In 1808, newly promoted Captain Frederick Wentworth is impatient to have a ship. He and Commander Timothy Harville figure posing as smugglers to catch the real thing in the act will grab the Admiralty’s attention. They set out on the frigid Irish Sea at Christmastime to put their plan into action. Anne Elliot’s father is pleased to find passage to Dublin so cheap at the holidays. He is not so pleased when all are taken captive by a band of smugglers. Or rather Wentworth posing as one.
A Plan of His Own Making is a Persuasion What-If in which Frederick Wentworth literally saves Anne’s life and saves her from murderous smugglers, and in return, Anne does likewise for Frederick.
PG-17 for adult situations and mild sensuality
This story is posted free-of-charge to readers, but is understood to be a rough first draft. As it is a work-in-progress, it’s all up for grabs and is subject to change when going through the rewriting process. In other words, what you read here may not be in the final, published edition. You are free to read and link to but please do not copy any of the story. It goes without saying there will be boatloads of misspellings, grammar goofs, and the occasional glaring continuity error; these will be fixed in final editing so just read and enjoy. — SK
A PLAN OF HIS OWN MAKING
At first, she encircled his neck and endeavoured to take some of her weight off his arms, but she was too tired and soon had to allow him to play the hero. At present, she was asleep. The sleep was good for her, and put off the misery of thirst and hunger. Her dozy state was also to his liking as she did not gasp when his footing slipped on the stones that made up the shingle. While he missed her company, journeying by foot was simpler this way.
He too was terribly thirsty and stopped to examine the countryside for any signs of fresh water, or habitation.
Relief came when after an hour or so, he noticed a curl of smoke against the dark backdrop of stunted trees and rocks.
He could not see precisely from where the smoke rose, so estimation was difficult. His arms ached, but he dared not put her down lest she wake. He took a deep breath, concentrated on the roar of the sea, and headed to the smoke.
As he approached a stand of trees—the smoke seemed to be coming right from the centre of them—Wentworth heard a low barking voice as he drew nearer to the source. It gave him hope of a respite.
In a few minutes, he heard some remarkably loud and abundant cursing from short distance ahead. There was no telling precisely what the sharp voices meant—considering the primary mission to find and apprehend smugglers on which he found himself—he debated avoiding the place all together. In spite of everything, their need for water, and hope of a place to rest for a while was more important than perhaps offending Anne’s sensibilities with what would most likely prove to be nothing more than crude society born of isolation.
The trees thinned considerably and he could see the source of the noise. In front of badly neglected cottage, a bent, ancient man was directing a tall, powerfully built younger man in chopping wood. It seemed the younger man was not so talented in the chore. Wentworth leant against a tree to ease his burden and watched for a short time in order to gain his bearings.
Each time the younger man tried to strike the upright stick of wood, it skittered away. Once, it struck the old man in the shins. After furiously rubbing his leg, he gave the lad a thoroughgoing tongue lashing in Gaelic. It was a farce worthy of a theatre. Wentworth suppressed a laugh and thanked a fellow officer for the knowledge of the lingua franca.
He and Patrick McGillvary, a fiery Irishman, had become good friends over the course of several lengthy commissions. On their first voyage together, McGillvary showed his frustration with Wentworth’s ignorance of the seafaring life by cursing him out in a foreign tongue. Wentworth soon learnt the tongue was Gaelic, and after winning a bet, Wentworth demanded to be taught enough of the language to hold his own. While the captain would never be mistaken as proficient, he could find food, drink, female company, and even respectably outfit a ship in spoken or written Gaelic.
Again, taking into account the likelihood that these men were smugglers, or were connected to that crime in some way, it might serve him well if these fellows thought him to be a poor fellow Irishman forced to live in England, and sail her cruel waters in order to earn his daily bread.
Bold as a tom after a shecat, Wentworth entered the clearing around the house. He saw a rough bench near the door and made for it. As he settled Anne, he took stock of the yard and the cottage. The small house lived up to, and surpassed his first impression of gross neglect. There were numerous jumbled piles of split wood leaning against the walls of the cottage and about the yard. There was more than enough to keep the place like an oven for the entire winter, or, more likely, to fuel very bright signal fires whenever necessary. The occupants also had a penchant for buckets. Many upright and perhaps still contained whatever they were meant to hold. Most others were broken and discarded. Frederick suspected that several moss-covered lumps were the same left to rot away in the sandy soil.
Evidently the pair concerned themselves with splitting wood and left everything else to the tender mercies of the elements. Wentworth could examine nothing more without raising their already high suspicions, so he took a seat next to Anne. The bench screeched, waggling a bit. He prayed it would not toss them into a heap on the ground if it broke apart.
The woodcutters, having stopped their enterprise, watched the couple closely. They said nothing but stared intently. It was then the captain noticed the younger man had almost freakishly large hands. The handle of the axe looked like a spindly stick in his grasp. The old fellow was the most weathered man Wentworth had ever encountered. Both were deeply suspicious of their sudden company, and for a moment, he regretted bringing Anne into what could very well be an acutely dangerous circumstance.
Nevertheless, Anne was rousing and it was too late to retreat. She pulled the coat closer and then nodded to the men. She did not notice their lack of manners, or was too exhausted to say so. All she could manage was a sigh and to lean against Frederick’s shoulder.
If he could beg some water, and perhaps a scrap of bread, they would be on their way. He now felt his decision was terribly wrong. If he played as innocent as a lamb, and presented themselves as poor travellers, perhaps he could get them out without a mishap. “Would you have some water? My friend is in great need.” He salted his request with what he hoped would be enough of an accent to gain a little trust.
The old man drew a grimy kerchief from his coat pocket and blew his nose, but made no move to answer the plea. The younger man shifted from one foot to the other, looking now and then to the older man. Neither did any more to assist them.
Wentworth was about to ask again, when the old man called: “Maria.” Wentworth had not noticed any noise inside the cottage, but now there was the sound of several pairs of feet. The cottage door creaked open and a woman emerged from the shadows. The man pointed to the bench.
She turned to them and smiled.
Wentworth was thrown off guard. The woman was the most beautiful he had ever seen.
It took him a moment to notice she was not only a beauty, but that she was tall with lovely read hair. And great with child.
She greeted them, and then went to the woodcutting pair.
Despite her condition, the woman moved with a languid sort of ease. Her hair was wonderfully thick, auburn, and straining to break free of the combs holding it in check. Lovely green eyes competed for supremacy with rosy cheeks, and a nose lightly dusted with pale freckles. One would expect a poor drudge to be attached to this pair of characters, but not so in this case.
In Gaelic, she inquired after the visitors. The old man replied in less-than-flattering terms. “They’s English strangers come to leech off me and mine.” The younger man laughed and let the axe swing down from his shoulder. As recompense for his derision, the heavy axe head bashed the splitting block, and bouncing back to clout him in the leg. The old man finally found something worth a chuckle.
Wentworth found his bearings and directed his statement to the woman. “My friend and I need water.” He kept the request simple.
“It looks as if you need more than water.” Maria responded in perfect English and then moved towards the door. She gestured towards the door. “Shoo, you two peepers.” Children giggled and light steps faded away. “Bring her in the house.” Maria disappeared into the shadows.
Wentworth was about to see to Anne when the old man called out to Maria, and began a fine Gaelic tirade. The old man had a limp and dragged one leg as he struggled into the cottage. The younger man looked at Anne and Wentworth. He determined it better to watch the spectacle unfolding in the cottage. He slammed the door, causing a fine shower of dust from the eaves to fall on them both.
Anne did not seem to notice. She leant her head against the house and sighed. “All this over a cup of water. I thought the Irish were a welcoming sort people.” Anne straightened and looked down at herself. With more energy than she had shown the whole morning, she brushed the sleeves of the coat and smoothed her dress. Now and again, she glanced to the door. The heated voices drifting out were embarrassing. “I can just imagine what these sort of people say to one another.”
Anne said this with perfect seriousness, without a hint of sarcasm or disdain. Laughter was Wentworth’s first instinct. This he subdued immediately. His next thought was that, very likely, her understanding of the “sort of people” with whom they were dealing was a mere abstraction, based on nothing more real then sensationalised accounts of the plight of the poor, and observations made on market days when there was a likelihood of her mingling with this sort. Her sheltered life at Kellynch Hall made her ignorant of the true depth of struggle, sorrow, and fear that life meted out to much of the world. He was truly thankful that she was so unburdened with the truth, and free to be so naïve. He, on the other hand, knew many aspects of their life all too well.
He was also glad that while this dear girl may comprehend the argument that raged was all about the two of them landed unexpectedly on the doorstep, she would have absolutely no knowledge of the vulgar and insulting language they were using. These he would keep to himself. It was these sorts of particularities that had made their earlier break up inevitable.
With the others occupied, he rose and began to look again about the cottage. As expected, there were a few more rotting buckets here and there. Around on the sunny side of the house, he found someone had been making wattle. There was a low stool where they sat to split and weave twigs and branches from nearby bushes. Bladed tools lay discarded and rusting in the grass. To his great happiness, there was also a bucket of water with a dipper sitting close at hand. The water looked uncontaminated. He smelt it and ladled some out, surprised, and relieved find it was not fetid. He took a swallow and savoured the blessed cool on his dry throat. He deemed it wholesome and brought a full dipper to Anne. “They may not be all that hospitable, but I have found some water. If we drink fast, we may be gone by the time they finish rowing.” She smiled at this. “I’ll hold the cup, you drink.”
The water was blessedly cold on her fingers when she he touched the rim of the dipper and the handle. Frederick’s hand was close enough that she could feel the warmth of it on her skin. She rested her eyes as she drank. The chill of the sweet liquid refreshed not only her mouth and throat, but her whole being. She swallowed. “It is wonderful. Here, you have some.”
He took a sip and left the rest for her. “It is good. Either we are both so dry we will drink anything, or there is a spring nearby that supplies them fresh water.” He offered her the rest, which she took, and then he went for more. Just on the other side of the water bucket, he noticed a scrap of leather lying on the ground. He nearly dismissed it as trash, but as he looked away, he saw clearly the outline of a fair-sized square. It occurred to him the unassuming landscape would be the perfect location for a hide.
The surrounding grass, unlike the rest of the area, was not overgrown and that meant the hole might be bursting with smuggled goods even now. He itched to look inside, and would if there was an opportunity to make a search, but at the moment it was more important to see to Anne. As he dipped out more water the door banged open. He looked around the corner and saw the three step out and surround Anne.
The younger man stood for a moment and then went back to the woodpile. The older man looked for a moment as if he’d join him but then paused before the bench. He stabbed towards Anne, snapping at Maria, “You see, that cur left her on us. Send her off—”
The dipper clattered to the ground when he threw it aside. He instantly inserted himself between the old man and Anne. “I’ve not left her, and all we wish is some water—” It came unbidden to his tongue and he prayed his long-neglected Gaelic was understandable.
“—which you slithered about and stole!” The old man jabbed him in the chest. Wentworth looked down and saw that water had splashed his waistcoat.
“Tomas! The water comes from the sky, for heaven’s sake. Moreover, the woman is obviously ill. Leave her be.” Maria again spoke English. She sidestepped Wentworth, and said to Anne, “Miss, I hope to help you.” She then laid her hand on Anne’s forehead. He observed there was a thin band of gold on her ring finger. Maria turned to him and asked that he bring her in the house.
When the old man realised what was coming about, he said in heavily accented English, “Stray dogs bite, Maria.” Wentworth hesitated to take Anne even deeper into the oppressive and perhaps volatile situation.
Maria turned to the man. “You are truly poor when you cannot show the slightest bit of Christian charity, Tomas. Our bread comes from the hand of others. The least we can do is give it freely.” She motioned them to follow.
Wentworth knelt before Anne. “I think this is our best hope right now, but if you wish it, we will move on.”
Anne was too exhausted and confused to add her thoughts. She needed him to settle on a course of action and care for her. Thankfully, he quickly decided on a course. Frederick picked her up and passed into the darkness of the interior.
It was surly a trick of his mind that she felt even lighter than she had earlier. He could hear Tomas just behind him, muttering some colourful Gaelic profanities. The old man punctuated them by spitting.
The cottage was one large room, and Maria pointed to a cot in the farthest corner. “Put her here, and the girls and I will see to her.” He scanned the room and saw two small, stick-thin girls standing by a table. Wentworth followed Maria’s instructions and gently placed Anne on the bed. He knelt and began to unbutton the coat.
Maria was by his side. “I see no ring, sir.” He glanced up. Her expression had lost its lightness. “If you are not her husband, you have no business doing this.”
He took his hands away. “No, we are not married. But we are good friends and I have been helping her—”
“There is no need of that now. The girls and I shall care for Miss—”
“Elliot. Her name is Anne Elliot.”
Maria rose, taking his arm as he helped her. “Miss Elliot is in capable hands, Mr—”
“Wentworth. Captain Frederick Wentworth.”
“A man of the sea?”
“Yes, I am a sailor.”
“So are most of my men. We shall all get on splendidly. Now, you go out and use what I think is your considerable charm on Tomas. As you heard, he is not fond of strangers.” She smiled and called the girls to her.
Wentworth stood aside and watched as Maria gave the girls instructions. Even in the darkness of the cottage, her complexion was glowing and her movements fluid. It was obvious, even aside from her speech that she was not born to this low and sordid life. She likely had more in the way of understanding of a woman Anne than he ever would. The strangeness of the circumstance and contrary nature of those involved was growing more pronounced with each passing episode. Wentworth did as Maria instructed him and he left Anne completely to her care.
It took several hours, and a great deal of chopped wood, but in due course Frederick came to an understanding with Tomas. While he did not completely win the old man over, their raggedy peace held through the day. Now, with the house silent in sleep, he now sat overseeing the fire, hoping his efforts would pay off with Anne’s full recovery.
To be continued …
The copyright © for the text and graphic is held by Susan Kaye