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The Portrait

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Upon being introduced to Captain Harville, Anne had thought herself imagining the swift, assessing look that those keen eyes laid upon her. Harder still to pretend to not see was the surprised look upon Mrs Harville's face, even though it was quickly and smoothly covered with a kind and gracious greeting. The most difficult, however, was the reaction from Captain Benwick.

Captain Benwick asked, "Is it really you? Anne, I mean, Miss Anne Elliot?"

She nodded and smiled, even as she felt an odd prickling behind her, a kind of unseen sensibility that warned of Captain Wentworth's presence.

Benwick's youthful, round-eyed expression shifted from her to a point behind her, and then returned to her, and then back behind her. Abruptly, Benwick's open expression shuttered, and he retreated to a quick salutation, covering his words with a hand and a cough and then, a bow. "Sorry," he said, "I forget myself."

She quickly glanced behind her, but Wentworth appeared deep in conversation with Louisa. Perhaps she was mistaken.

Still, Anne wondered at this most extraordinary of introductions, and wondered if perhaps Wentworth had looked upon their conversation and found it displeasing in some way. What if he had spoken ill of her during the many years aboard ship?

It seemed that her worries were unfounded, as the company continued on in a manner most convivial.

It was in Bath that Captain Harville showed her the little portrait he held in his hand.

"She is lovely," she said.

"This is of my sister," he said, softly. He looked up at her, his eyes taking on the keen and serious expression she was coming to understand was his natural affect. "You know something of portraiture?"

"Only what I am familiar with. I am not trained in that art," Anne said. "We have some in my family home."

"Ah," he said. "Do you believe there is bad as well as good art?"

"One does want to be fair about the quality," she said. "We have some in my family home, and I imagine that the artists were only starting their careers, some of them. How the heads are put on so, and the bodies rather awkwardly placed." She smiled. "Fortunately, the lighting is rather uneven in that part of the hall."

Harville nodded. "There is that. Have you never given a portrait yourself? Or had one made?"

A cough interrupted their talk. Anne's eyes followed Harville's as he looked over at Captain Wentworth, who seemed engrossed in his letter writing, before returning to his conversation with Anne.

"There was nothing beyond a family portrait when I was a child," Anne said. "I have never had such an attachment that would have been reciprocated." She feared she had said too much. "And certainly nothing as lovely as this."

"She was, aye." He stared at it a moment longer and tucked it into his jacket. He sighed heavily and showed her another miniature. "This was to be a pair with this for Benwick and my sister."

It was during the wedding dinner that Anne first heard of it. Captain Benwick gave a toast to the bride, who, he said, would be blessed with a man who was more than a captain, he was a true artist on the water.

Wentworth gave a laugh, along with the rest of the sailors, but he gave Benwick a look that promised retribution.

It was beyond puzzling, but Anne, lost in the happy swirl of nuptials, soon forgot the scene, amidst so many joyous others that day.

That is, until months later. She had found Frederick frowning at his old sea chest.

"Frederick?" she has asked. "Is anything the matter?"

He gestured to the chest and said, "As I'm land-bound for the time being, it is best I deal with it now." He scratched his head. "I should probably toss the entire box, for all the good it will do me now."

"There will certainly be something you want to keep."

"It would take the better part of a day to go through that." He slapped the top.

"We have the time," she said. She knelt beside him as he opened the lid.

He pulled out a few books that lay on top of the pile at the bottom of the box.

"Ah, those are when I was studying to take the lieutenant's exam," he nodded fondly at the tattered covers. "And those others are the mathematical references we used. I would like to keep these." He put them in a small pile. In wonder, Anne watched as he pulled out a sheaf of papers of all sizes. "These should be discarded," he said.

"Certainly it appears you have nostalgia for these things, or else you wouldn't keep them," Anne reasoned. "May I look?"

"Aye," Frederick said, with a small shrug. "There is naught useful."

She found letters from various members of his family.

"I forgot," he said, rueful. "They'll want to know I kept them."

After several more items were sorted, Anne caught sight of a corner of paper seemingly stuck in the crevices of the box. With a little tug, the paper came free. She opened the many-times folded sheet curiously.

"What are you looking at - " Frederick began, and then reached to snatch it out of her hand.

With the instinct of a middle child, Anne pulled the sheet toward her. "What on earth - ?"

The worn sheet of foolscap was stained with salt and faded with sun. The image that greeted her eyes was one of what Anne could only imagine was a woman, but such a woman that had never existed. The head was lumpy, one eye visibly much larger than the other but both endowed with heavy eyelashes, a triangle that one might generously describe as a nose, and where the mouth would have existed, there was only as a line with square bricks of what were, presumably, teeth. There was a single potato-shape stuck on the side of the head. Further, one long, spindly arm extended languidly behind the helmet-like hair, the other, much shorter, arm was truncated to squeeze the extravagant and extravagantly shadowy and lace-covered bosom of the dress off to one side. Before she could ask, her eyes dropped onto the name scrawled on the bottom, decorated with much embellishment and fantastical notation. "My Anne Elliot."

And then the sheet was pulled out of her hands.

"Frederick?" she asked. "When? Who drew that?"

"It's nothing," he said, holding it carefully behind him. "Nothing."

She thought. All those moments she had previously thought were of her own invention, all the clues dropped without a single understanding of what they were about. "Have Captain Benwick and Captain Harville see this?" Horror struck her. "And Mrs Harville? And Louisa? She must know!"

"Maybe," he said, his eyes sliding over to one side, not quite meeting hers.

"What does that mean, maybe?"

"I hung it in my quarters."

"This is your portrait of me? Truly? Did you draw it? When?"

"Aye, and I know it does you no justice," he said, shame-faced.

There had been nothing of mockery in the drawing, that she could see. Skill was decidedly lacking, but there appeared nothing intentionally targeted toward belittling her. "Then why - ?"

He began to speak slowly. "When our engagement broke, I was terribly angry. But I came to miss you in very short time. I had nothing to remember you by, and so I drew this aboard ship. I know I have no talent for it, but I swear it brought me good luck."

"Whyever would you think that?"

"The moment I finished this, there was a sighting of the ship Laconia, which became my prize." He paused. "You know we sailors are a superstitious lot. I couldn't not have this, not keep it, not after attaining the Laconia."

"How can I be upset by this charming story?" She laughed. He looked relieved. "But seriously, Frederick, you won't have people believe I look like this, will you?"

"No, no, no," he replied, shaking his head.

"Good." She leaned up and kissed him. "Perhaps," she said, looking over the drawing with a laugh, "it will also bring us good luck."

Throughout the course of their long marriage, the portrait, lovingly framed, hung in some small room in every place they lived.