The news of Captain Wentworth and Miss Elliot’s engagement made a great deal of noise both in Bath and the rest of Somerset.
The Harvilles were the first to congratulate them personally. Captain Harry Harville in particular could not contain a certain relief and satisfaction, that this story, which had lasted for nine and a half years, finally ended quite happily for his dear friend. Captain Benwick seemed to have discovered, that the world did not stand still and that people continued to fall in love or into despair. The Crofts were pleased, that Frederick decided to finally settle down and that the wedding date was fixed so quickly after the engagement. They considered Miss Anne in every way as a best match possible for their dear Frederick.
The Elliots were not so flattered. Sir Walter, however, had no objection and readily gave his blessing for the marriage. Captain Wentworth was no longer a callow young man he had been once before. Captain Wentworth, in his opinion, was remarkably good-looking and wealthy man (Sir Walter had taken the trouble to make the necessary inquiries). Captain Wentworth was a high-ranking naval officer, quite successful in his career so far and very promising for the future. And what made him shine in Sir Walter's eyes in particular, Frederick had been granted an audience with the Emperor himself on Elba and had had the opportunity to speak with His Imperial Majesty face to face.
Elizabeth was not interested in anything about her sister unless it had something to do with Mr. Elliot. She could not understand how it was possible to choose the least promising of Anne’s three possible matches.
Lady Russell received the news with quiet joy and even managed to find kind words for her dear goddaughter. She finally understood what was happening when she stopped by one evening to find that Anne was receiving the Crofts and Captain Wentworth at her house in Camden Place. To give Frederick his due, he was extremely decisive that night. Elizabeth’s cold demeanor coupled with Lady Russell's dismay did little to ease the necessity for an explanation with the head of the family. Still, Frederick was courteous and inclined to a lively conversation. He was determined to speak to Sir Walter that very day and therefore remained calm and somewhat reserved. Unlike Anne, who was relieved only when the conversation between the two men had taken place and the much-desired blessing had finally been obtained.
If this engagement was the subject of any speculation in Bath, it took everybody by surprise at Uppercross.
The Musgroves could not have imagined that Captain Wentworth was recovered so soon. And despite their warm wishes for every possible happiness, it was clear to them that Frederick was in such a hurry as he expected to be called up for military service. And that Miss Elliot of twenty eight years old was less likely to refuse him than Louisa.
Those, who knew of the previous engagement between Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot, thought quite differently. Charles Musgrove believed that Miss Anne was the kind of woman who, on close acquaintance, was impossible not to fall in love with. And since Frederick had no luck with his sister Louisa, he rightfully went back to Anne.
Mary Musgrove was ready to prove to anyone who would listen to her, that she had always known what was happening between these two, and that it was she who had arranged the engagement by keeping her sister at Uppercross last summer. Unfortunately, Mary completely forgot that she had previously bet on either Louisa or Henrietta. The latter was too distracted by Charles Hayter and could be only afraid that Captain Wentworth's wedding might overshadow her own.
As for Louisa Musgrove, her pride was certainly hurt. She understood quickly that she was just an obstacle. And although Captain Wentworth was careless enough to be attracted to her for a while, he was not deeply attached to her and returned directly to Anne Elliot again. When Louisa learnt that Captain Wentworth had arrived at Kellynch Hall at last, she immediately left Uppercross for Bath. And there, at the Harvilles’ house, she was treated for her first love and her wounded vanity, and only the company of the sensitive Captain Benwick helped to console her sore heart.
As there was nothing else to keep Anne in Bath, she decided to leave with the Crofts and Frederick. Lady Russell was kind enough to return to Kellynch village with her and even invited Anne to stay at her house. Anne was eternally grateful for that, as she could not recieve Frederick at Uppercross as freely.
And so, one bright summer morning two carriages left the city, and what Anne had so long desired was finally fulfilled. She was relieved that her life in Bath came to an end, for it had mostly been a very joyless one. Sir Walter and Elizabeth had dismissed her with a light heart, and now Anne, who seated comfortably in the carriage with Lady Russell, was watching Frederick, who accompanied them on horseback.
He was particularly elegant today, for he was an excellent rider. It reminded Anne of their other trip to Lyme. When she could have only sighed, as she had stolen a glance at the noble and handsome Captain Wentworth, and her heart had ached then. Now she could keep her eyes on him as long as she liked, and she was determined to learn how to ride well, and she was already looking forward to their future walks and rides together.
Lady Russell watched them both quite closely. Frederick was always galant to her, indeed. And although he could not be unaware of the role that Lady Russell had played in breaking off his first engagement, he had never once shown a hint of coldness or disdain for her. He was always exceptionally agreeable and lively in conversation. And on the whole, his manners were so perfect that Lady Russell was tempted to break through the wall of constant politeness to learn what was really happening behind it. But even Anne was not certain enough what was his real opinion of her dear godmother.
Lady Russell felt somewhat relieved, when they reached her house and Anne's attention could finally turn to someone other than Frederick. She wanted to consult with her friend on the subject that had been in her mind for quite a long time.
"I must speak to you," said Lady Russell, as soon as they were left alone. "I got the unexpected news before we left Bath. Mrs. Clay, a close friend of your sister, now lives in London."
"Mrs. Clay?" Anne was surprised, for she had forgotten all about this person.
"I always thought, it was unworthy of Elizabeth to bring her closer to herself and to the family. I was glad when Mrs. Clay left. However, I could not help but be a bit confused by her sudden departure, and I decided to make some inquiries. If you are wondering, how Mrs. Clay can live in London without even a small fortune, I must confess to you, that Mr. Shepard has nothing to do with it. She is entirely supported by Mr. Elliot."
"Mr. Elliot?" Anne could not withhold a gesture of surprise.
"I do not think, I will be much mistaken, if I assume that she left Bath after him. She could only change her position around your sister for even greater gain. Of course, she could not be incognito for long. She was seen with Mr. Elliot on several occasions."
"How sad," Anne replied quite thoughtfully. "He made it clear, that he did not like her."
"He was playing a double game, my dear," Lady Russell said softly. And suddenly she got up and walked around the room not without some excitement. "To think that I was ready to give you to him. That I desired this marriage to happen. That I was dreaming of the new Lady Elliot. And it was not just me, it was all society that pushed you towards this engagement. And he turned out to be such a man!"
She sat down again on the sofa and took Anne's hands in hers.
"My dear, if you are wondering why I am so diplomatic now, it is for this very reason. I realised that I could be wrong. And I am inclined not to interfere anymore. You are very much in love, I can see that, and if Captain Wentworth has found the strength to propose to you for a second time, then he is no less in love than you. It is, in all respects, a very good match for you now."
"I understand, what made me refuse Captain Wentworth nine years ago," Anne told her very seriously. "Although I should not have given in to persuasion, I was guided by my duty to you and my father. And a sense of duty in a woman is not her worst quality. However, I would never have agreed to marry a man to whom I was completely indifferent. It would be the darkest fate for me," she cleared her throat. "As for Mrs. Clay, I admit you surprised me. I had my suspicions about Mr. Elliot, of course, but of a very different nature. I could not understand why he desired to resume his acquaintance with us. He did not like Mrs. Clay, and he did not hide it from me. And we seemed to agree on her and her relations with my father."
"Perhaps, that is the problem, my child," Lady Russell sighed. "He was afraid that your father would marry Mrs. Clay and have a male heir. As a son-in-law, he might have visited your family frequently enough to keep Sir Walter from such a rash act. His plans went awry when you refused him. And he took Mrs. Clay with him to London as a consolation."
"He could have married Elizabeth. She would have never refused him."
"I think, I will not be mistaken, if I assume that he suffered a lot in his first marriage. He wants to follow his own sympathies now."
"Yes, it may well be," said Anne thoughtfully. "Well, now he is ready to get married at last."
Lady Russel smiled politely at her remark.
"I think, I will not be mistaken again, if I assume, that Mrs. Clay is in a very different capacity from the one you are talking about. I will honour her mind, indeed. Perhaps, she could still capture him with her charms. However, he clearly does not intend to marry her now."
Having rested as much as it was necessary, Lady Russell and Anne Elliot arrived at Kellynch Hall the very next morning as guests, who soon would have a kinship with its inhabitants.
It turned out that Charles Musgrove had already lured the Admiral and Captain Wentworth to the shooting range. Anne asked Mrs. Croft, if she could take a walk through the Kellynch grounds, which she had missed so much. She left Lady Russell in the company of Sophie Croft and walked slowly up the path from the house.
The sun was at its height, and as far as the eye could see, emerald hills and plains spread out before Anne. She was so happy to be in these lands again and walk along the paths of Kellynch Hall park. She reached the big oak tree nearby she had loved to sit as a child. Fully aware that she could not be seen from the house, she sat down on the grass and just admired the beauty around her for a while. Then she opened Mary's letter (Mrs. Croft had given it to her in the morning) and entertained herself with reading it. It must be admitted that letters from her younger sister were always quite entertaining.
Mary congratulated her on her engagement with a clear hint of everybody’s’ excitement that had accompanied it. Personally, this mutual inclination between Anne and Captain Wentworth had long been obvious to her. She could not help but notice that Frederick was more wealthy than Charles Hayter, which meant that Anne had made a better match than Henrietta. Being a sailor's wife is definitely better than being a priest's wife. And how often now particularly distinguished naval officers are knighted or even made baronets. Yes, it was unfortunate that Frederick did not have a house of his own and they would have to rent one after they get married. However, if Mr. Elliot or if Elizabeth failed to produce any male heirs, then Anne’s oldest son would have all chances to inherit both Kellynch Hall and the title. As for her older sister, Mary could not contain her malicious triumph here, Elizabeth was thirty now and she had never received a marriage offer to which she would have agreed.
Anne smiled at number of ifs in Mary’s letter. She did not read any further, as she heard familiar footsteps and saw that Frederick was hurrying to meet her.
"Dear Anne, I was beginning to worry, " he told her as he came closer. "I could not find you anywhere. And then I recalled your favourite place in this park."
He was standing in front of her in his hunting suite with a rifle slung over his back. And she could not help but smile at the fact that he still remembered everything she had said to him during their first engagement. Anne leaned on his arm and rose to her feet.
It all happened so suddenly. His arms wrapped around her waist, and she did not resist. Holding her gently to him, he kissed her so softly and tenderly that Anne almost melted in his arms. And no matter how short that wonderful moment was, she managed to wrap her arms around his neck and even touch his hair with her fingers.
Just as suddenly, they stepped back from each other and laughed. Anne casted a confused look at the house, which was barely visible from here, and hoped desperately that no one had seen them. It was a breach of etiquette, of course, and yet Anne admitted to herself that she had expected, hoped, and even a little dreaded this kiss. Not the first one, as she recalled what had happened nine and half years ago.
"I have lost all track of time, my dear," Frederick said, as they decided to go back to the house. "As soon as my sister told me you were here, I left Charles with the Admiral and rushed to the park before I had time to change."
"I cannot imagine what Mrs. Croft would have thought," Anne said slyly.
"She certainly thinks of me as being desperately in love," Frederick replied smiling at her.
He slipped her hand under his and pressed it to his heart. They slowly walked together along the path to Kellynch Hall.
It only remains to add, that, contrary to all fears, the wedding of Captain Wentworth and Miss Elliot could not eclipse any other celebration. Knowing her tastes and his habits, it was no surprise that the ceremony itself was quite modest yet elegant. They were married in the church of Kellynch Hall surrounded by their friends and loved ones.