musgrove offered Wentworth a glass of mulled wine, went to call for it; he threw himself into a chair by the fireside and picked up an almanac from a nearby table. A few pages were enough to recall him to the fact that he knew nothing of farming; wishing heartily for the Navy List, he skimmed over tangles of dates and proverbs, and found his eye drifting to the far side of the room. 

The boy– Walter, he believed– was clambering with great joy over Anne’s lap and back again, babbling to her. She tolerated it as he had seen her tolerate Walter’s namesake many years ago: with a gentle, determined patience, returning serious answers to incomprehensible questions. At least Sir Walter, Wentworth hoped, had never drooled on her.

“Why, Anne,” said Mary, looking up from her needle, “I think I have left my green thread on the desk. Would you fetch it for me?”

“Ah– of course.”

Anne had half-risen when the boy, a very sturdy infant, sank his fists into her coat to prevent her. She tugged carefully at his arm, but he explained to her in a very reasonable voice, “No!” and began to chew upon her sleeve. 

“Walter, you must not,” she told him, but it was to no effect. Being newly possessed of teeth, he put them to good effect; his insistent noises suggested he would bite a chunk out of her sleeve before he would consent to part with her, and she had not enough arms to free herself.

Wentworth rose, stepped forward, and tapped Walter on the head. Startled, the boy looked up, dropping Anne’s sleeve; Wentworth swept him up capturing his small hands in one of his own. Walter, no match for a captain experienced in surprise engagements, flailed for a moment before allowing himself to be borne away. 

A chance look caught the surprise writ large on Anne’s face. She went quickly to the corner occupied by the desk; he turned to set the boy down beside his mother. He looked at Wentworth with round eyes; Wentworth saluted him, and went to stand by the hearth. The embers hissed and smoldered. He felt oddly chagrined, to see her look at him so. She had some right to be startled– it was not as though he had been friendly to her– but she had given up her shot for him, and it was only honorable that he return her some favor.

The Musgrove girls were something of a compensation for the continual trouble of being so much with Anne. Their cheerfulness distracted him from the quiet presence he was for ever aware of– unassuming, gentlemanly, always and infuriatingly helpful. So he smiled at Henrietta, and flirted with Louisa, and for each of Anne’s silent passes of the decanter or drawings-up of a chair for him, he returned her an offered handkerchief or an opened gate. 

He was not sure quite how he found himself, one day, strolling down a hedgerow with Louisa. They had been walking– now some of the party were visiting an acquaintance, one Mr. Hayter– there was some tension around Henrietta’s going that he did not understand, and did not much care to. He was more diverted by her sister, who walked beside him. 

They talked idly at first, of others’ inconstancies– “a woman must be very poor-spirited, to drop a man at the first sign of disapproval,” said Louisa– and then less idly, of courage, of determination, of fidelity. If she loved someone, she would never consent to be parted with him. She would endure anything, rather than lose him. Wentworth responded with warmth; it was heartening, to hear a woman say she would stand with a man come wreck or ruin. She complained of her sister-in-law’s lack of devotion to her brother– he deserved a less insipid wife.

“We do so wish he had married Anne,” Louisa added, peering into the hedge.

He stared at her.

She must have read something in his expression aright, when she looked back to meet his eye, for she nodded with an air of conspiracy.

“O yes; he offered for her, years ago– it was before she went to live in Bath– but she refused him. I suppose it was for the best, for she is perhaps a little too sensible for Charles, even odd as she is. Still, she would not be such a milksop as Mary. Let any one but ask and she sees the thing done, no matter how troublesome. You may imagine how we like to have her with us.”

“Naturally,” he agreed, as politely as he knew how.

The sharp autumn wind blew down the lane, and sent all the leaves of the hedge a-whispering together. Louisa reached for a nearby hazel bough, bending it down towards herself.

“I have heard my pappa and mamma say that her great friend Lady Russell persuaded her against the match– that she did not think Charles clever enough for Anne. It was rather hard of her, if so.”

Lady Russell, evidently, had changed not a whit– but then, it occurred to him, it would be quite singular for her to urge Anne against Charles Musgrove. He had had the impression, when last he knew her, that her great hopes for Anne had narrowed to the wish that she would marry a man– indeed, almost any man at all, provided he be respectable. Charles might be no scholar, but a man he was, and one of good family who stood to inherit a pretty bit of property. By rights Lady Russell ought to have pushed Anne into his arms.

This thought he put out of his mind; it was not until that evening, playing cards in the parlor at Uppercross, that he was again recalled to it. Sophie had declared her intention of sitting out the game, and beside Wentworth was helping the Admiral make the best of his hand. The girls, meanwhile, played and sang for the company– at which, unlike many elegant young women, they had both some real talent. Anne was reading in the corner, from a small book he had often seen her carrying about. Sophie consulted with her husband; then she leaned over to Wentworth and said in a low voice,

“You have seemed very taken with Miss Louisa.”

“She is a charming girl,” he replied, which was the truth. He considered his hand.

“She likes you excessively, I think; I beg your pardon for prying, Fred, but have you talked at all seriously with her? What do you know of her disposition?”

He knew what she meant, beyond merely the question of marriage. He had always disdained the idea of forming a real connection with a woman without telling her how matters stood with him– that was all very well for harmless gallantry, or a stolen kiss, but he could not love where he could not trust. Sophie knew it as well as he, though her asking was rather curious. More usually she left such matters to his own judgement.

“Why, we have talked of very little– only what was pleasant to both of us. As to disposition , I doubt she and I would suit.” He would be surprised indeed if Louisa had any liking for her own sex. “But really, Sophie,” he went on, at her look of consternation, “I have no intentions toward her. She will make a fine wife one day– to some other fellow.” 

He set down a card.

“Why not yourself?” queried the Admiral, in a quarterdeck whisper. “Seems an excellent young lady– and a wife is the best thing for an officer of your age. You want a pretty creature to spend your prize-money on.”

Wentworth gazed at Louisa’s bright face as she sang– a pretty creature, to be certain. She had youth, beauty, and the strength of her convictions: a rare combination, and the more valuable for its scarcity. 

“We would not suit,” he repeated– not without regret.

Even if he had any thought of offering for her, even if by some bizarre chance she heard his explanation and was delighted, not repulsed, there would still be risk. He had never known how to make clear what was obvious: that for any woman who threw her lot in with him, every body she loved and trusted became a potential threat. Anne had trusted Lady Russell, enough to confide in her; Lady Russell had expressed her horror in the strongest terms, and had gone so far as to deliver her an ultimatum. Either she would give Wentworth up, or Lady Russell would decry him, see him exposed and broken the service so that, she said, he could deceive no more young ladies. Anne, for all her great influence with the woman, for all her professed love, had relented.

Supper was soon announced. They all rose to leave the parlor, talking together, and somehow he found Anne directly before him. He paused in his step, to allow her to pass through into the corridor; rather than take the cue, she stood aside and held open the door. Wentworth halted, taken aback. She met his eye, and inclined her head toward the doorway– everything respectful, and yet as he passed by her he frowned. That was the sort of courtesy he gave, not received. He felt he ought to be affronted by it.

The meal was everything that could be wished, and the port after supper excellent. When the time came to return to Kellynch, he bid a warm farewell to their hosts– Mrs. Musgrove bid them all excuse Miss Anne, who had had some business to attend to. 

As they stepped out into the brisk night air, he thought he heard a string of notes from the parlor window. He knew without wondering who was the musician. He had spent many hours listening to her play at Kellynch; he had watched her elegant hands upon the keys and dreamed of prize-money, gold enough to buy her an instrument of her own. 

That former Anne Elliot had not been willing to change her respectable, comfortable life for the one he offered her. At his bitterest moments, he had told himself that she was not really as he was, that she had fallen for broad shoulders and the epaulets that gilded them, and when she realized what his love really meant, had backed away– he had known enough women like that. Yet the Anne who sat there now had taken on the danger of that life, and done so alone.

Wentworth, turning away from the open window, could not suppress the thought that perhaps he had not been inducement enough.

That night he dreamed of being at sea again, and woke in a sweat. It was peacetime that caused the trouble, he was certain; if only Boney had chanced to escape from his island exile a second time, he, Wentworth, would never have landed himself in such a damned tangle. 

Relief arrived that week in the form of two letters, one after the other, and he laughed aloud when he opened the second. Captain Harville had written first, to say that his family, along with Benwick, were berthed at Lyme, and invited him to stay; Kitty O’Shea had written him two days later with much the same message.

–for we are closing up shop and taking a Holiday, she wrote , and would be pleased to see you whilst we are abandoning ourselves to Luxury. The man who rents the Place insists we may have no one to stay with us, but what he is ignorant of cannot hurt him. We can promise you Food and Company, and lodgings with a view of the Sea– in truth just like Bath, but a strange place and therefore a better.  Jack desires me to add that we have not closed the inn, but left Mr.––– in charge– so I do. In Bath, at least, we are practical. At any rate, I defy the Landlord, and bid you come to us at Lyme.

yrs fondly, 

    Mrs. Catherine O’Shea

Put in such terms, and offered twice over, he could not refuse– and he badly wanted a change of scene. 

-

Anne, expecting Bath all over again, was pleasantly surprised at Lyme. There was a lightness, a natural beauty there, that she had not anticipated; to see trees growing along the cliffs, clinging to the last of their green in the face of the salt air, lifted her spirits. After a long carriage ride spent looking out the window and, when unavoidable, exchanging reserved commonplaces with the person sat across from her, it was good to be in the open air again.

Captain Wentworth introduced them to his friends with every appearance of delight. The Harvilles welcomed their party into their lodgings, and if everyone was a little crushed together, they made no mention of it. She watched the captain at supper– unwise, perhaps, but she could not help herself. He seemed to her more natural here than he was at Uppercross, more of the human than the dashing sea-captain; he gestured more, complimented less, ribbed his brother officers over long-ago mishaps, and even, when caught off-guard by a joke, snorted into his glass of wine. 

When he caught her eye over the rim of the glass, his smile faded.

Shortly after they returned to the inn, the ladies retired to bed. Anne hesitated a moment before following them up to her room, where she sat heavily down upon the bed. The tick mattress crackled beneath her. 

After several minutes, in which the only sounds were the faint bustle of activity from downstairs and the ticking of her watch, she pinched the bridge of her nose and got to her feet again. There was no call for this; she knew very well how matters stood between them.

She laid out her nightshirt and was about to undress for bed when she saw, through the window, a figure step from the door of the inn into the street. The familiarity of its movements brought her to the windowsill. 

Below her, Captain Wentworth paused a moment; she could see he was thinking. Then he nodded to himself, and strode off into the gloom. 

Anne found she could not sleep, after all. She read from her collection of Scott for half an hour, and when poetry failed to exhaust her, descended the stairs to the common room. Charles was there, drinking from the innkeeper’s store of whiskey; he regarded her a moment as she sat across from him, and proceeded to pour her a measure. She accepted it without a word.

Later, standing by the common room’s bay window, she decided she did not care for whiskey. She had had only the one glass, but even so it was strong enough to send worrying tremors through the wall which separated her from her less pleasant feelings– a useful barrier, which had done her great service over the years. The trouble, she thought, was that she did not know where he was going. She had no right to know, of course– but she wished she had. It was natural, when they had been separated by oceans, that they should lead separate lives, but to be so close together for a time and feel the same distance, as though their lives could run on forever in parallel course and never touch– 

The door opened. When Anne heard the step upon the floor, she straightened.

“Oh– I beg your pardon,” said Wentworth to her, a little nonsensically. He had every right to enter the public house where he lodged for the night.

“Not at all,” said she, making sure her voice was steady. 

He reached into the pocket of his coat and brought out a cigarillo. 

“Do you happen to have the hour?” he asked. It was his blandest tone of courtesy, the sort he reserved for strangers.

Anne consulted her watch. “Near eleven.”

She shut the dial with a click, and saw him put the cigarillo between his teeth. She bit back her surprise; he did not smoke in the presence of ladies, never did so before Louisa and Henrietta. There was a small side table between them, and placed upon it a lit candelabra; he leaned down and touched the tip to the flame. The smell of strong tobacco rose up to meet her. Wentworth drew a breath, and removed the cigarillo from his mouth to exhale the first wisp of smoke.

“Will you have one also?” asked he.

He could only be speaking to her; there was no one else within hearing. From the same pocket he produced another and proffered it to her, his eyes fixed on some point just beyond her shoulder.

“I am much obliged,” said Anne, in some confusion, and accepted the cigarillo. Left to herself, she rarely smoked, but over time she had come to enjoy the ashy heat as she did a cup of tea with a friend. Bath had taught her that, more often than not, people shared their tobacco as a gesture of peace. What it meant that the captain was offering his, she could not begin to speculate.

The paper was skin-warm from its time in his coat. She lit it off the candelabra just as he had done, and brought it to her lips. 

It was not rude to smoke in silence, not precisely– and so they stood on their opposite sides of the window, and pretended to look out at the street. From the corner of her eye she could see his handsome profile, limned by the glow of his ember; it flared, then subsided, as he breathed.

The silence might almost have been comfortable, had they anything of their former ease remaining. As it was, she could feel the past hanging intangible between them, fogging up the air like smoke.

At last Wentworth coughed and stubbed out his burning end against the candelabra base. 

“I believe I ought to turn in,” he said.

Anne bid him good-night; as he left she listened to his footsteps, steady and even across the floor and quick upon the stairs. Her own cigarillo was not yet half-finished, and she stood a while longer, taking slow methodical drags until the tremors receded, and she could patch over her cracks with fresh mortar.

Chapter Text

In the morning they went down to the shore. Few people chose to visit the seaside so late in the year, and so they had the beach almost to themselves. Anne walked with Henrietta, a little ahead of the rest of the party; when she stumbled on the loose pebbles, Anne held out her arm, and she accepted it gratefully. 

“What a view!” she said, shading her face as she looked out to sea. “I should like to go wading, if it were warmer.”

The surf crashed against the rocks, and Anne imagined summer at Lyme: sunlight, bright as it ever was in England, glancing off the waves and heating the stones underfoot. She might throw off her coat, roll up the legs of her trousers, and stand knee-deep in the water. Whipping salt wind in her face, and warmth on her shoulders– she smiled to herself.

“I should like that, indeed,” she said to Henrietta.

“You seem better for the fresh air,” Henrietta told her. “You were moping a little, this morning– I half thought you did not like the sea.”

She shook her head. “O no; I was only tired.” 

It was the truth, in part; she had got little sleep, the night before, and bitter tea had only gone so far towards reviving her. A walk would do her good, she knew, but her own inclinations were all for reading by the fire until she fell into a doze. Still, after breakfast she had returned, yawning, to her room to fetch her hat and coat, and had happened to pass a man in the narrow corridor.

His shoulder had caught against hers, and he had stumbled back, mouth opening as though prepared to apologize; then he narrowed his eyes. He was a well-looking man, genteelly dressed and perhaps some ten years older than she; no one she knew, but the shift in his expression was all too familiar. She had entered the inn in the midst of a busy party, and spent little time with the other guests– although thus far she had gone unnoticed, she ought to have known that was only down to luck. 

The man’s lip curled, not quite a smile and not quite a sneer. Anne squared her shoulders; it was best, she had learned, not to seem afraid. He took a step forward– then he brushed roughly past her, knocking her against the wall, and was gone. She had hurried into her room and shut the door fast. 

He could have behaved worse; really, taking the broad view, it had not been so very bad an encounter, and it was the sort of thing she had come to expect. So much time at Uppercross had put her off her guard. At least, she had thought, throwing on her overcoat, he had not threatened her, or dragged her down to the innkeeper as though she were a criminal– which, in truth, she was. She had never yet been arrested for going about in men’s clothes, but it was always a possibility. She paused before the door, hand trembling above the knob– then she had donned her hat, steeled herself, and strode back out to join the others, who wondered what she had been about for so long.

Now, sandy pebbles turning under her boots, she felt rather steadier. Henrietta, she thought, had felt a little neglected since her more exuberant sister had captured Captain Wentworth’s attention, and Anne engaged to draw her out. They remarked to each other on the sea-spray, the crying of the gulls, and she could not even bring herself to mind that behind her she could hear Louisa and the captain laughing aloud, at some joke that the wind had carried away. 

After a long ramble down the shore, the party coalesced and decided to return; so they about-faced and made their way back, now a tighter group. 

“Lyme must be pretty poor stuff to you, Wentworth,” supposed Charles, “having been so much at sea. One gets sick of the same old waves, I lay.”

The captain shook his head. “The seas are different everywhere, you know; a fellow who set out for Greenland, rigged for the Med, would have a nasty time of it.” His curls blew into his eyes. “And besides, it is not the same thing. The ocean from land looks– why, looks just as different from the sailor’s view as is the sight of some misty coast from feeling solid earth beneath your feet.”

The beach grew steeper under them, and changed gradually from stones, to sandy earth, to dry grass. They trudged up the narrow path in single file, Louisa and Wentworth, then Anne and Henrietta, then Charles and Mary, friendly murmured conversation ahead and peevish complaining behind. It was a relief to reach the steps, with their even paving-stones; to judge by sound, Mary had been upon the brink of claiming a twisted ankle. They continued up toward Lyme, and the sound of the waves receded.

As they drew nearer the top, Anne saw a figure crest the hill. He paused a moment to tuck his cane beneath his arm. 

From a distance, he might have been any other gentleman. By the time he was near enough that she could make out the glint of his watch-fob, she was sure he was the man from the inn. He began to descend the stairs; as Louisa reached him, he stood respectfully aside. To Wentworth he touched his hat. When he caught sight of Anne, his eyes widened. His step slowed; she gave him a sharp nod, the barest allowable courtesy, for she had no wish to hear Mary’s scolding for snubbing a gentleman.

He accepted it, something like amusement tugging at the corner of his mouth. Then he tilted his head; he turned to look at Wentworth again, and then once more at Anne. 

Her stomach twisted. She was well able to weather a little contempt, knowing she was the only one at risk. This she would not allow. She took a long stride up; Wentworth had paused on the step above, and she stepped into his space, putting her hand lightly against the back of his coat to urge him forward. He turned her a sharp look over his shoulder, but followed her unspoken direction. 

Once they had passed the steps he put some distance between them again; that she understood, and did not much care about. It was only a relief to have him away from the eyes of the man on the hill. 

At dinner that afternoon they were distracted by the clatter of a carriage outside the inn that was preparing to leave. There was some good-natured grumbling about the noise, until Mary looked up and gave a little cry of excitement.

“Look! There, on the carriage– is not that the Elliot crest?”

Anne looked; there was such a swarm of waiters and footmen about the vehicle, loading and currying and fastening down, that she could not make it out. She did see a figure removing his fine hat and stepping up through the carriage’s open door– by now she recognized him well enough. As he reached out to close the door after him, she saw what she had not before: a black crepe band tied about his arm. The passenger knocked on the roof; the coachman scrambled into his seat and snapped the reins, and the whole equipage rumbled off.

“Why, I think you may be right, Mary,” said Louisa.

The servants, still close by, leapt away as the carriage wheels swerved near their toes; one man made a sharp gesture after its retreating back, which the gentry at the inn window pretended not to have noticed. Anne frowned. She had seen a crest, to be sure, but only in glimpses– she would not swear to it that it had been the Elliot crest, nor that the man they had passed on the hill had possessed, as Mary was now declaring, the Elliot countenance. He might in truth have been anyone.

At all odds, he was gone now, and Elliot or no, she could not bring herself to regret his going.

-

The following day they spent with the Harvilles, who engaged themselves to show the newcomers those parts of Lyme that a stranger to the town might easily pass by. They went first to a stand by the beach, where a man and his daughter sold petrified sea creatures; now they traipsed up a narrow street towards the church of St. Michael the Archangel, which overlooked the town. Wentworth had much liked the look of the little monsters, though he was bound to admit he had never seen the like in their supposed natural domain. He doubted they would encounter anything half so engaging inside the parish church.

“I must say,” said Mrs. Harville to Anne, just by his side, “It feels quite as though we are on holiday, to have so many old and new friends here at once. I cannot fathom how Wentworth managed it.”

Anne raised an eyebrow. “Had you known some of the Musgroves before? I had thought Captain Wentworth your only prior friend.”

“Why yes– but Benwick is here, poor man, and what is more, the O’Sheas have come to Lyme, whom we’ve not seen an age. Captain Harville thought them stationed in Bath for good.”

He half-wished he could tell Mrs. Harville not to mention the O’Sheas. The Harvilles had seemingly taken a shine to Anne, and she to them; they conversed amiably and easily together. She had done just the same with Sophie. After so long spent convincing himself that she would never have found her place his life– that she would have been frightened by his forthright sister, and put off by the commonness of his friends– it disturbed him to see her fall in with them so quickly. His fervent unkind hope was that she might never meet Jack and Kitty.

She had turned to him, now. “Did you indeed manage to draw them here, captain?”

“Not in the least– no, rather the opposite. I stayed with the O’Sheas in Bath, recently. They invited me to Lyme; by some miracle of fate they are not sick of me yet.”

Anne was no fool; he saw her turn over this knowledge, and knew she must conclude that he had been with the O’Sheas when their paths crossed in the apothecary’s. With some haste he changed the subject. If they talked any longer on Bath, she might well realize how close his own world came to touching hers.

St. Michael the Archangel was very well, as churches went: not overstuffed with grandeur, and just dim enough within the sanctuary to permit the stained glass to shine. Captain Harville and his wife took the Musgroves aside to recount to them the history of the place– long and storied, he had no doubt– and left him standing in the center aisle with Anne.

She was looking up at the arched ceiling, white and latticed with dark wood. Her face was solemn, almost guarded; it was usually so, these days. On occasion he had found himself on the brink of asking what it was that troubled her, and now he felt the urge again.

Instead he said, “Why did you push me yesterday, on the stairs?”

He had taken little offense at the time, indeed had hardly thought of it afterward; yet it had been startling. She never touched him. 

Anne turned her gaze from the ceiling, and clasped her hands behind her back.

“Will you walk with me, captain?”

Together they paced along the opposite wall from the others; Captain Harville’s hushed voice echoed back to them in snatches.

“I am sorry I did it,” she said at last. “I assure you it was nothing to do with you. I– I felt very strongly that we had better return to town.”

As she spoke, she watched the high-set windows. He attempted to meet her eye, but she was resolutely engrossed in the little glass saints. There had been no kind of danger on the shore, and Anne was not given to imaginary fears; something else must have troubled her, something she did not wish to speak of. 

It occurred to him then that there many reasons a tommy might not like to be out in the open. A few nights at an inn was long enough for one to be recognized; he had friends who had been blackmailed.

“Has some one been threatening you?” he asked, voice low. 

She shook her head. “Nothing so bad. You need not vex yourself.”

He thought back: he had seen no ill looks, heard no menacing words, but that accounted for nothing. They had hardly encountered anyone the whole day, no one but the staff at the inn, and– 

“That man on the stairs,” he recalled aloud, and heard her draw in a breath. He pressed further: “You knew him?”

“No– not from Adam.” She opened her mouth, as if to speak further; instead she halted in the shadow of a pillar. He stopped beside her.

“But you must have known him; you were frightened of him.”

There was a long, half-lit silence. It had been too bold a thing to say, over-familiar. He did not regret it; he himself had forgotten the man the moment he was out of sight, but if he posed some sort of threat, Wentworth would find it out.

Anne, finally, looked at him. She had to tilt her head up a little; he had used to find it endearing, when she glanced up at him and then away, with the faintest blush. Now she held his gaze, steady and dignified, and he did not know what she was thinking.

“It is likely outside of your experience, captain,” said she, in a level voice, “but I have come to know how it feels to be seen, and marked, by strangers. Doubtless you learn in the Navy that it is bad policy to wait about and see whether someone means you harm.”

He was about to make a sharp reply– she had no idea the risk he ran, keeping such a secret in his profession– when he realized that she knew the risk very well, better possibly than his own family. In his position, he had perhaps further to fall; she, though, must be constantly wary. Wentworth’s nightmares were of chance injuries and court-martials; any watching eye could prove Anne’s undoing.

“That has been rare in my life,” he admitted, “however much I fear it. But I have known many like– like us; you are right. I ought to know that trouble can come from any quarter.”

She blinked. 

“I don’t mean to press,” he went on, “but I hope you will not keep it to yourself, if such a thing happens again. No sense in your engaging the enemy alone.”

“That is one of your naval metaphors.” Anne did not smile, but her solemn expression warmed a little. “My battles must seem a trifle tame, from your lookout.”

“But not from yours, certainly.”

“No; no, I suppose not.”

He heard Louisa Musgrove’s voice, louder than before, ringing off the high ceiling. The others had finished their turn about the church, and were walking down the central aisle toward the doors.

“We had better return,” said Anne. “Let Louisa explain to you what we missed; she likes a chance to be helpful.”

There was something meaningful in her tone which he did not quite understand. He was about to object that he did not care tuppence for architecture, but she had stepped out from behind the pillar before he could speak. He stood in shadow and watched a moment, as she strode back to reunite with the group; she betrayed none of the trouble she had expressed to him as she greeted Harville and listened to her family’s exclamations about the church organ.

Wentworth shook himself. It was impolite and unseemly, to be lurking behind when the others were preparing to leave. He brushed at an imaginary speck of dust on his collar and followed Anne out into the light.

-

They walked down the hill side by side; although they talked little, Anne felt less agitated than she had before in his presence. They remarked upon the same curious buildings, smiled at the same jokes, and once, when she spoke to Captain Harville on Bath society, and why the O’Sheas might be glad to escape it, heard him let out an amused hm. He broke away shortly afterward, and went to speak to Louisa; she was glad he had followed her hint. She was not capable of actually encouraging things between them, but if their liking for each other would increase no matter what action she took, she could at least see that he was considerate to Louisa.

He had understood more than she had expected. Of course he lived every day with the risk of discovery; it had never occurred to her before that it bothered him, fearless as he seemed. At least she had not let on that she had urged them away partly for his sake. That, she did not desire him to know; it felt to her uncomfortably like an admission.

Things could never be the same as they were– there had been too much pain and too many years between them– but for the first time she had some hope that they could forget the past. She would take his friendship, if he gave it; she was practiced in laying her stronger feelings aside. 

On their way back to the inn they passed by the harbor. The Cobb, the long stony pier at which all the fishermen docked their boats, ran near the Harvilles’ lodgings, and as they walked along it they had an excellent view of the colorful seaside houses to one side, and the wide horizon to the other. The wind drove inland from the sea, tugging at hats and bonnets and catching the tails of Anne’s coat, and she turned her face into the blast. If it carried with it an impression of dripping trawling nets, it was also fresh and strong.

There was a particularly lovely boat moored below them, a trim little sloop with gunwales painted blue and gold. Henrietta proposed that they go down to see it closer; the wall of the Cobb had a series of precarious steps built into its side that led down to the quay, small and uneven, and as Louisa picked her way down she wavered on her feet. Captain Wentworth, standing below, raised his arms up to her. She leaned toward him, leaped– he caught her by the waist and lifted her down. He did it as easily as if she had been a child, and set her lightly on her feet.

Louisa laughed with delight; Anne came carefully down after her, trusting to her own balance. She followed Henrietta over to stand before the sloop– unmanned for the present, and bobbing gently with the sweep of the tide. Not for the first time, she wondered at how men could trust such a small thing to carry them out to sea. The ocean from the shore was vast, but beyond the breakers it appeared quite calm, flat and shimmering; to be out on the swell, far from the sight of land, must be a great and awful thing.

Behind her, Mary screamed.

-

It was a curious thing; Wentworth had never faltered, when he knew one of his men to be in danger. He had drawn his sword or leapt over the side many times, with not a moment’s hesitation– it was a matter of action, not of thought. 

Now, standing on the rough stone of the quay over Louisa’s still body, he had nothing to raise his weapon against. Her eyes were closed; on her forehead was a smear of blood. Around him her family stood stricken, her sister had fainted– and he could do nothing but think, his thoughts racing past like anchor chain, at such a speed he could not catch hold of them. Something must be done. Somebody must help her. The surgeon– but they were at Lyme, and there was no surgeon. 

He had meant to catch her. It had been effortless the first time, and even further apart, from higher up, he had trusted himself to do so again. The hem of her pelisse had fluttered through his fingers– then had come the sickening crack of her head against stone. He dropped to his knees beside her– but he hesitated to touch her. There was every chance he might do her a greater harm without knowing it.

Someone seized his arm. He flinched, and saw Anne at his side. She took Louisa’s limp hand, and pressed her fingers to her wrist. Helpless, he watched her set face– when she nodded to herself, his sick fear abated a little.

“Rub her temples,” she told him, “gently. Charles– Charles!” Her brother-in-law hurried to her side; she fumbled in her pockets a moment, and pressed a bottle into his hand. “Salts– for Henrietta. Tell her her sister is alive.”

Charles looked as though he might faint himself to hear it, but he returned to his sister and his weeping wife. Wentworth put his hands to Louisa’s temples– she moved not at all– and pressed carefully. The blood which trickled from her hairline smudged beneath his fingers. Anne was rubbing her hands between her own, firm yet gentle, and he did his best to imitate her.

“We must move her. You must carry her, captain.”

He nodded. “Yes– yes, to the Harvilles.’” 

Louisa’s head lolled horribly as he slid his arm beneath her neck, and the other under her knees; the heavy dead weight of her in his arms shook him even as he got steadily to his feet. Beyond him, Charles took a few faltering steps forward, putting out his arms as though he would take her, but there was no question of that. The fault was his; he would carry her.

It was a long, terrible walk. He must make haste, but he must not jar her; he must remember the way, when the echo of skull-against-stone was clamoring out everything else in his head. Later, the only memory he had of the journey was of Captain Harville opening the door ahead of him, and muttering to himself Dear God–! when Louisa’s dangling arm struck the doorframe. When at last he laid her down in the upstairs bed, his arms burned; he looked about him, saw Captain and Mrs. Harville holding each other, Anne bending over Louisa’s gray face, and abruptly quit the room. 

In the small sitting room he paced back and forth, boards creaking beneath his boots. He clasped his hands behind his back. He ought to be up there, making himself useful– but what could he do? The profession in which he had been trained up was one of bloodshed; he had never learnt the trick of healing. In that cramped attic bedroom, he would be worse than useless. His hands clenched until his fingernails bit into skin.

A particularly loud groan from the floorboards made him halt; he was stamping his feet, and sounds carried in such a small house. He pried apart his hands and reached up to straighten his coat. He froze when he saw on them rusty streaks of dried blood. His vision blurred; he had to blink hard before it would clear again.

Some time later Harville came down the stairs, and found him standing very still in the midst of the room. He spoke– Wentworth was not sure quite what he said– but he nodded in reply, and allowed himself to be pushed into a chair. 

“Anne is seeing to her?” he asked.

Harville nodded. Through the murky depths, Wentworth felt a flicker of relief; Anne, capable Anne, would know what to do. If it was possible for Louisa to be saved– as if from a distance, he heard his breath hitch– Anne would manage it. To that thought he confined himself; to dwell on the alternatives was to admit despair.