A Plan of His Own Making, part 10

You are welcome to read this story here, HERE or at Beyond Austen, depending on which format you like.

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

When Anne awoke, the fire was blazing away though Frederick was nowhere to be seen.

Anne rose and washed. Once again, Frederick had saved her from her own foolishness. His retreat was a blessing for Anne knew she was weak and that weakness would have consumed her. The thought of his touch set her on fire once again. Only Maria’s call to the table rescued her from her thoughts.

Cavan and the girls were absent for breakfast, and other than Tomas’s observation of how being rid of two hungry mouths would be a relief, the morning was amiable. As they were leaving, Maria saw to Anne’s comfort with a bonnet and pelisse and a small packet of food. “Just a bit of a reminder of your time here at the cottage.” She did not look at Anne, but only Frederick.

They were well away from the cottage and Frederick had still said nothing. She reckoned that their intense interlude was over and he was back to thinking of his smuggling. It saddened her, but she changed her mind when a sudden jog of the cart sent her flying and a strong hand pulled her back and set her right against him.

“You can’t get away that easily, Annie.” She looked up to see him smiling in a very sly way. He was unshaven when they met on the ship, and was even worse now. His hair had seen no comb for as many days. She had not thought it possible, but he now, at a glance, looked more the vicious smuggler than at first. But she knew him, and knew there was no viciousness in him. In fact, he looked more endearing than ever. In an instant she realised as dishevelled as he looked, she must be far worse.

She looked away and touched the bonnet Maria had given her as they left. It was frankly a very ugly bonnet, but it covered her head. She despaired there was nothing to be done to improve the dingy brown, rough wool pelisse that was far too big for her. Anne decided these gifts were Maria’s way of rewarding her for spoiling the Christmas pudding. She ventured to comment, “If escape is not possible, I shall stay put.” She felt sufficiently clever then to put aside thoughts of her appearance for a time.

They rattled on for not too far before Frederick leant back, rested an arm behind her, and relaxed his hold on the reins. Anne noticed his hands were bare and that there were still tiny flecks of whitewash on them. “What did our hostess give us as a reminder of our lovely visit to the cottage?” He did not look her way, but kept his eyes on the road.

As she untied the string and opened the parcel, she said, “While this was a nice gesture, we are not so far from Dublin that we need provisioning, do we?” She opened the wool cloth that bound the packet to see several smaller parcels wrapped in cheesecloth. There, prominently placed, was a note. Across the note, in a feminine hand, was the word, “Frederick.”

She was tempted to keep the note to herself, but quickly regained herself. What was it to her if Maria was so forward as to send him a note? Anne suspected Maria knew she would be the one to open the packet and find the message. It was likely a more formal mode of thanks for helping finish the room. It was likely innocent and Anne’s fears and suspicions were wasted.

“What is it?” He pulled the horse to a halt.

She started. She hid the inner packet from his view and pretended to study the contents. “Maria has sent us a few bits of things left over from the dinner yesterday.” She paused, reluctant to touch the ordinary paper.

This is childish, she thought. I am a grown woman, and he is a grown man. She handed him the note. “This is from Maria.”

He looked surprised, but pleased. He took it, sniffed it, and put it in his pocket. “Walk on,” was all he said.

Anne was dying inside, wanting to know more, but how to inquire without being overly prying. “I don’t imagine that a woman living on this lonely strip of coastline would have much opportunity to have any fine perfume.” She studied the smaller packets of food in the bundle.

“Apparently not. Maria’s note smells of beef.” He laughed a little at the joke.

“I wonder that she did not send up some of my Christmas pudding.”

The easy smile disappeared and Frederick sat straight in the seat. The topic was obviously not to his liking.

He glanced her way for an instant and still said nothing. She was about to continue when he said, “I don’t know a lot about most women, but I know about her kind. She is the sort of woman who wishes to be the only woman around. You were a threat to her.”

“Me? How silly.”

“She was very kind to begin with, but I imagine something happened, something was said that changed everything.”

Anne considered this. It was true. Once Maria’s suspicions about her and Frederick’s past were confirmed, her demeanour was noticeably cooled.

“What was it?” Frederick looked at her and waited for the explanation. Anne could not tell him, of course.

He saved her having to obfuscate. “Keep it to yourself then. Whatever it was, she has made it clear she did not like it. It is just as well, she is the sort to avoid.”

His cryptic statement was followed quickly by, “What did you think of our hosts overall?” His expression remained serious and while the question was odd, but she assumed it had something to do with his change in mood.

“I think they were very kind to take in strangers. Particularly one as needy as me.”

“Yes, it was. And to feed us such a grand meal, that was more than hospitable I think.”

“It was very good. Aside from the pudding. I have to thank you for your comments. You lied very convincingly with that story about Liverpool Pudding.”

“Yes, it was a rather good one.”

“Why did you do that?”

“Maria is a cruel woman and was particularly cruel to you. I am always put off by those who enjoy the embarrassment of others.”

His acknowledgement that he saw Maria truly was heartening. But, he made it clear he did not rescue her for her own sake, but a general loathing of the behaviour. “She did not like your manoeuvre.”

“And why should I care?”

“She is very pretty. And pretty women seem to have men’s natural sympathy.”

He laughed quietly, as though she amused him somehow. “True, but please remember beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that, oft times, beauty is only hiding desperate wickedness.” The statement was harsh and a little surprising. While she knew he spoke of Maria, she knew he would, perhaps, apply the same reasoning to her sister, Elizabeth. “What did you think of the table Maria set?”

Again, such an unexpected question caught her off her guard. He obviously wished to leave the question of Maria’s character. She thought for a moment about the table and the food that was served. Before she could answer, he asked, “What did you think of the beef?”

“It was very tasty. Well-cooked I thought.”

He smiled and leant close. “I meant, what did you think of them having beef at all. There are precious few cattle around here and I doubt it just happened into the yard.”

“You think it smuggled?”

“Yes, smuggled. Believe me, when you are poor, if you scrape up enough to have a celebration at all, the feast would centre on mutton.”

This was true. She considered mentioning that even the Elliots dined on a saddle of mutton on Christmas, but thought better as it was only one of several meats on the Kellynch table. Any comparison was best left unsaid. “I was surprised at the quantity, and now that you mention, the quality of the food. The wines were all excellent vintages and Maria had spices in abundance.”

“What of the tableware?”

Anne grew warm. “I must tell you, I was curious about all of it and did take a peek at the china. It is French.”

“French.”

“Yes, a very fine pattern. And the silver was from ________ in London. It is not cheap and I am surprised that Tomas would be so generous a man when it came to things of the household like that.” The blue kid slippers she wore also came to mind. “What did you think of the table?”

He glanced her way. “I too think it was very fine, but I don’t have any experience of fine china.”

She was pleased she could help him. “The crystal was exquisite. I was quite surprised that Maria allowed the little girls to touch any of it.”

“Thank you. I thought it was all rather out of place; I needed an expert eye to confirm my suspicions.

Anne laughed. “I am no authority, sir. But, I do know the feel of fine glass when I hold it.”

He made no reply. She noticed he was looping and unlooping a length of the thin leather reins. After a while, he suddenly said, “Is it important about the table. As for Tomas’s generosity, I have discovered that he and Maria are not married and that everything in the cottage is hers.”

This news was almost more unsettling than the idea of them being married. “But he lives with her. They sleep in the same …”

“As far as I can tell.”

“He is the father of her child?”

He laughed again. “That is a question I did not think proper to ask.” He shifted in the seat and she swore he was now closer than before. “When I spoke with him late in the night, he hinted at many things. If I want to know more, when I bring the cart back, I may stay and learn from him.”

“And will you?”

“I think I have no choice.”

Anne desperately wished to ask why he felt so, but his brow knitted itself and his mouth set hard again. Their time of polite conversation was ended.

After an hour or so, Anne noticed more people on the road. Some were walking alone or in groups of two or three. Occasionally, parties were driving large farm wagons. These were usually filled with hay. Passengers took full advantage of the warmth it provided. More often, other vehicles on the road were small carts much like theirs. Sooner than she liked, they were entering the outskirts of Dublin. She marvelled at the bustle of carts, carriages, people and animals clogging the streets. She also marvelled that Frederick was not in the least bothered by the change from country quiet to city commotion.

Anne remembered the address from her cousin’s letters and Frederick asked a passer-by. “That was obviously wrong,” he said when the directions took them into a section of town completely unsuitable for the residence of a viscountess. They were soon set right and making their way through streets lined with rows of elegant row houses. “I would have expected your cousin to have a grand mansion.” Frederick was making conversation while the driver of a cart of chickens and a groom—attached to a highly polished barouche—sorted themselves out.

“They do. My father was somewhat disappointed when the invitation was for town and not the estate. He assumed they wintered in the country.”

“Ah,” was all he said.

“Lady Dalrymple said it was adequate in every way and in a good situation to the rest of the city.”

He made no sort of response this time.

The groom and the man with the chickens made vile gestures at one another and each went on his way. The stream of traffic began to flow again. They passed a row of houses capped by one that took up double the space. “That would be your cousin’s home,” he pointed out. Anne looked back quickly and saw that it not only took up the space of two houses, but also had a large fence circling the side. It was a very fine and more than adequate to Anne’s way of thinking.

The end of their time together was coming quickly and she wished to speak to him just a little more. “Would it be better to go in through the front door, or should I go in the back way?”

He looked her over, smiling. “Not to be rude, Anne, but I do not believe you could get through the front door no matter who you claimed to be.”

She looked down. It was true. There was not a footman in all of England—or Ireland—who cared for his job, who would allow such a frowsy thing inside his master’s house. “I see your point. There will be a benefit to me using the rear entrance.”

“That is?”

“With the usual tradesmen and such, no one will likely notice you leaving me off.”

“I’ve always known you to be a clever girl.” He manoeuvred the cart into a small alleyway. “You would make a good spy, Anne.” He smiled as the cart jostled to a halt.

“Or smuggler.” She regretted not smiling as she said it. She regretted saying it at all.

His brow furrowed. “No, never that.” He looked towards the house.

There was a heavyset woman looking over greens offered by a gaunt man with a garish plaid shawl about his shoulders. There were two other young women plucking chickens. They sat on a bench against a metal railing surrounding what would be a stairway to the cellar. There were no other servants to be seen in the back courtyard. A wagon promising fresh and wholesome meats was parked with a man hoisting a hindquarter of beef over his shoulder. Frederick handed her down and she waited until another, younger man, hauled down a crate and started to go inside. “Thank you for watching over me, Frederick.” She offered her hand. There was much more she wished to say, but fear again kept her silent.

He took it with both of his. “It was my pleasure, Annie.” His hands were ice cold. He held hers for some time. “You had best go while he’s still inside.” He leaned closer and touched her cheek. “Don’t let them bully you.” She reluctantly let go of him. “Off with you now.”

He did not wait for a reply, but mounted the cart and tapped the little horse to move along. She watched for a moment, but soon crossed the alley to the house. Had she watched longer, there was a great possibility she might embarrass herself by chasing him down. She walked through the courtyard to the door. As she reached for the door, it opened and she stepped back.

to be continued

Text and graphic copyright  © Susan Kaye

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About Susan Kaye

Writer who avoids writing and a foodie who dislikes cooking.
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