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Lost hopes

Chapter Text

Never had Frederick Wentworth returned to Uppercross with a heavy heart.

He remembered himself as calm, almost indifferent, when he had first arrived there to get acquainted with his new neighbors. Such a promising, well-to-do suitor determined to fall in love with any pleasing young woman who came in his way, as he had thought about himself after meeting the Musgrove family. A paralyzed, disoriented, an utterly unhappy man, as he returned to Uppercross to deliver the news of the Lyme incident. And now, on this rather beautiful autumn day, he was returning to Uppercross again, accompanied by his friend Charles Musgrove, Charles's wife Mary and younger sister Louisa. His future wife Louisa Wentworth may well be. The very thought of which made his stomach clench. He was indeed returning to Uppercross again. This time with a broken heart and a bunch of somewhat lost hopes.

As for Louisa Musgrove, she was completely recovered from her illness and was looking forward to meeting her relatives, whom she sincerely missed. Indeed, their trip to Lyme had left an indelible mark on her soul. She was once a sweet and attractive girl; she was noticeably pale and rather haggard now. And there was no longer any cheerfulness that had distinguished her before. For the first time, however, a faint color flushed her pale cheeks. She was glad to come back home. To her old carefree life. Perhaps, the walls of this house, combined with more favorable marriage circumstances, might in time have cured the disastrous consequences of her falling from that steps in Lyme. Frederick understood her feelings quite perfectly and would have given anything in the world to say the same about himself.

"At last!" cried Charles Musgrove as soon as they reached the house.

He could not wait to get back to his hunting habits, his collection of weapons and his dogs. His wife Mary did not share Charles's high spirits:

“Where are Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove exactly? And why are we only met by servants? Charles! What could you possibly say about that?"

This was how Mary behaved herself all the way down from Lyme, complaining either of draught or of her ill health, or of her acute intolerance of long journeys. She seemed to be trying to draw as much attention to herself as possible, which left her with no inclination at all to inquire after Louisa’s health in her current state. Not that Mary's behavior was quite new to anyone else, but Frederick often found himself comparing his friend's wife to her older sister, and he was well aware that such a comparison did not do Mary much credit. These were dangerous thoughts now.

While Charles and Mary continued to argue with each other, Frederick helped Louisa out of the carriage and was immediately rewarded with a tender and grateful smile. Even though completely recovered, Louisa still felt a little dizzy from the long ride.

It was in this way, hand in hand, that they appeared before the elder Musgrove couple. It was the time now for warm greetings and equally polite reassurances. Mr. Musgrove thanked Captain Wentworth from the bottom of his heart, that he had brought Louisa home safely. But how could it be otherwise? Mr. Musgrove whished for Frederick to have a dinner with them today. He almost insisted, and Frederick had no choice but to agree. Out of a sense of duty, of course. He did not plan to leave the Musgrove family for too long.

There was only one thing he could be afraid of. The appearance of Mary’s elder sister. As he knew from Anne's letters to Mary, Miss Elliot had already left Uppercross for Bath. So much the better for him. Frederick took leave of his neighbors and went back to his sister’s place at Kellynch Hall, where he could stay as long as he liked, having no house of his own.

The Admiral and Mrs. Croft received him with all the proper cordiality that did them much credit. And Frederick had great hope that he could be left for some time alone. At least within the walls of Kellynch Hall. But he was given only the opportunity to change his clothes and freshen up a bit.

The Crofts were very much in mood to question him about latest news from Lyme, his friends Captain Harville and Captain Benwick, and, of course, about the Musgrove family. Especially about the health and the state of mind of younger Miss Musgrove. Admiral and Mrs. Croft exchanged quick glances. As it seemed to them, they did it so very imperceptibly. And although their animated conversation did not deviate from the most general wishes for the speedy improvement of Miss Musgrove's condition, Frederick realized what he had not wanted to notice before. The Crofts, like the Musgroves and like his friends in Lyme, thought of his engagement to Louisa as something that was absolutely settled.

All of a sudden Mrs. Croft said:

"Anne Elliot came to see us before she left for Bath. I must say, she is such a nice woman. Always so attentive and so well-mannered. I was sorry to see her leave."

Frederick could do nothing but nod and smile politely in response to this kind of compliment. He pretended that even a mere mention of Anne Elliot’s name did not strike a dull ache in his heart. He would have liked to change the subject, but he could not resist asking:

"Did Mr. Shephard say if any of the Elliots would return from Bath this winter?"

He hoped that his question would be considered merely as a way of making polite conversation and not as an expression of interest in the arrival of a particular person.

"Who knows these Elliots?" cried Admiral Croft. "I have heard from Mr. Shephard that they are very well in Bath. The head of the family is exactly this kind of person who will enjoy all sorts of social life. He probably forgot about Kellynch Hall at last."

"I do not think, Miss Elliot will come back this winter," Mrs. Croft said thoughtfully. "Her friend Lady Russell went to Bath with her. Unless Mrs. Charles Musgrove would invite her sister to stay at Uppercross, of course."

Frederick did not know whether to be glad or very much afraid of such invitation. He would not see Anne again until spring. This thought had completely taken away his appetite. Still it was better than seeing her again while being engaged to another woman.

He spent the next few days at Kellynch Hall, plucking up his courage to return to Uppercross and reach an understanding with Louisa. Procrastination was like death to him, as he was a resolute man, but he could not help feeling that the expectations of society were driving him very far from where he wanted to be.

He was tempted to write to Anne Elliot several times to reassure her of his feelings, however hopeless they might be now. He stopped himself just in time to realize the rashness of the act. If Anne was still attached to him, and he had a very faint hope that she might be, this letter would only break her heart and make her suffer like he did, otherwise she would only be able to condemn his actions. To be associated with one and yet to write to another in a feeble attempt to explain his careless frivolous actions. His casual attention to Louisa Musgrove. He knew in advance that Anne was unlikely to answer him. Perhaps the only feeling he could inspire in her this way was a deep contempt for himself and his recent behavior. He must remain true to his duty and make no attempt to ease his conscience in any way. He had already poured out enough of his feelings to his brother Edward, while he was staying with him in Shropshire.

This is how Frederick felt and how he spent his time after arrival from Lyme. He was inclined for only male company, riding alone or hunting with Admiral Croft and Charles Musgrove. Until the latter was quick to point out that Captain Wentworth was very much missed at Uppercross.

And so, one early bright morning Frederick arrived at Uppercross fully prepared for any consequences. He had only recently begun to realize that his entire entourage was watching him quite closely, waiting for an impending engagement. From Kellynch Hall to Uppercross, there was no other topic for gossip, whether he and Louisa Musgrove would officially announce an understanding between them. It was probably for this very reason the Musgrove family was not at all surprised at his sudden appearance at Uppercross after breakfast. On the contrary, they seemed to calm down completely, as if they had been looking forward to his arrival all this time.

It was decided that Charles, Mary, Frederick, Louisa and Henrietta would go to visit Henrietta's fiancé, Charles Hayter. As it had happened on the day before their ill-fated trip to Lyme. The same path, the same company. Only Anne Elliot was not with them these days, but no one seemed to notice her absence except for Frederick.

As usually Mary Musgrove incessantly chattered throughout the walk, only stopping to throw a sharp glance at Frederick or at Louisa. She behaved this way even back in Lyme, somewhat displeased that Captain Wentworth had chosen Louisa over Henrietta, and thus failed to save the latter from the infamous advances of Charles Hayter.

Everything about Mary's behavior proved to Frederick that she knew nothing about his engagement to her sister Anne some eight years ago. He was quite calm throughout the walk as he already made up his mind. Louisa, on the other hand, blushed or even turned pale under Mary's gaze. Being more tactful than his wife, Charles led both Mary and Henrietta a little ahead, and Frederick was finally alone with Louisa Musgrove.

They stopped at the same spot where they had stopped a few months earlier on a similar walk to Charles Hayter's house. Back then Louisa told him that her brother wanted to marry Anne and she refused him. This was the first breach in the armor of Captain Wentworth's pride. He could not help but ask Louisa when did it happen and why. He could not remain indifferent, even though he wanted to appear that way.

Right now he was absolutely calm. He said exactly what his duty required him to say in relation to the girl whom he did not love, but to whose flirtation he had so rashly responded. Out of pride and a prompt desire to seem indifferent to Anne. With slight intention of getting seriously involved with someone other than her. But nothing came of it, of course.

He was not saying what he had said at his first engagement some eight years ago. Back then he could not remember himself from excitement, he did not prepare any courteous phrases in advance and acted as his heart prompted him. Now he was very much restrained:

"Miss Musgrove," he began at last, "I am glad that we are left behind as I will have to explain myself to you immediately."

Luisa flushed almost instantly at his words, but she did not show even the slightest of surprise. She did not leave Captain Wentworth's side since the beginning of this walk. Her every gesture made it clear that she was so sure of her rights and her power over him. She barely concealed impatience for an understanding between them.

"What do you want to tell me, Captain Wentworth?" she asked slyly, addressing him almost in the same flirty manner as before Lyme and knowing fully well what was coming next.

Frederick replied promptly:

"We have spent a lot of time together since we first met at Uppercross, " he said choosing his words wisely. He was determined not to lie to her. "You cannot imagine my distress after Lyme incident. I still believe that I was alone responsible for your fall from that steps. If only I was more attentive, if I was guided not only by emotions, but also by reason… I understand that these events bound us as circumstances could bind two young people."

Frederick paused, watching her reaction carefully. There was no way in the world that he could lie to her about his true feelings. So all he had to say was to acknowledge this mutual attraction to each other that everyone else had noticed so unfortunately. He did not sound like a passionate lover, much less like a timid seeker for his own happiness. But he could not tell her directly without offending her and her family that he was standing here guided only by sense of duty and responsibility for his careless behavior. And that was pretty much all.

A more attentive girl than Louisa Musgrove would no doubt noticed his reticence at once. A couple of further cautious questions would have made it possible for a full understanding of his feelings with an immediate, a much-desired end to the subsequent sad events. But Louisa endured so many terrible months in Lyme, recovered from her fall through headaches and ailment. Louisa Musgrove was sincerely saddened when she learned that Captain Wentworth had left her to join his brother in Shropshire and was looking forward to his return to Lyme. And it was only with him that she pinned her future hopes of happiness. In her heart, alas, there was no other love. There was nobody else.


Now his Louisa may well be.

All his hopes faded like a haze in the wind. She was over the moon and expected nothing more from ever-reserved Captain Wentworth. She knew from his previous indiscretions how much he valued determination and firmness in women.

She agreed to this engagement without any further delay.

Chapter Text

Official engagement of Captain Frederick Wentworth and Miss Louisa Musgrove took place at Kellynch Hall as soon as first frosts came to Somerset. The dinner was also attended by Frederick's friends Captain Harry Harville and Mrs. Harville, and Captain James Benwick, who all had come to Uppercross to visit their dear friend Louisa. Edward Wentworth, Frederick’s elder brother, had promised to arrive at Kellynch Hall next week, which implied a very much desired continuation of these celebration events.

The ladies were all in a pleasant state of excitement; the gentlemen, as it was to be expected, remained calm in particular. The time passed pleasantly for Captain Harville and Captain Benwick. Charles Musgrove was an avid hunter, and before the cold weather set in, the young men could hunt, ride and engage themselves in all those pursuits and activities which excluded the company of ladies.

And so, while James Benwick and Charles Musgrove were happily unaware of any windstorm coming, Harry could not help but notice certain changes in his friend's behaviour. Frederick became much more withdrawn and much less sociable than before. The old excitement, which he had shown at their last meeting in Lyme, had finally been replaced by either complete burnout or by ostensible indifference. Having suffered enough in both Shropshire and Lyme, Frederick seemed to have come to terms with his fate. He answered with a smile to Charles Musgrove's jokes about the marriage, he was consistently polite and courteous to Louisa and took any mention of the Elliot family very calmly, indeed. He never spoke again of the subject, about which he had lamented so much before he left Lyme, and avoided any mention of Miss Elliot’s name in every possible way he could. Harry, for all his tact and understanding of his friend’s situation, could not torment him any longer.

That sad event, which could not fail to test all firmness of Captain Wentworth's spirit, occured before the Harvilles’ departure from Uppercross. They dined that day together with Musgrove family at Kellynch Hall. At last Frederick seemed to behave the same way as it had been before. He kept up the conversation with all the cheerfulness and great ease and paid a lot of attention to his fiancee. Louisa was a little flushed with happiness and did not notice anyone but her dear Captain Wentworth. The Harvilles found her being fully recovered after Lyme incident and undoubtedly even more pretty. And there was no other person at this table who did not admire the pair.

"I have received an unexpected letter from my father," Mary Musgrove said quite gravely, when Mrs. Croft asked her about the latest news from Bath. Mary spoke only to the Crofts, but her voice was loud enough to be heard at the other end of the table. Her eyes glittered, and she could barely hide her anticipation. "I expect to hear about another engagement quite soon."

Mrs. Croft expressed her genuine surprise. Frederick, who was talking to Captain Benwick at that moment, did not even turn his head. He refused to be interested in any news from Bath. However, Harry had an uncanny sense of an impending thunderstorm in the air.

"I thought, I told you that my family and my cousin Mr. Elliot are finally reconciled," Mary Musgrove went on. "Well, imagine my father's surprise when he understood that Mr. Elliot is going to propose to my sister Anne. It turns out that everybody in Bath is already talking about it!

"Oh, Mary!" exclaimed Charles Musgrove, clearly displeased. "Nothing has been decided yet!"

Harry felt a palpable chill run down his spine. The ringing silence that followed the words of Charles Musgrove’s wife proved how startled everyone was by the news.

"Yes, Mary," Henrietta Musgrove said quite wickedly, "nothing has been decided yet. Knowing the influence that Lady Russell has over Anne, one may assume that it is only under her particular guidance Anne will consent to the proposal."

"I have also written to Lady Russell," Mary answered complacently and not without a touch of triumph in her voice. "Yesterday I received a short reply from her. Lady Russell confirmed that Mr. Elliot intended to propose to Anne. Lady Russell is sure that Anne will be quite agreeable."

Everything about Mary Musgrove indicated, that she had been preparing for this conversation for a long time and that she wanted these news to have the effect they did.

Harry looked at his friend quite carefully. Frederick completely lost a thread of his conversation with Captain Benwick and could only look with terror at Mary Musgrove or at Mrs. Croft.

"Well, if lady Russell says so," said Mr. Musgrove cautiously, "then it must be true."

"I am very happy for Miss Elliot," Mrs. Croft said, as soon as she had recovered from her first reaction. Her younger brother, however, could not control his feelings so quickly. "She is a very nice woman and she is worthy of the best match possible."

Capital! Harry Harville could not disagree with her polite remark.

"Who would have thought it?" cried Louisa. "Miss Elliot may well be Lady Elliot and hostess of Kellynch Hall!"

"Yes, I never thought that Anne could do so well," Mary said quite sourly. "My father expresses his genuine surprise that Mr. Elliot even noticed her. My other sister Elizabeth would have been a more sophisticated hostess, of course. And when I think of Anne taking a higher position in society, I am almost startled. However, it is better this way than if our cousin Mr. Elliot marries some unsuitable person again."

"Well-well. Indeed!" said Admiral Croft to his wife. "We will probably be asked to move out of Kellynch Hall soon. Where else, I suppose, will the newlyweds live?"

The rest of the dinner was spent in discussing these unexpected news with Mary’s further fruitless exclamations of how much money Mr. Elliot had and how quickly he could mend her father's distressed affairs. Mrs. Musgrove expressed her genuine approval of the possibility of this marriage and her hope, that both Louisa and Miss Elliot might marry at the same time and in the same church.

Poor Frederick!

Harry could not look at him without a pity. His friend was getting paler and paler with every minute. Captain Wentworth had to exert all his self-control to continue a merely polite conversation. However, both Louisa and Captain Benwick noticed a sudden change in his mood.

As soon as ladies left, Frederick excused himself and hurried out of the dining room.

"Poor Frederick!" Admiral Croft chuckled."He likes Kellynch Hall so much that he must be upset at the prospect of moving out any time soon. I do not think we will be kicked out quite quick, though."

Harry muttered a few polite words in return and followed Frederick’s way. He found his dear friend in the billiard room. Frederick was clearly no less than distressed holding an untied scarf in one hand and a large glass of brandy in the other.

"I am almost out of breath, Harry," he said with a rueful smile.

His gaze wandered over the pieces of furniture, stopping at nothing in particular.

Harry realized that the best thing he could do was to help himself with a glass of brandy and then listen to his friend in silence. However, Frederick was not inclined to talk at all. They were both silent for a while, until Harry finally decided to go in the safest direction:

"You know how quickly gossips spread. And how sometimes they are not enough of what is really happening. I understand that Mr. Elliot intends to propose to her, or has already done so. And Miss Elliot, apparently, has not given her consent."

The answer he received was nothing more than a peremptory remark:

"You do not know Lady Russell, Harry. You do not know her the way I do. Especially all the influence this woman has over Anne."

Harry had no choice but to admit it. Although he was aware that Frederick was by nature quite resolute and more inclined to trust his intuition than a good reason.

"It is not that she will accept his proposal I grieve the most," Frederick explained, sinking into a nearby chair. "I am sure she will only do it if she really likes him. And as hard as it is for me to admit it, this is the best match for her that can be imagined. Anne was very attached to her mother and to this house. She will find a great comfort in taking Lady Elliot’s place at Kellynch Hall. However, I can hardly endure it, Harry. Just a thought of me marrying Louisa on the very day Anne will walk down the aisle…"

He paused and took a long drink from his glass.

"I suppose Mrs. Musgrove implied only her approval of the engagement," said Harry shortly,"and nothing really more."

Frederick shook his head in return:

"I have to leave. I must leave before this is all over and my sister finds a new home. Yes, I am determined to leave."

There was a much desired pause now. Harry slowly considered what to say next.

"I see, you have been thinking about it a lot, " he said at last.

"Yes, I am inclined to join a national delegation to the island of Elba."

"I see," said Harry thoughtfully. "But knowing you, Frederick… you cannot stand all this ostentatious diplomacy and military etiquette."

"I cannot. You are absolutely right here. However, I cannot go back to the sea without it looking like an escape from the marriage. If I get this appointment, I will have a good reason to put a gloss on my name and that of my fiancee."

"Yes, I think the Musgroves will be honoured to see their future son-in-law as a member of such memorable delegation to a memorable island."

"I do not see the possibility of any other good reason."

Harry hobbled over to the fireplace, considering his words.

"The Musgroves will be very surprised. This is certain. However, you have already committed yourself to Miss Musgrove, so it is unlikely that this will cause any complaints on their part. As for Miss Musgrove... you will be gone for seven or eight months, at least. Maybe even longer. I sincerely hope, this is the last time you must upset her."

"Trust me, I can imagine her feelings about me leaving and I am truly very sorry for her. But I do not wish for anyone to know how I feel about Anne. I do not know if I can hold out longer without arousing any suspicion. The sea almost cured me last time, and now it will help me again."

"I know you as a man of honour, and I have no doubt that you will marry Louisa Musgrove on your return."

"I will marry her," Frederick said that with a deep sigh. Harville's overly restrained response made him think that his friend did not approve of his actions. "Yes, I know. I do not look like or sound like an impatient groom, and that does not do me much credit."

Harry remembered his wife's reaction to the news of Louisa Musgrove's engagement. Her dear sweet friend Louisa! Mrs. Harville was not surprised at the news, nobody was, but she did not express much joy either. She expected, that too lively and too active Louisa Musgrove would find it difficult to become a sailor's wife. Even after her injury.

"You have the means to marry, and there is no other reason to prolong this engagement," concluded Harry after a moment's thought. "However, I am sure that prolonged absence will help you better understand each other's feelings. I said that before, I will say that again. A lot can happen in a year."

That was the reasoning for Captain Harry Harville. He knew, his dear friend would not be happy in this marriage and he did not want Louisa Musgrove to feel quite the same way.

Chapter Text

Captain Frederick Wentworth returned to the coast of England exactly seven months after his departure from Somerset. Just as his friend Harry Harville had predicted. It was the beginning of summer, and warm season was only gaining momentum.

Contrary to all Frederick's fears, his joining the national delegation was quite eventful of various kinds. Especially since on the way back it suddenly turned out that the Emperor had already managed to leave the island of Elba.

On board the ship, Frederick’s days and nights were literally scheduled by the minute, and sometimes he could not think of any Somerset men and women for several days at a time. At sea, in constant never-ending toil and care, he found at last the quiet state of mind that he had been searching for so long. At times it seemed to him, that if Louisa Musgrove's feelings had faded and she suddenly broke off their engagement, he would never think of marrying again and would devote his life to his career and his duty as a sailor. However, there was still little hope for this.

Louisa's letters to him were filled with all the tenderness and warmth, perhaps not as bright as these feelings had been in the past. However, Frederick heard from her every time he could and answered her quite regularly, though in much more restrained manner. But his sister’s letters were, indeed, far more disturbing to him. Every time he looked at Mrs. Croft’s small handwriting, he expected to find a confirmation in her letter that Anne Elliot was already married or intended to be, and, alas, he never found one. The Crofts continued to reside at Kellynch Hall with no further news coming from Bath. Then, all of a sudden, his sister notified him that Mr. Elliot had left Bath and returned to London. And it became clear how the story ended. A joy flooded Frederick's soul as soon as he read about it. Dear Anne! She refused Mr. Elliot’s offer of marriage! And then he was ashamed of himself as his feelings were so selfish. Could he really wish for Anne to stay in her father's house forever?

Meanwhile all well-known events were developing at full speed in France, and persistent gossips about a possible resumption of the war began to circulate again. Frederick decided to return to Somerset at once. He assumed that he would soon be called up for military service, and while this was not yet the case, he intended to honour his word in relation to Louisa Musgrove.

It should be admitted that his departure seven months ago caused a lot of talk. The Musgrove family was taken aback at first, then unpleasantly surprised, then particularly flattered, as soon as they realised the honour that Captain Wentworth had received. There was eventually a whisper that he might be promoted to the rank of admiral, since the occasion was, indeed, the greatest. Louisa, however, grieved longer than the others. And it hurt Frederick to see her cry. He could not help but think about what their life together would look like. Now everything that gave him such relief or joy was nothing but a sorrow for her.

With these thoughts in mind he finally left Somerset; he returned to the county being more energetic. The Crofts were inclined to give him that old incomparable welcome that had always made his heart warm. His sister missed him sincerely and was even a little concerned about his departure. It turned out Admiral Croft was aware of Frederick himself requesting a permission to join the delegation. He did not fail to share these news with his wife. He added with a chuckle that it was so common for some sailors to run away to sea before their wedding. Indeed, some young men must take one last breath as bachelors and taste one last bit of freedom.

Frederick had scarcely settled down at Kellynch Hall again, when Charles Musgrove arrived the very next day. And after a brief exchange of civilities and other polite reassurances, the two of them went hunting with Admiral Croft. Charles seemed to be in a state of strange and almost incomprehensible excitement, whether due to his friend’s return to Somerset or due to the arrival of firearms that Charles had recently ordered. Frederick asked him carefully about the latest news and only managed to breath freely when he was sure that everyone was alive and well, no one was injured or fell down the steps. However Charles made it clear that he wanted to have a private conversation with Frederick, and they decided to return to Kellynch Hall on foot leaving Admiral Croft to ride back alone.

It did not take long for Frederick to get his friend to talk. The latter desired to lighten his burden and as quickly as it was only possible. It turned out Charles had recently gone to Bath with his wife and sister Henrietta. Frederick frowned. He did not like Bath, and he disliked it even more now.

Charles struggled to find the right words while awkwardness was growing between them. He was persuaded to go to Bath as Henrietta talked a lot about finding the perfect wedding dress, and Mary wanted to visit her sisters. Charles stopped feeling completely confused. In Bath they accidentally learned some unexpected news. They learnt what happened some eight or nine years ago when Captain Wentworth had visited Somerset and had proposed to Mary’s sister Anne.

Frederick stopped abruptly. Charles assured him that it was entirely accidental. No one could have expected this! And the last thing Charles wanted was for Louisa to learn about it.

When he finally found a courage to look at his friend, Frederick's face was quite vivid of all the feelings that he himself was now experiencing. What Charles confessed to Frederick in just a few words, could actually be unfolded as follows.

Beautiful sophisticated Elizabeth Elliot who was a valuable member of Bath’s high society. Mary and Anne’s older sister Elizabeth Elliot had a hard time bearing her cousin's departure from Bath. Her pride was hurt by Mr. Elliot not paying her a proper attention, no matter how hard she had tried, and her anger was directed at Anne. Failing to acknowledge her cousin's own sympathies, she blamed her sister for almost everything. Elizabeth had no doubt, Anne had made sure for Mr. Elliot to be attracted to her. And when Anne had got her way, just as suddenly, out of an ill whim for sure, she had refused his offer of marriage. And now Mr. Elliot had left them, and all chances for the Elliot girls to settle down at Kellynch Hall again had vanished like a haze in the wind. What an irreparable loss! And it was all Anne’s fault! That was a way of thinking for beautiful Elizabeth Elliot, and since she was so cruelly hurt, so sorely disappointed, she wanted to hurt her sister in return. It was not that she was deliberately plotting her revenge, but rather she had a long secret intention. She kept looking for a reason, and soon the opportunity presented itself. This happened when Charles, Henrietta and Mary Musgrove came to stay with them in Bath.

Elizabeth had never liked Mary, well neither of her sisters had ever aroused any particular feelings in her. And if she thought of Anne as being completely useless, her younger sister was also insufferably annoying. When Mary finally came to Camden Place, she almost instantly began a discussion about their relatives and their neighbours, repeating latest gossips even before the tea time. How little it took for Mary to be happy! That was exactly what Elizabeth was thinking with some degree of contempt, until she suddenly heard a familiar name. Captain Wentworth. Yes, she heard about Captain Wentworth. Apparently Captain Wentworth proposed to Louisa Musgrove. Is that so? No, she read Mary's letters, of course. She might have been a bit inattentive. She was surprised. Captain Wentworth proposed again. Elizabeth allowed herself a mocking glance at Anne. And finally saw her sister blush suddenly, and knew at last that it was all unpleasant for her.

However Elizabeth regretted her rashness afterwards. Of course, Mary heard her sarcastic remark. Had Captain Wentworth been engaged before? Mary could not help but ask about this repeatedly. Until finally Elizabeth explained to her what had happened to Anne some eight or nine years ago. In truth, the Elliots never spoke of it more out of pride than anything else. Now Captain Wentworth was a wealthy man, so why not to tell Mary that he had been looking for a connection with her family in the past. Of course, she made her sister promise to keep it as a secret.

Mary did not believe her at first. She burst out laughing and confessed that she had seen Captain Wentworth and Anne together many times, and he had never paid any attention to her. Finally, Elizabeth had an opportunity to add some thoughts of her own. Anne was not as simple as she seemed at first glance, and she must have been really good at pretending. As for Captain Wentworth, Elizabeth could only shrug her shoulders, it would have been an unequal marriage in every way. The young man had received neither her father's blessing nor Anne's consent. No wonder he did not really want to talk about it. What Mary said next spoiled her mood for what felt like an eternity, as her sister remarked so tactlessly about Anne receiving more offers of marriage in the past few years than the two sisters combined in their lives.

This was what really happened in Bath. Charles Musgrove himself could only do the briefest telling. He earnestly assured Frederick, that as soon as he heard about it from Mary, he ordered his wife to keep it private. But Mary, of course, had already told Henrietta. And the latter, of course, had already sent a letter to Louisa. Frederick asked about Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove. No, Charles assured him again, he ordered his wife and sisters to keep a secret. Otherwise they would never ever go to Bath again.

At last Louisa knew of his failed engagement. Frederick was thinking about it all the way back to Kellynch Hall. Charles Musgrove remained particularly silent. It was only at the very gate of the house, when they finally stopped and there was an old awkwardness in the air again. Charles took a letter from his pocket and handed it to Frederick.

"Louisa asked me to give this to you," he said certainly quite embarrassed.

Without thinking Frederick unfolded her letter and read the following which was written in an irregular hand:

Captain Wentworth,

I am writing to you after several fruitless hours of consideration. You can hardly imagine my surprise and my distress when I learnt that you were inclined to get married before. And no other woman came to your attention except for Miss Anne Elliot who is so close to our family. I can understand why you would want to hide this from the rest of society. The rejection you received could not but hurt your pride. But I can never understand why you failed to mention this to me, as I have always been your devoted fiancee. I think that either the feelings that you still have for Miss Anne or your distrust of me may have led you to this concealment. I have never seen you paying any particular attention to Miss Anne. I do not know two people in the whole world who could have been engaged less. I can only assume that this is because you do not trust me. And it cannot help but hurt my feelings. Is it possible for two people to be connected and not feel for each other all the directness of character and sincerity of which they are capable? This concealment, this polite silence goes against all my convictions, and I am writing to return you your word, if you wish it. Please accept this letter from me as a sign that you are now free to dispose of yourself as you see fit.

I will always remain your loyal friend.

"What does she say?" Charles Musgrove asked impatiently, losing all tact and caution in his excitement.

"I think you can guess," Frederick said shortly, folding the letter in half. He wanted to go back to his room and read it again. He was so afraid to trust his own eyes.

"Did she break off the engagement? Charles asked looking very surprised.

Frederick only managed to nod in response.

"Broke off this over nothing," Charles muttered more quietly, as if he did not believe what was happening. "And because of such nonsense! You know, Wentworth, I understand you perfectly, " he added quickly, his excitement making him extremely sociable. " My… my pride was hurt once also, and I wish that nobody knew about it. And I would never ever discuss this with my wife."

Frederick could not help but think that fate might have a peculiar sense of humour, since it brought them both together, Anne’s rejected suitors. And one was clearly trying to comfort the other.

"I am inclined to agree with your sister's decision, " he said quite hastily, trying to avoid the dangerous subject. "Miss Musgrove has the right to do as she sees fit. I thank you for all concern you have shown me today. Especially since Miss Musgrove is your much-loved sister. But I feel confident, because I have no doubt that she has thought this through."

Frederick was stingy with his words and feelings, for the only thing he could feel now was a little relief and nothing more. No matter how much he disliked the circumstances that had ended his engagement, no matter how little he wanted to hurt Louisa again, he could not wish for anything else. He was glad to be free again. And he did not yet fully believe in his freedom, acquired under such unexpected circumstances. So he only asked his friend to deliver his cordial reply to Louisa. It was his duty to offer his deepest apologies to Miss Musgrove and show all the courtesy he could only master.

They agreed that Frederick would write a letter in return and Charles would pass it to Louisa while they were hunting in the fields of Uppercross. In spite of all excitement their appetite was intact, and they returned to dine at Kellynch Hall together. And never before had this evening seemed so wonderful to Captain Wentworth, and never before had he felt so deep relief.

Chapter Text

Rarely had Frederick Wentworth arrived at Uppercross in a more relaxed state of mind than when he hurried back to his friend Charles Musgrove the next morning. He hardly slept last night composing his answer to Louisa. He tried to put all his warmth and appreciation for her into his letter. He was as polite as he could be and explained the events of nine years ago as it was only possible.

Frederick had changed his mind a great deal during the night. He felt sorry for Louisa to be sad and disappointed again, but he thought, that she had made the right decision. This marriage would not bring happiness to him; it would not bring much happiness to her either. He knew perfectly well that he could not be entirely selfless with her. And in this way his departure from Somerset was only for the best. Frederick had no doubt that his long absence had allowed Louisa to see things in the right light.

Charles Musgrove shared his friend's confidence more than it might appear at first. Since Captain Wentworth left Somerset, he could observe Louisa rather closely. And when her former cheerfulness was restored, her attachment to Frederick could no doubt be called into question. For Louisa Musgrove this was a first serious feeling, a first one that was mutual (and Charles believed it to be mutual). By nature Louisa was not prone to melancholy of an amorous mood. She was accustomed to admire the object of her affections hourly, she was inclined to see him daily, and when Frederick Wentworth left Somerset so unexpectedly, it was especially hard for her. It seemed that she was still in love with him and she admired his appearance and character as much as before. But she did not really understand him, and she could not help but feel sad. Where another woman might have shown patience and maturity, Louisa, in Charles's opinion, displayed a certain fickleness of the youth. She could rarely write to her fiancé; she even less often received letters from him, and gradually everyday life and new experiences took their toll. It was obvious that dear Captain Wentworth now seemed immeasurably distant. Charles had been following all events in France, and he could assume that if Frederick appeared in Somerset again, it would be only for a very short time. He was not sure of his sister's ability to endure separation with fortitude; her careless nature, he feared, would prevent her from becoming the model of a good sailor’s wife.

So both men remained in a somewhat elated mood, which, of course, they would never have admitted to each other. Charles could not be sad for long. Frederick, on the contrary, thought that he had suffered more than enough. And so they both spent the rest of the time not without a pleasure. The letter was delivered to the main house of Uppercross, and two friends at last gave up themselves to all the amusements of hunting and riding. Charles could not imagine any other occupation that was more to his liking; Frederick was not inclined to explore the grounds of Kellynch Hall with Admiral Croft and his sister and therefore had really nothing else to do.

The young men did not return to Uppercross until midday. Mary Musgrove was already waiting for them impatiently at the front of the house. No sooner had Frederick left his horse to a servant than he was informed that Louisa was here and she wished for them to see each other again. He noticed that Musgrove couple exchanged quite cautious glances.

Frederick felt an anxiety growing in him. He hoped that one long letter and one elegant and pleasing style would be enough. However, he also understood the likelihood of a subsequent conversation. Louisa might have wanted to see him again so she could hear all his apologies in person.

He found Miss Musgrove as attractive as ever. Youth gradually took its toll, and Louisa blossomed again, as if the Lyme incident had never happened. She was a little paler than usual, but that was easily explained by the excitement she was experiencing now. Since his betrothal, Frederick had taught himself to treat her not without any tenderness. And so he politely inquired after the health of Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove. In return, he received an equally polite reassurance that her parents were in excellent health. They fell silent again.

"I received your letter, and it could not leave me indifferent," Louisa said somewhat nervously. "And when I finally learned of you being so close to me, I could not help but see you again."

"Miss Musgrove, I am deeply indebted to you for this opportunity."

She looked at him quite inquiringly, and Frederick could not keep her waiting any longer. He repeated what he had written in his letter. He was deeply saddened to have caused so many unpleasant moments. And he was utterly glad that his letter had made the impression he had hoped for. As for the events of nine years ago (Louisa leaned forward a little, listening to him quite intently), he explained himself in the same short and dry manner as in his letter. He was then staying with his brother and awaiting for his soon-to-be appointment. Edward saw the Elliot family as frequently as his duty required. And Frederick was acquainted with both Elliot girls and spent some time at Kellynch Hall with them. It all, indeed, had happened rather quickly as it could only happen at a young age. He sought for reciprocity (he did not tell Louisa that he had found one at first), but had no means of marrying, of course, and was rejected for various reasons. Eight years later he met Miss Elliot again and decided not to remind himself of past event and not to mention it in any way to anybody. He acted, of course, out of sheer respect for Miss Elliot and her family. He also assured Louisa that even the Crofts were not aware of his failed engagement. He regretted that Anne’s older sister, who was almost the only witness, could not maintain all necessary confidentiality.

Louisa kept listening to him intently but still made no reply. He was even a little confused, he did not fully understand what exactly she expected from him. Frederick was about to repeat all the courtesies and apologies in a second round, when suddenly she decided to cheer him up:

"I learned about this until quite recently. My pride was very much hurt, of course, and I am afraid for a few days my prejudice against you was too great. I could not help being jealous of Miss Elliot. If I had known of your failed engagement earlier, I would never have given myself up to such thoughts. However, your concealment, her concealment caused me so many conflicting feelings and doubts. I wrote such careless letter under this influence. But I had some time to think through. Both your response and your arrival at Uppercross could not fail to shake my confidence. Now I understand that this event had happened so long ago. It plays so little role in the present. I am listening to you now and I am ready to listen even further. All I can think of is that I may have been extremely reckless."

Ah, that was it! Frederick suppressed a gesture of surprise. She did not expect him to be merely polite. She was making excuses for him. She desired for this little misunderstanding to be safely in the past. She desired to hear that he had never loved and did not love Anne Elliot. This was what he would have said if he wanted to win her over again. And she was obviously very much inclined to him winning.

But Frederick could not assure her that Anne Elliot was of little concern to him now. His converstaion with Louisa took an unexpected turn. Although he was almost certain that he had already unraveled the net.

"Miss Musgrove, I have no doubt, given your determination and firmness of character, you had thought it all through. My failed engagement was hardly the only reason. I did not think that you might be tempted by rash feelings or that it was a mistake. It became clear to me that our separation was for the best for both of us. I presume that my prolonged absence was the cause of your doubts.

Louisa did not answer immediately. She looked down at the floor, absently tugging at the hem of her dress.

"I do have my doubts," she said at last, "but they are of different nature than you think. My sister Henrietta is getting married soon. I am very close to her and I know her fiancé as well. I cannot help but compare us to Henrietta and Charles Hayter. This is my first engagement," she added archly, and Frederick had to bear this unconscious reproach. "I did not know exactly how to behave. What to say and what to hear in response. You have told me quite frequently that you care about me, this is true. But I could not help noticing that you never told me that you love me. I have never heard these words from you or from your letters. I confess, this separation was rather hard for me. And I know this will not be the only time you have to leave me. I think ... I think if I knew for sure how you felt, I would have been strong. I would overcome everything! I would forget all the past events. I would fight hard for our happiness."

Frederick froze at once, he did not know what to say next. He had waited so long for this impulse to be frank that he had lost all hope of it. Louisa had never doubted his feelings before. And never had appealed to his honesty. She was always so sure of her power over him. Even when she thought he was paying more attention to Henrietta.

The disadvantage of Frederick's position was that he already considered himself free. He could not imagine the necessity to prove this freedom. He found it quite difficult to avoid offending Louisa while still being honest with her. Now he knew that this conversation would have taken place sooner or later. As soon as the honeymoon was over and the first excitement subsided, as soon as he was back at sea, as soon as she was tired of his eternal reserve, he knew now that she would ask, that she would guess.

Frederick sighed, summoning all of his patience. He could not tell her what she wanted to hear. As much as he would like to remain selfless, indeed.

"Dear Louisa," he said trying to emphasise their previous relations. He hardly ever called her by her name when they were engaged. "I gave you my word, and I intend to keep it, if that is what you want. I am ready to submit to your will, whatever your decision may be."

She lifted her head and looked at him. She blushed when she understood that he was completely confused and that it was impossible for her to hear what she really desired. Louisa turned her back on him quite hastily, and there were tears in her eyes. He had no choice but to watch her suffer.

"Captain Wentworth," she said, her voice still quivering slightly, "I ask for my previous decision to be upheld and for our engagement to be considered as finally broken."

She paused again and seemed to be occupied only with the view from the window. No matter what Frederick said next, he would not have calmed her. He could only hope, that time would heal her wounds and that youth would cure the depth of her feelings. He bowed and took one last look at Louisa Musgrove. At her lone thin silhouette near the window, at her white elegant dress. Without another word he left the room.

Chapter Text

Anne Elliot had been in Bath all winter, and it was becoming obvious with every day that she would be there all summer as well. For her dislike of the city Anne could not imagine how joyless her life would be there. The only thing that gave her any pleasure was the frequent visits of her friend Lady Russell.

With their cousin's departure from Bath, Sir Walter finally decided that Anne was a very useless creature. Elizabeth never managed to forgive her sister. And little as she cared for her character, she could not understand why Anne had refused Mr. Elliot. Marrying such a well-to-do and distinguished gentleman, the future baronet and heir to Kellynch Hall, might have given Elizabeth a position in society that she so desired. And for Anne, it should have been the limit of all dreams. And in spite of this, Anne had still refused him. Disappointed, Mr. Elliot soon left Bath without promising to renew his acquaintance. It seemed that society lost interest in Anne, as soon as the subject of much gossip, such an interesting engagement was finally broken.

Anne bore her sister's disapproval and her father's indifference with all possible tranquility. She took no pleasure attending society’s events and would have given a great deal to go back to Somerset and to Kellynch Hall. But where would she go back to? Kellynch Hall was long ago let, and she could not go to the Musgrove family no matter how much Mary wanted her to. Perhaps when Captain Wentworth finally married Louisa and they moved to another county, she could come to visit her sister, but not now. Even though Frederick Wentworth had not been in England for many months, Anne knew how hard it would be for her to look at Louisa’s happy face. She had had enough of these feelings when she learned of their engagement.

"Have you come to terms with this opportunity, my child?" Lady Russell asked as soon as Anne told her, that this was to be expected.

"Yes, of course. I wish them every happiness," she replied with the utmost self-confidence. And the truth was, she actually thought so.

What was her shock when she read Charles's letter. There was no turning back. It was official. He was engaged. How many sleepless nights she spent. How often she fell asleep just before dawn and her pillow was wet with tears. And she could not tell anyone about her grief, because none of her family or friends could understand it.

It was this news that made her determined to refuse Mr. Elliot at last. She would have done it before, but she had promised her dear Lady Russell to think it through. And no matter how much she was tempted by the beautiful pictures of Kellynch Hall, no matter how much she was reminded of her late mother, Anne thought for a month and then refused Mr. Elliot quite promptly. She was heartbroken but she was determined not to get married.

Lady Russell was very upset, of course. She cherished hopes of this marriage. It seemed to her that she had led Anne through all the pitfalls that had befallen her (that was through Captain Wentworth and Mr. Charles Musgrove) just to give her hand to Mr. Elliot. She longed to see Anne as the rightful mistress of Kellynch Hall, to return there as she had 20 years ago and to find her faithful friend, her dear Lady Elliot. Alas, Anne had rejected all her wildest dreams. How bitter it was for Lady Russell to know that. What a disappointment!

The saddest thing was that Anne's own fate left much to be desired. Lady Russell hoped for Elizabeth and Anne to become closer, as Mrs. Clay left Bath. But this did not happen at all. Elizabeth, though startled by a sudden departure of her precious friend Penelope (and some suspicions of Lady Russell had led her try to make inquiries), seemed even more estranged from her sister than before. Was Anne actually tired today? Was she not willing to go and visit the dowager viscountess Dalrymple and honorable Miss Carteret? Did she shy away from this truly worthy company? In that case let Anne stay at home. Why bother and take her to any society at all? Elizabeth's cold treatment of her sister, no doubt caused by resentment at not being preferred to another, could not fail to cut Lady Russell to the heart. She found Anne even more haggard than usual, could have sworn that she sometimes noticed her eyes being red, and worried that her goddaughter lost both her appetite and all the beauty which had distinguished her in her youth. She tried to entertain Anne as much as she could. She took her to theatres and to high society. To all her friends and acquaintances. She would even have begged Anne to move to her house if she was not afraid of being rude to Sir Walter. However, nothing helped.

The return of the Crofts to Bath was the only news that made Anne feel any better. For the first time in a long time she even thought about what dress to choose for the visit of her dear friends. And nothing gave her greater pleasure than to receive them with Lady Russell at her house in Camden Place. Elizabeth and Sir Walter were absent. The latter, of course, spoke of the Admiral only in most gallant manner, but the Croft’s society was nothing compared to the dowager viscountess, whose favour was the sole object of Sir Walter and Elizabeth's attention this summer.

Anne was delighted to see the Admiral and his wife again, from whom she had parted before the winter began. She gave them all her attention. And they were so enthusiastic to talk about their mutual friends, they exchanged latest news and discussed past events. Lady Russell could not help noticing that Anne was very energetic this evening.

"I must tell you that Frederick has returned to Somerset," Mrs. Croft said to Anne over tea.

"Yes, Mary mentioned in her last letter that Captain Wentworth was coming soon."

Anne could not tell the Crofts how relieved she was at this news. Frederick was finally safe at home again. Especially in these turbulent times!

Anne knew that Lady Russell was watching her closely. But the name of Sophie Croft's brother could not be omitted today. At least in the context of the latest news. And Anne wished it with all her heart.

"Except that Frederick has not resided at Kellynch Hall for even a week," Admiral Croft claimed with a bit of dismay.

"Is it true?" Lady Russell asked. "How could Captain Wentworth leave the Musgrove family so quickly?"

The Crofts looked at each other. The Admiral just shook his head, and Anne was a little worried.

"His engagement to Louisa Musgrove was broken off," said Mrs Croft gently, setting her cup of tea on the table.

Anne was so startled that she could not help exclaiming:

"How is that possible?"

She was immediately aware of her friend's gaze on her. She was confused, she blushed and fell silent. But no one except for Lady Russell seemed to pay much attention to her response.

"I was as surprised as you are," said Mrs. Croft. "Frederick did not tell us anything. He went to Lyme to visit his friends. It seems to be on some urgent business. We only learned about this when the Musgroves came for dinner."

"Is it clear what caused this?"

"As far as I am aware, and as you can see, I know all the details only from third-hand sources, Miss Musgrove could not bear his long absence. This latest news from France leaves us with no hope. Frederick will probably be called up for military service soon. That means that he would visit Somerset quite rarely. Not every woman can stand it. Especially since Louisa is so young, she will still have other options."

"It does not make any sense!" the Admiral exclaimed. "If I may say so, both men and women suffer when they are separated. He is not going there to take a rest. It would have been as difficult for him as it was for her."

"But he might not have gone to Elba," said Mrs. Croft shortly.

The Admiral just shrugged his shoulders. Watching Anne's intense interest in continuing this conversation, Lady Russell hastily changed the subject.

They spent the rest of the time pleasantly, chatting and playing cards. The evening brought no further excitement to Anne. The Crofts soon took their leave, inviting Miss Elliot and Lady Russell to return a visit. Anne accompanied them to their carriage and then stood for a long time at the window, lost in deep thought.

"I must admit that Captain Wentworth has not had much luck," Lady Russell remarked as they returned to the drawing room. — "And yet he has achieved such position and such fortune. He even received an audience with the Emperor."

Lady Russell had only mentioned Captain Wentworth in order to stir up Anne’s feelings again. She was beginning to suspect something. But Anne had already regained her composure.

"I wish him every happiness in all his endeavors," Anne said with kindness and nothing more.

Lady Russell thought with a sigh, that for the first time in a long time she saw her goddaughter look less pale than usual. And as much as she wanted to know what Anne really felt, she could not torment her any longer.

Miss Elliot, indeed, soon paid a visit to the Crofts, but this time she was alone. And now she could talk freely with Mrs. Croft without the scrutiny of Lady Russell or the bored look of Sir Walter.

Anne could not believe what had happened. Not until the very end. She was not worried about herself. It hurt her to think that Frederick's heart might be broken again. But Sophie Croft was not entirely sure about it:

"I do not know how Frederick took it," she said readily. She had no one to discuss the news with but Admiral Croft, so she was particularly enjoying Anne’s company. "I wrote to him, but I have not heard back yet. My brother never tells me anything."

"I am sure Captain Wentworth did not mean to upset you," said Anne.

"Oh, if only that!" Mrs. Croft tried to lower her voice. "It turns out that Frederick himself was looking for an opportunity to go to Elba. Of course, he must have thought of it before the engagement. But he could have refused this appointment."

"It is not strange for the young man to seek an opportunity to prolong his engagement," replied Admiral Croft. "In some cases, the engagement may be extended even for several years. These things are absolutely natural. As for sailors, they sometimes tend to run back to sea."

"However, not every woman will be able to withstand this."

"But you did, my dear," the Admiral said and smiled at Anne. "I am certain that Miss Elliott would be able to endure it as well."

Anne only smiled back and blushed.

"As you can see, Miss Elliot, my brother has recently become the subject of a dispute between the Admiral and myself. I do not agree. I feel in my heart that if he really wanted to marry, he would have already got married."

The Admiral laughed. He could not fight against the heart of his dear Sophie.

The Crofts invited Anne to stay for dinner, and she was delighted to accept their offer. At home nobody waited for her except for indifferent father and sister. Anne could not speak to Lady Russel heart-to-heart, and this kept them somewhat apart. The Crofts' company made her feel better than ever. She was pleased with their attention, their elegant manners. She could not talk about Captain Wentworth, but she could listen. And the Crofts had so much to tell her about Kellynch Hall. About all the landings and little improvements they made. Their stories warmed Anne’s heart. She did not realise how homesick she was. She desired to go back to Kellynch Hall.

While Anne indulged in nostalgia, there was a change of dishes and a sudden noise in the hall. A servant entered the room and announced the subject of constant dispute between Admiral Croft and his wife and of Miss Elliot's no less constant thoughts.

Captain Frederick Wentworth came into the dining room in his dark traveling suit and dusty boots. He was completely out of breath from the fast ride. He hoped to see Miss Elliot soon, of course. But he did not, could not expect it to happen exactly after he arrived at Bath. He blushed at the very sight of her, but quickly overcame his embarrassment and bowed politely to all present.

"Frederick, what a surprise!" his sister exclaimed.

"When did you arrive?" Admiral Croft asked him.

"Just now. I accompanied the Harvilles from Lyme. They are here too."

Mrs. Croft hastened to arrange rooms for her brother. Taking advantage of all the commotion, Frederick had an opportunity to speak to Anne.

"Please excuse me, Miss Elliot," he said as politely as possible. "I broke in here so suddenly. I really did not expect to see you at my sister's house so soon."

Anne could feel her heart pounding. She found him completely unchanged. He was still very good-looking. Just like the last time they had met in Lyme.

"I was about to leave," she said in a barely audible voice, fighting her excitement and losing to it without success.

Frederick gave her a sudden warm smile.

"I beg you to stay," he said firmly, his gaze never leaving hers. "You must not leave because of me."

Anne hesitated, but both Frederick and the Crofts would not hear of it, and she literally had to stay.

Frederick joined them soon after dinner, having barely some time to make himself presentable again. He immediately dispelled all the awkwardness that his sudden appearance had caused. He was so courteous, yet so agreeable and so elegant, and seemed to be cheerful and lively in conversation. He told his attentive listeners so many interesting stories of Elba. Anne could only wonder, as his behavior was quite different from what she had seen at Uppercross and Lyme. Then he had avoided her completely or if he had actually addressed her, it had been with only cold politeness. Now, on the contrary, he literally surrounded her with his attention. He asked for her opinion again. And behaved just like before. She sensed a certain change in him. She could only guess at the upheaval that had taken place in his soul.

The Crofts could not help but be pleased. It was quite clear that Frederick had already recovered. Sometimes long engagements, as one might know, tend to be broken off for good. Nothing is certain until two people have sealed their union with appropriate oaths. And there was no doubt that their dear Frederick could overcome this failure.

When it was time for Anne to leave, Captain Wentworth was so kind to accompany her to her carriage. And finally for the first time in a long time they were left completely alone.

"I am not willing to remind you of any unpleasant events," Anne told him gently. "I cannot help but express my condolences for your engagement to be broken off."

He smiled and opened the door of her carriage. However, he was in no hurry to give her a lift, clearly playing for time.

"Miss Elliot, I am prepared to listen to anything you have to say. Although I am very far from being upset about the above-mentioned events. As much as I would like to appear sad, this is completely," he stressed the last word "completely far from what I am feeling now."

She was confused by what she heard. She did not expect to find him so calm and restrained. She just wanted to believe that he was not too distressed.

"I have no doubt, your words will be a great comfort to the Admiral and Mrs. Croft, " was all she said in return.

"You are right, I must reassure my sister. I am afraid I owe her that explanation. After all, we cannot fail to do our duty if society demands it of us. But if we are given the opportunity to be free, the only thing we can feel is relief and joy."

She did not answer directly. She considered his words for a while. All this was in a sharp contrast to her previous thoughts. He hinted strongly that his heart had not been touched by Louisa Musgrove. He wished her every happiness, of course. Anne was well aware of the directness of his character for those with whom he wished to be frank, and she did not doubt his words.

"I owe you my regrets as well. I heard that Mr. Elliot has left Bath," Frederick said quite politely, but his tone made it clear that he was not in the least sorry for her cousin.

"I can assure you, that his departure did not cause any change in me," Anne answered hastily. "I never wanted to be the reason for this, but I waited so long for that misunderstanding to end."

"So that was it," Frederick said thoughtfully in return.

They looked into each other's eyes and suddenly laughed. They were both free now!

The old stiffness cracked and fell into pieces. They were at ease again, and their conversation was as cordial as it had been nine years ago. Anne was not aware of how much she was red in the face. And how she looked like her old self in that moment.

Frederick glanced at the lighted windows of his sister’s house. As much as he wanted to spend some time with Anne, he could not talk to her any longer than was strictly necessary. It was not without regret that he helped her into the carriage, and yet he could not resist holding her hand for a moment. She could feel the heat of his touch even through her glove.

"I hope to see you soon again. At my sister's house or at the Harvilles’. Indeed, they will be delighted if you pay them a visit."

Now he spoke so quietly, so seriously. And she assured him with all the joy, that filled her whole being, that she would soon be at the Harvilles’ house and at the Crofts' again. On that they parted. The carriage started off. Still she could not resist the temptation to look back, and she knew at once that he was still standing in the street and watching her go.

Meanwhile, there was a lively discussion in the Crofts' drawing room.

"Now Frederick will have to start all over again," the Admiral could not help but chuckle. "I hope he has not decided to stay as bachelor forever."

"Who knows?" his wife asked. "After all, he has no doubt that he will soon be called up for war."

"Then he should hurry, my dear Sophie," the Admiral said with some degree of amusement. "And he chose the right place for this. I am sure there are many pretty girls in Bath. Take for Miss Elliot. She is as good as Miss Musgrove. She may not be as young and fresh as the last one, but she is certainly more sensible."

"Yes, perhaps," Mrs Croft said thoughtfully. "I could not imagine him with anyone but the Musgrove girls, since he was only paying attention to them. But today I saw him with Miss Elliot, and I noticed that their habits and views are pretty much the same."

"And what else is necessary for happiness?" the Admiral chuckled again. This conversation put him in a very high mood. "Well, we should not rush things, dear."

"Sometimes this kind of things happen very quickly with young men," his wife sighed in return.

Admiral Croft could not disagree. How often a failed engagement, especially if it was followed by a wounded pride, soon led to a new serious feeling.

Sophie could only hope that Miss Elliot would not refuse her dear brother Frederick at her age as deftly as young Louisa Musgrove had done so.

Chapter Text

The next few days Anne spent expecting an invitation from the Harvilles. She scarcely noticed either Sir Walter or Elizabeth, as she was lost in her own thoughts. In order not to annoy her relatives anymore by the lack of interest in what the dowager viscountess had said or done, Anne took long walks completely alone. Alas, with the departure of their cousin and the ruin of all their vain hopes, both her father and her sister could talk of nothing else.

Whether because of the fresh air or the long walks or for some other reason, Anne was feeling better than ever, and gradually her old beauty began to restore. She even persuaded herself to go with her sister to the barber and the dressmaker, so that for the first time Elizabeth found her company quite tolerable. Having hitherto taken no particular interest in her appearance, Anne suddenly wished for herself to be attractive again. And who could blame her for that in particular? If the Crofts had known her nine years ago, they would have found her a beautiful young woman. She must have been as good as Louisa Musgrove then.

Anne could only hope, that Louisa was not too distressed and that her youth and cheerfulness would soon take their toll. There was still no doubt in her mind towards Captain Wentworth, who seemed to care very little about his broken engagement. And as much as Anne wanted to understand what had actually happened (she had no idea that she could have influenced it even in the most indirect way), she was too distracted by more pleasant thoughts.

As she reviewed the events of their last meeting, she knew at last that Frederick forgave her for everything that had happened nine years ago. And that he was looking for an opportunity to renew their previous acquaintance. She did not go any further in her thoughts, though she could still feel all the heat of his fleeting touch. All she wanted for him was to approve of her and renew their friendship. Oh, yes, she was quite sly, indeed! She could not help but admit it. Whatever the next turn of events, she had learned her lesson. She would be determined and she would encourage him to restore their previous relations. These were her very conflicted feelings.

Lady Russell was eager to know how matters stood. She paid a return visit to the Crofts, and the meeting between her and Captain Wentworth finally took place again nine years after their initial acquaintance. She was, of course, unpleasantly surprised to see him, but she had to admit that the young man had made an impression on her. He did not show by a word or a gesture that he was prejudiced against her. Although he had some right to do so. He was galant and courteous, though somewhat reserved. Lady Russell had previously admitted that he was very good-looking, and even nine years later she still believed it. Moreover she had heard from her acquaintances that he was quite wealthy now.

Lady Russell hurried to see Anne immediately after the Crofts. However, she did not acquire any other confession from her dear friend, except that Anne had already seen Captain Wentworth at his sister's house. She could not observe anything but the elegance of Anne’s new dress. Her goddaughter was clearly inclined for no one to influence or persuade her in any way now.

Th next time Anne saw Captain Wentworth, it was not under the circumstances she had expected. On one of those particularly rainy summer days she stopped at a pastry shop on her way home. Elizabeth always loaded Anne with small tasks that she did not want to condescend to. In this alone she saw her sister’s mere usefulness.

The order was made, and its collection was expected in the near future. Anne went to the nearby window, absently watching the raindrops to make tracks on the glass. And then, in the main street of Bath, she had the good fortune to see Captain Wentworth again.

Apparently, he had gone outside without an umbrella and was looking for a place to hide. Anne kept her eyes on him, but he was in such a hurry that he could not see her. The old Anne Elliot would not have thought of doing anything. She would have remained standing, and he would have passed her by. But after all the words he had thrown at her in Uppercross about her feebleness and his own firmness of character, she unconsciously wanted to be a little more determined. Even a little bit reckless. As it was, she could not account for the fact that she hurried out into the street and almost came face to face with Captain Wentworth. However, he was as surprised as she was. Frederick bowed quite elegantly and invited her to go back inside.

"I hope you have not caught a cold yet," he said, looking very pleased to see her.

She assured him with a smile that she had not, indeed. He, however, suffered more from the rain.

"I was supposed to meet Captain Harville and Captain Benwick nearby," he explained hastily.

"Is Captain Benwick here?" Anne asked.

"Yes, he and Harville are almost inseparable now," said Frederick, speaking so warmly of his friends.

He told Anne more about Fanny Harville. What a wonderful woman she was and how much Captain Benwick was attached to her. Anne remembered that they had been engaged for a long time and had been only waiting for the opportunity and means to get married. It was such a sudden loss. Frederick did not expect Benwick to heal his wounds any time soon. No, it could not be a characteristic of such constancy. He said with confidence that a man could not recover so quickly from such devotion and from such passion for such a woman. Not if he was really in love.

Anne listened to him with bated breath. She saw everything Captain Wentworth said or did through the lens of her own feelings as never before. She could not help but see the implication in his expression and even more so in his words. He was not just talking about Captain Benwick, he was also referring to his own attachment to Anne. He was quite eloquent. And Anne could have listened to him endlessly. Especially since he was standing as close to her as decency would allow. But, alas, she was told that her order was ready, and Frederick noticed Captain Harville walking down the street. He excused himself, went out into the pouring rain, and immediately returned with his friend. They bowed politely.

"Miss Elliot, I am delighted to see you!» Captain Harville said to Anne . "I was just returning from Camden Place when I saw Frederick. I left you my card and hope you will be so kind as to honour me and my wife with a quick visit."

She replied cheerfully that he could expect her in the very near future. She had barely time to ask him about the latest news, and Captain Benwick, and Mrs. Harville, when her order was finally served, and she was forced to wish both gentlemen a pleasant day and say her good-bye.

Although it was raining heavily outside, she stopped at her carriage and could not resist the temptation to turn around. She saw that Frederick was looking after her, absently replying to his friend's remarks. Obeying some half-conscious impulse, he excused himself to Harville and went out again.

"Miss Elliot, you are definitely going to catch a cold!," he said anxiously.

"I am not afraid of the rain, " she was quite cheerfull in return. "I would like to let the carriage go and take a walk, if only it would rain a little less."

"I remember how much you like to walk," he said, smiling at their shared memories. "And I would have kept you company, but only after I had an umbrella for both of us."

"I hope I will see you at the Harvilles ' soon."

She took a step toward him, hoping for a hearty handshake. She had not even put on her gloves yet, and he suddenly leaned over and placed a quick light kiss on her hand.

Before she could say or think, he had her firmly seated in the carriage and returned inside.

And for a long time after that, she could not think about anything else.

Her heart was beating so violently all the way home to Camden Place.

That kiss seemed to burn through her skin.

Chapter Text

If it seemed to Сaptain Harville that he could have prevented his friend from having an important conversation with Miss Elliot, he soon had a chance to compensate Frederick fully for his possible distress.

They had finally agreed when Anne would come to visit. And when Anne arrived soon after, she met Captain Benwick at Harvilles’ drawing room and, of course, Captain Wentworth, who was looking forward to her arrival. The Harvilles invited not only her, but also her father and sister. Anne knew how unlikely it was that they would appear there, and she could not really want them to. Sir Walter and Elizabeth payed their attention to nothing but the dowager viscountess, and Anne was inclined to no other company than the one she now found herself in.

They all had a very pleasant time, as only young people could spend in the society of their dear friends, being all about the same age, with the same views and interests, and not having over themselves a strict supervision of any older relatives.

Frederick could finally devote all of his attention to Anne without it being taken too ambiguously. As the Harvilles had already guessed everything, and Captain Benwick was too wrapped up in his own sorrow to notice the happiness of others. Captain Wentworth sat next to Anne at dinner, and it seemed as if all his looks and gestures were intended for her alone. He did not think to be careful now, and he did not hide it from the others.

Anne found Frederick more relaxed in the company of his friends. He was not as reserved as usual; he joked and laughed with the Harvilles, and did his best to sooth Captain Benwick with his compassionate words. Anne thought again that his friends might have been her friends, indeed. And if she had wanted to, it would have been this way even nine years ago. And still remembering all the reasons that had held her back, she could not help but admit that she would have been much happier in his company than otherwise.

Anne had a lively conversation with Captain Benwick after dinner. She asked him how much of the prose which she recommended to him he had mastered, and what kind of poetry he had recently been interested in. Benwick, who read a lot and wanted to share his thoughts, reminded her of their conversation in Lyme, when they had discussed the degree to which men and women were devoted to their feelings for each other.

He found several new examples from the literature, and since he was not inclined to accept the superiority of the fairer sex, he tried to prove his case to the contrary. Captain Harville also joined the dispute and sided with Benwick. Frederick seemed to be engaged in conversation with Mrs. Harville, but he turned his head and listened to them just as Anne, blushing, was hotly repeating all that she had said before in Lyme. Women did not give up their feelings even when all hope was lost. Their eyes met in that moment, and from the way he looked at her, she knew that he had heard that phrase and all her other arguments as well.

Her visit passed so quickly that Anne hardly noticed that it was a time already to say good-bye. She thanked the Harvilles for their hospitality and promised to have another visit as soon as it was possible.

"Miss Elliot, if you do not mind," Captain Harville said to her as they parted. "Wentworth ordered me to give you this letter. I understand that this is against the rules, but I beg you to accept it."

"Thank you," she took thin envelope from his hands.

"Are you feeling well, Miss Elliot?"

"Yes, thank you," she repeated excitedly and could not stop thinking of anything else but the letter.

She took a hasty leave of Captain Harville and dismissed her carriage, intending to walk to Camden Place alone. She could read the letter without any interruption on her way back.

Anne had gone a little way down the street, when her impatience became so great that she opened Frederick's letter and began to devour the following lines with her eyes:

I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.

Anne felt her legs give way beneath her. She sat down on the nearest bench and read his letter to the end.

I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, nine years and a half ago.

These lines blurred before her eyes, she could not believe it. She read his letter again, and only then the happiness filled her soul. And when it did, it seemed to fill her to the brim.

You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan.

"Miss Elliot!" a familiar voice reached out to her.

She rose and saw Captain Wentworth standing beside her.

"Harville told me that you let the carriage go. As soon as I heard about it, I hurried after you. Let me walk you to…»

He stopped talking suddenly when he saw the open letter in her hands. Anne was barely breathing.

I have loved none but you.

Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes?

Frederick looked at her intently, not daring to do anything else.

"Captain Wentworth, I am in receipt of your proposal," she said, fighting her excitement and losing to it. "I intend to accept it."

"Are you ... are you quite certain?" he paused, but forced himself to finish the sentence.

"Yes, I am absolutely determined. And nothing, you can be quite sure of that, can persuade me otherwise."

Now Frederick was full of all sorts of conflicting feelings. A thrill, a joy, a relief and gratitude all mingled in him at once. His happy and admired look seemed to say: You put me out of great misery.

All the excitement Anne had been through affected her so much that she leaned gratefully on his arm. Together they walked slowly to her house in Camden Place.

Frederick was ready to repeat every word he had written to her in the letter. Every confession he made. He was ready to tell her the whole story. He had never loved anyone but her. He realised it too late, and he was so severely punished for his rash behavior.

The weeks that Frederick spent with his brother in Shropshire were among the most painful of his life. Yet at that time he preferred Edward to any other possible company. It was his elder brother’s house at which he had been a guest nine years ago, and Edward had witnessed the events that had taken place in Somerset. He could not remember Lyme without a shudder now. He thought he was even more of a fool than Edward thought he was.

Nine and a half years ago Frederick was glad when all his relatives left Somerset, for he was determined never to return there or to see the Elliot family again. His resolve was considerably shaken when he learned that his sister Sophie intended not only to return to Somerset, but to settle in no other place than at Kellynch hall. The name of the Elliots was again in his ear, with all the details that followed about the state of Sir Walter's affairs. He was opposed to the lease of Kellynch Hall, and in spite of all the cordiality of his sister and Admiral Croft, he did not intend to stay there for more than a few days and then proceed to visit Edward and his wife in Shropshire. He knew that the Elliots had moved to Bath, which meant that he was not in any danger of meeting Anne again. Still, Frederick did not like to stay long at Kellynch Hall, which was associated with so many unpleasant memories for him.

However, everything went as well as possible. Time seemed to have cured him, and when he returned to Somerset, to the walls of the house where he had once been so cruelly rejected by the former inhabitants, he felt nothing but the slightest excitement. He was even delighted enough to pay a visit to his new neighbors the Musgroves. They were extremely well-mannered and pleasant people, he thought. What was his surprise when it appeared that Anne had not only gone to Bath but that she was staying with her sister at Uppercross. He had not sought a meeting with Anne, but he could not avoid it now. And he must admit that later he was so pleased with himself as he seemed exactly how he wanted to be — bored and indifferent. He was even a little disappointed then.

Frederick changed his plans for Somerset with quite ease, deciding to stay at Kellynch Hall longer than he previously planned. He was suborned by the Musgroves’ warm welcome. How different their behavior was from the cold, stiff Elliots, who decided that he was not worthy enough for Anne. His wounded pride found satisfaction in the attention and admiration of the Musgrove girls. And since fate had brought him to Anne again, he must let her know that he had not forgiven her, and that he disapproved of all the feebleness and compliance of her character. In fact, as he had only realised in Shropshire, he was not indifferent at all, he never could be. He was angry and hurt, and he still cherished these feelings altogether. He was insulted even by Mary's remark that Anne had never told her that they were acquainted with each other.

So he began to cross paths with Anne Elliot again, exchanging only a few polite words. He had to admit that Anne was extremely stiff and distant to him. He noticed that she spent more time with her nephews than with all the others put together. However, he did not expect anything else from her, and this was absolutely fine with him. He was busy either with Louisa or Henrietta, and he could not tell which of the Musgrove girls he liked more. He did not notice Anne at all, and he was not inclined to. Except that sometimes there were unconscious signs of attention in his address to her, which surprised him as much as her. Well, he told himself, he could not be impolite.

The first thing, that alarmed him greatly, was the news that Charles Musgrove had proposed to Anne before his marriage to Mary, and she had refused him in return. This could not but unsettle Frederick, who was dazed and perplexed. He considered Charles Musgrove as a most agreeable young man. The eldest son and heir of a respectable family in the neighborhood of Kellynch Hall, he had all that Frederick had lacked nine years ago — a fortune, a land, an estate, a proper position in society. It was a good match for Anne in every way. It would certainly have been better if she separated from her family and replaced them with the Musgroves’ company, who clearly were fond of her. All reason, by which Anne had been always guided, was in favour of this marriage. So why had she refused Charles? Louisa could not give him a complete answer. Mr. Musgrove believed that Anne was persuaded by Lady Russell. Ah, Lady Russell… How could he have forgotten Lady Russell? Still, the news continued to occupy him intensely. He was lost in speculation. Was it possible that he could be the cause?

Their trip to Lyme made the situation quite ambiguous again. He had forgotten that his friend Harry knew the name of the woman to whom Frederick had once been engaged. Captain Harville could not restrain a certain surprise at seeing him in the company of Miss Elliot. And before many days had passed, Frederick noticed that his friends liked Anne much better than the Musgrove girls for the interest and attention she had shown to Captain Benwick. What a nuisance to see this and to know that Miss Elliot, if she had already been Mrs. Wentworth, would fit perfectly into society of his dearest friends!

Fortunately, he did not have much time to think about it; he was too often preoccupied with either Louisa or Henrietta. It was only in Shropshire when he realised how careless he had been to the attention of the Musgrove girls. Their obvious admiration flattered him very much, indeed, but nothing more. And yet he was completely blind to the fact that he had almost ruined Henrietta's engagement. Later Charles accidentally joked about this. Frederick himself never connected Mr. Hayter's precarious position with his presence at Uppercross.

However, he was more fortunate with Henrietta than with Louisa — Henrietta proved to be quite faithful. But Louisa’s heart was free. And how carelessly he encouraged her, praising the determination and firmness in women. He just wanted to annoy Anne; instead, he only provoked Louisa. The latter behaved with him too freely, seeking his attention more than he was willing to pay. And he, he alone was to blame for what happened in Lyme. Now he could not help recalling his past behavior without the feeling od shame. How Anne must have felt watching him and Louisa, and it was at Lyme that Frederick himself first seemed to become jealous. He could see that Captain Benwick was attracted to her. Nor did he miss the admiration of her cousin, whom they had met one day on a walk.

The whole depth of the trap into which he had fallen by his own imprudence was revealed to him after the accident in Lyme. While Louisa was recovering, Harry did not fail to congratulate him on his future marriage. Too late, Frederick began to understand himself. But Louisa and the rest of the Musgrove family could not think or speak of anything else. And if it was as Harry had told him, he had to consider himself as bound to them for his former indiscretion.

He decided to go to his brother in Shropshire before it was already too late. He hoped that in his absence, Louisa’s feelings for him might weaken the bonds between them.

"I was most surprised by what Edward had told me in Shropeshire," Frederick confessed to Anne as they walked towards her house in Camden Place. "My brother has known me longer than anyone else, which is probably why his words had an effect on me that I could not forget for a long time afterwards."

After listening to Frederick most attentively, Edward reproached him for not leaving Somerset as soon as fate had brought him back to Anne. He considered it as a great mistake to restore their previous acquaintance. And if he had known this before, he would no doubt have hastened to warn Frederick that he would suffer from Anne Elliot as before.

Once, Edward had thought that his brother's infatuation was only the result of his youth, and that his recovery was only a matter of time. But eight years had passed, and he had never seen Frederick in love with another woman, or heard him speak of anyone as he had spoken of Anne.

For six weeks Frederick could think of nothing else. All the feelings, that had possessed him since Anne broke off their engagement, returned with renewed force. Her image never left him, day or night. And when he returned to Lyme to take Louisa home, he repeated to Harville what he had said to his brother before.

To the roar of the waves and the howling of the wind, he confessed to his friend and to himself, what an unfortunate fool he had been.

Chapter Text

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.