Plans of His Own Making
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 Chritmastime 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
“Last chance to get out, Harville,” Captain Frederick Wentworth said. He looked through the glass and counted seven reefers tending the sails, idlers on the deck, and two landsmen along with the captain on the quarterdeck of the Baron’s Bride. He thought little of a captain who would share the hallowed quarterdeck with passengers.
“Thank you for the offer of escape, sir,” Commander Harville murmured. He was taking notes and not paying close attention.
Wentworth lowered the glass. “When I conceived of this plan to get us some notice from the power’s-that-be, I was a mere babe as to the grotesque devices smugglers use to keep themselves safe, such as taking on passengers.” He raised the glass and looked again at the deck of the Baron’s Bride.
Harville underlined something, tapped a period into place, and closed the notebook. He tucked it and the pencil in his breast pocket. “You must admit, sir, innocents make excellent cover.” He took out a smaller, less costly telescope with which to study the ship.
Wentworth laughed out loud. “Ha! Some ‘innocents’ are not what they seem.”
Harville and Wentworth had begun hunting their prey when the Baron’s Bride first left Minehead the morning before. Oh his first, distant view of the trio, he’d recognised them as the Elliots of Somerset. Sir Walter and eldest sister, Elizabeth Elliot, had been unmistakeable. Both father and sister were wrapped in purple wool and while he sported a tall beaver, perched on the sister’s head was a contraption resembling the very animal. The Captain couldn’t remember the precise remark, but Harville had made an extremely amusing comment about it all. Wentworth had enjoyed a few moments watching the pair skitter around like clumsy children skating on a millpond. “Serves them right,” he’d muttered. They were too vain to give up wearing fashionable shoes with smooth leather soles. Solid, commonplace boots would have given them purchase on the wooden deck wet with sea water and rain. This obvious was not an option.
Though he’d tried, he’d never gotten a clear look at the second woman in the party. For a short while he presumed the woman naturally would be Anne. However, the woman kept a conspicuous physical distance from the others, and her noticeable deference to them made it simple to dismiss her as Miss Elliot’s maid. Wentworth hoped it was so for he’d no desire to come in contact with Anne Elliot ever again. Moreover, if the girl was Anne, good sense would dictate giving up this particular operation. If it was not Anne, he would be wasting a prime opportunity to pillage the records of one of the most prolific smuggling captains presently working the Irish Sea.
Setting aside the possibility of Anne Elliot’s presence, the precise and cold hatred for Sir Walter Elliot swept over him with the same force it had the day before. That such active revulsion was still alive in his breast was truly alarming.
“I noticed those ones earlier,” Harville said. “Well-dressed. Must be some bloke not wishing at Christmas to pay the full freight to Dublin.”
“Rest assure he’s a shoddy soul looking only at what he’s charged. There’s not a thought in his head the ship might be smuggling something like gun powder.” Wentworth motioned for a sailor to join them. “We can only pray that White Hall will see past our own shoddy business and give us a nod of appreciation.” He gave orders to man the guns.
“Aye, sir. Fortunately for us, the likes of Captain Conard Williams and others of his slippery sort has heard we’re in the local waters.”
“Yes, fortunate indeed. We’ve got a reputation in just a few days. I told you that plucking ‘em off one-by-one and letting ‘em try to figure out who we are was the quickest way to gain their notice. None of that going around and laying hints we’re interested in joining an established crew.” Despite his earlier proclamation of shock concerning smugglers taking on passengers, he could feel no pity for this small-minded country noble. The ladies he had a bit of sympathy for, but not for the first time in history were poor unwitting women trapped in the midst of an exceedingly dangerous game of cat-and-mouse.
Harville cleared his throat. “I bow to your masterful reading of our fellow bandits, sir. You were right as usual.” He snapped his glass closed and slipped it in his pocket. “She’s rigged and ready to fly at a moment’s notice.”
Wentworth called the hands to their stations. “Then let us not waste all that effort on their part. We’ll take our time getting a little closer and then see how well the Bride responds to the rough wooing of our cannons.”
The Captain sent Harville below to take a meal while everything was quiet. He watched and waited, alone with his memories of a cool summer in the country just two years previous.
Commander Frederick Wentworth had taken his time becoming acquainted with the young, lovely Anne Elliot in the early summer of 1806. She was shy at first but soon opened the gates and allowed him behind to see an intelligent woman with a sharp sense of humour, nearly a match for his own. Her way of nodding whenever he opened his heart to her was flattering and cemented his desire for her as his wife. Upon applying to Sir Walter, the Baronet had not denied consent, but did act astonished that such an idea could spring into the young man’s mind. It was her father’s opinion that the union is unsupportable, and that the union did not even deserve the notice of the family. In no uncertain terms, if they did make such a ridiculous blunder of marrying, the pair would have no financial support. “There will be nothing gained by conniving and grasping at an attachment with the good name of Elliot, sir,” had been the baronet’s parting comment.
The whole exchange had angered Wentworth to be sure, but he was equally amused that the silly old fop had thought the approval of the locals, along with the old and elegant money of the Elliots had any attraction for him. Why would it? Wentworth fully intended to create his very own, very large, golden pile with a ship he was positive would be his soon. There was no need of support from Sir Walter Elliot. Therefore, the idea that he wanted Anne for such a trifling thing as alliance was too laughable to even discuss with her.
When told generally of her father’s disinterest, Anne had made all the right noises and consoled him with honeyed words, and pronouncements aplenty of her love for him. She had told him that her father’s disapproval meant nothing to her, and that his love was all she needed or wanted. For several days, her sweet words of love and support buoyed the occasional dark doubt that creeped into his mind.
One day, they parted as usual, each promising to languish until their next meeting. Unusually, it was several days before they met again. When he did finally see her, immediately her mien alarmed him. He was certain that only a summer illness could account for her pale and worn appearance. Her explanation, she was pale and weary from lack of sleep and appetite. After a very little coaxing at all, there was a flood of tears to give emphasis to laments of familial disapproval. This state of affairs seemed to him to be no more relevant now, days later, than it had been earlier in the week. Before he could say as much, she said she must break the engagement.
“The only reason for this would be doubt on your part concerning my ability to provide sufficient support for you and a family.”
“No, Frederick. It is not that.”
“Then why do you break the engagement?”
“What else can I do? Without Father’s consent, we cannot marry.”
“Your father did not withhold his consent. He merely stated that he did not like it, and that he would do nothing for us in the way of support. I shall do what is necessary for our support.”
“I know that. I have faith that apart from of the impropriety of the match…”
Her pause was so brief as to be almost no pause at all, but it was enough. “Impropriety. What is there improper here?” He would not allow her to answer. “Oh I see, the impropriety is that the son of a merchant—and not a very successful merchant at that—would be polluting the exalted bloodlines of the Elliot family if he were to join with one of the daughters. I see how it is. The uniform shows well enough at the dinners and parties, but don’t examine him too closely. He’s too rough and lacks the refinement necessary for Miss Anne Elliot of Kellynch Hall.”
She cried her tears and sounded convincing enough in her denials. When she took his hand and kissed it, claiming he could not be more wrong about her feelings, she almost changed his mind. Almost. “Perhaps you feel that kisses in the moonlight were the real impropriety and now you see your opportunity to disentangle yourself. Moreover, to do it with no blame. It is all Sir Walter’s fault, and none for dear little Annie.”
“No, Frederick, it is not like that. It is not! Please see it from my side.” She held his hand to her cheek and sobbed.
He pulled it slowly away. “It is just like that. You have a right to refuse me, Miss Anne, but you haven’t the right to make me like it.”
In two days, he was heading back to Plymouth, fresh in his resolve to prove himself to the world, and to Miss Anne Elliot of Somerset.
Anne Elliot watched the cook’s mate emerge from below, a cask of garbage perched on his shoulder. She had watched the man the day before and was fascinated by the lowly process of ridding the ship of its food scraps. It was not the act itself that fascinated her, but that, as he crossed the small deck of the Baron’s Bride, he gathered an interesting little retinue. There was the little boy who served the captain and a few older lads who had sneaked away from their duties. They all skipped and hooted, acting as though this daily chore was the Irish Sea’s version of a Bartholomew Fair. The next set interested was the wheeling seagulls that screamed for their free meal. The last, most unexpected group, were grown men who would never admit an interest in such a mundane display, but were nonetheless.
Elizabeth came to stand beside her at the railing. “Let us rejoin father and then go down to our rooms. The spectacle in the back is disgusting. I really wish they could do it when we are not about.” She turned and started away from the rail.
“It is called the stern,” Anne said to her retreating sister. She remained at the railing.
The very first day of travel, Sir Walter Elliot and Elizabeth had agreed that the cost of their two-day passage should naturally include the complete reworking of the ship’s duties to suit their more refined sensibilities. The physically limited accommodations put each of them out greatly, but it was the persistent clanging of the bell that annoyed them most. Once Anne became acquainted with its half-hourly meaning, she found its predictability comforting and marvelled how it aided in her understanding of the rhythms of the sailing life.
The Baronet and Elizabeth also felt it reasonable that the less attractive members of the crew be assigned to areas of the ship not used by the passengers. Her father was especially disturbed by some of the men’s less than keen standards of cleanliness. Thus far, the one attempt to bring their concerns to the captain left them disappointed.
Anne found no reason for dissatisfaction. The ways of the ship were mysterious and interesting to her. And everyone she asked cheerfully answered her enquiries. When she had asked the cook’s mate why barrel and all were thrown overboard, she was told, “There ain’t nothing to be done with it, ‘cept ‘haps burn it. But we carry wood for that.” The man’s accent made it difficult to understand his answer, and she’d puzzled over it for several minutes, but that was part of the charm of this voyage.
For some reason, the cook’s mate dumped the garbage out of the cask first, and then tossed the cask. The birds disappeared below the railing and the human audience variously leaned over to watch them, or wandered away back to their work.
Anne worked the green jade cross her mother had left her as she gazed on the gentle arc left in the sea by the Baron’s Bride, likening it to the furrow left by a plough. “It is not an original idea to be sure, but true nonetheless,” she thought. Eventually, the cask bobbed to the top of the wake churned up by the ship. It was nothing now but a dark speck in the white trough. There was certainly nothing here that would have interested her sister.
Anne breathed in the cool December twilight. Even the scents left over from the trash were washed clean by the bracing air. She resisted the urge to think of a young man from her past. It only took a few moments for her to fail at this and wonder if he too was fortunate enough to be at sea today.
A voice above called out and interrupted the tender thoughts. The deck came alive with the men running and calling. Very quickly she had learnt when someone called out from above, the quiet rhythm of the ship was broken and everyone moved hurriedly in a well-practiced reel. Anne stood out of the way and watched the expert mayhem.
The captain gave orders that “more canvas” be employed, and that two small cannons be brought to the stern of the ship.
The fading light made it difficult to see, but soon Anne could discern a smaller ship was quickly gaining on them. Thanks to the added sails, Baron’s Bride picked up speed. The unknown ship’s sails seemed tiny in comparison to those just hoisted by the crew. Despite this, the second ship was coming upon them with great speed.
Very soon, the second ship was close enough for her to easily make out two men on the prow, looking through telescopes. The taller of the two lowered his glass and spoke to the other. She could see them more clearly now and turned away when she realized they were looking directly at her.
Anne hated the idea of being observed by the strangers and hurried across the deck to hide herself away from them. As she dodged the crewmen, she heard mutterings about “pirates,” and “smugglers.” Before descending the companionway, she took another look at the approaching ship. She felt as if it was coming for her alone.
It was all she could do to make her way to the cramped cabin she shared with Elizabeth. Her sister and father were taking tea with the ignorant joy of believing nothing above their heads was amiss. And once again the conversation involved speculating on the delights to be had once they arrived at the ancestral home of the Viscount Dalrymple.
“The Irish are rather savage as well we know, but one cannot discount the English influence of the Elliot side of the family.” The Baronet took a drink of his tea; secure in the wisdom of his declaration and that the proof of it would be very soon before their eyes when they landed in Dublin. Elizabeth heartily agreed having nothing to counter, or to add.
They were blissfully unaware of their predicament until Sir Walter noticed the ship shudder and then surge ahead. “The captain surely understands our desire to arrive in good time and has chosen to speed us on our way.”
Anne decided it was time to inform them of her observations on deck. The roar of cannons interrupted her. The blast was followed by the ship jerking and slowing noticeably. Above their heads, the thudding of men running on deck, and panicked shouting was deafening. It was only an instant before the door burst open. Several men entered, filthy rags tied over their faces. Only their eyes were visible. The sound of shattering china mingled with Anne and Elizabeth’s screams. The intruders said nothing, but went straight to the ladies, quickly putting hoods over their heads. Anne could hear her sister’s muffled screams and her father threatening harm to the men if presumably his hood was not immediately removed.
“Silence.” A deep, commanding voice had her attention. The voice continued to speak, and she no longer heard her father.
Upon mounting the deck, Wentworth ordered the captain of Baron’s Bride to the brig.
As Captain Williams fought and cursed his attackers, Harville shrugged by him and entered the Great Cabin. He joined Wentworth, pulling down the black silk scarf covering his face. “The maid was taken to dining room as you ordered. The other two are in the sick berth.”
The captain’s fore cabin was a shambles. Williams, realising Bride was under attack, had been somewhat successful in his endeavour to destroy piles of documents. If they were lucky, the documents would incriminate enough smugglers to fill several cells in a Navy prison. An added joy would the names of the buyers of their wares. If they were very lucky, there would be the names of customs men taking bribes to turn a blind eye to the smuggler’s activities along the coast. All the information was useful, but it was the names of traitorous customs men that would make their Navy masters sit up and take notice, and hopefully make the dangerous undertaking worth their while.
Harville looked around, finding no glasses he offered Wentworth a bottle of wine sitting open on the desk. “Why is it that smugglers have better accommodations, and far better provisions than the officers aboard a King’s ship?”
The Captain laughed as he took the bottle. “They steal it all, Tim. Besides, they are in the business of making a profit. We are in it for the glory, honour, and little bits of tin to hang on our uniforms.” He tipped the bottle and drank.
“Are you sure you wish to speak to the passengers? I don’t see that it will do any good.”
“Who knows? Maybe one of them saw or heard something useful to us.” He passed the bottle back to Harville and paged through one of the logs.
“Is that why you separated them? Do you suppose the maid is more likely to have heard something from the crew?” He took a drink.
Wentworth shut the log. “Yes, that is it exactly. She’s a servant and the others would not have had anything to do with ordinary sailors.”
“Oh, you never know. Some of these fashionable nobs like to rub elbows with the common folk now and then; fancy themselves ‘of the people’ like the Americans, you know.”
“That’s not likely when it comes to Sir Walter Elliot.”
“You never mentioned knowing him.” Harville frowned.
Wentworth paused. He had no desire to tell Harville that he knew the baronet, or any other personal business to do with the top lofty Elliot clan. He closed a green ledger on the table before Timothy could see there was nothing written about the passengers. “No, but his name was in the log.” He picked up his gloves and pulled up the black scarf he to wore for a disguise. “I’m off to rub elbows with my betters.”
Wentworth entered the sick berth to find the prisoners herded into the centre of the room, clutching one another as their two rough guards taunted them. One of the men cuffed the second when he noticed the captain. The jeering ceased.
The sick berth was dark and dank, though Wentworth was surprised at its generous size. At one time, it had likely held hammocks for the sick and injured, but now all that remained were the iron hooks in the rafters. The room was partly filled with cargo. He could smell powder mingled with dust and sweat. The Baron’s Bride had once been a fine ship and was now a surprisingly elegant vehicle for smuggling. Her fall grieved his sailor’s heart.
He took a seat at the table and put his feet up. He fought the urge to remove his mask. While he was certain that the two years separation was enough, and it was unlikely the Baronet would recognise him, Wentworth could not risk otherwise. He leant the chair on the back legs, pushed his hat onto his forehead, and then motioned the hoods removed.
Both father and daughter blinked even in the dim light. Immediately, the Baronet began prating on about his title, the impropriety of their rough treatment, and demanding an explanation. “You may rest assured I will be contacting the owner of this vessel and apprising him of this indignity.” He looked Wentworth up and down and with a gesture designed to show his contempt, looked away to examine a rip in the seam of his lace cuff.
Just as the lady was about to start on him, Wentworth stood in a smooth motion that sent the chair clattering to the floor. The loud crash startled the Baronet and halted the woman’s harangue mid-sentence.
Wentworth removed his gloves as he walked. He tossed them on the table as he came closer to the pair. The Baronet stepped back, exchanging places with his daughter. Elizabeth turned to escape. Wentworth seized her by the arm. He pulled her close. To the Baronet, he said, “Coward.” To the girl, “Do you have anything else you wish me to know, missy?” Elizabeth glared, but then looked away, shaking her head.
He pushed her to her father. “Neither of you has asked after the maid. Do you not care what has become of her?” He was sorely tempted to describe some imaginary evils that were to befall their servant.
For a moment, Wentworth saw some fight in the old man. Sir Walter was straightening and puffing up. “That is not a maid, she is my younger daughter—”
The preening git had not mentioned Anne by name and there was an Elliot daughter younger than her. Mary was her name and she had been left at school over the heartbreaking summer of the year ’06. Even if she had been home, she was likely too young to have known about the love affair, the Baronet’s refusal of Wentworth’s proposal, Anne’s breaking the engagement, or his leaving the country that had soon followed. There was no reason to think the other woman was Anne Elliot.
The Captain stifled a laugh. “Shut up. You are more insulted that I mistook your daughter for a servant than the fact she is a woman who might be abused. Such disregard only makes you less a man.” He motioned to the guard at the door. “Take them back to their cabin. Lock them in.”
Sir Walter tried to avoid the sailor’s grasp, but eventually submitted. “We were taking tea when were so crudely set up—.”
Elizabeth had continued to glare daggers at him, but was following her father out the door. She suddenly stopped, broke away from the guard, and faced Wentworth.
With a motion both graceful and strong, she pulled away the silken scarf from Wentworth’s face.
The young woman’s warm brown eyes narrowed but the worst Wentworth saw was a milky complexion highlighted by ravishing pink cheeks.
This Elliot sister was prettier than Anne, but her contempt for him now, and in years past, made him dislike her even more.
Elizabeth frowned, and then said, “Please, let my sister go.”
This simple plea seemed genuinely heartfelt. He almost regretted that he must continue the pretence. He took her arm, turned her, and pushed her forward. “Get them out of here.”
Anne was helpless. A hood blinded her and her hands were painfully bound. The sweet, putrid smell of the hood was overpowering. Its coarse weave caused her to itch everywhere it chaffed her skin. She endeavoured to think neither of the physical discomfort, nor the uses it had been put to in its past. As if the hood was not enough of a trial, she sat in a hard chair. This combined with her blindness and the swaying of the ship made her sick to her stomach.
There were the usual sounds above on the deck, muffled further through the hood. She heard voices as well, but could not say how many or from where they came.
A sudden sharp noise made her jump. She feared someone had entered. The man who had brought her to the room had told her to stay put. Soon after, the door had slammed, but she now wondered if he had ever left her. If every action was meant to inspire fear, the tactic was working wonderfully.
Anne decided to risk removing the hood. The attempt failed miserably when no matter how she struggled, she could not reach the knot with her bound hands.
Her worst fear was that no one would ever come to free her.
Visions of being trapped in the hood forever tormented her. Particularly thoughts of water rising around her consumed her thoughts.
Breathing was suddenly difficult and her hands begin to shake. She stood and tried to orient herself.
The door slammed hard once again. “And where do you think you’re going?”
The deep voice surprised her. She brushed against something and was startled again. To her embarrassment, she squeaked like a frightened mouse. She began to fall and blindly flailed to steady herself.
Strong hands took her, one by the waist, and the other by the hands. The person held her like this for a long moment. Anne feared what he might be contemplating. In the midst of these scattered fears, he released her hands. Something scraped on the floor and he placed her in a chair.
She could feel him standing directly in front of her. His feet were on either side of hers, his legs pressing against her knees. It was eternity before he ordered, “Stand up.”
The agony of the hood seemed nothing now. Fearsome thoughts of what awaited filled her mind. Her breath quickened and her hands began to shake even more. He was too close. She could not help brushing against him. Why had he seated her? What sort of evil heart induced him to toy with her, to humiliate her in this intimate manner? There was nothing to do but comply. With as much dignity as she could muster, she tried to stand, but lurched.
He again caught her.
Anne held her bound hands up between them, but still, there was no escaping the warmth of his body. “Please, sir, please remove this hood. I can’t breathe. Please.” She despised the sound of her own small, bleating voice. Her hands twisted and groped blindly. The thought of a man capable of such cruelties, smirking and taking pleasure at the sight of her struggles was embarrassing.
His large, cool hands took possession of hers. The grasp was hard at first and then slackened. There was a little tug and the coarse rope fell free. He now held her hands between his own. He lightly caressed the side of her right hand. She imagined if she jerked her hands from his she could run free. This thought was soon followed by the certain knowledge she was only deluding herself.
The man did nothing for a moment. The torture built when he pulled her even closer. She tried to jerk away only to stumble against the chair. He pulled her slowly back to himself.