A Plan of His Own Making, part 3

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

From last week: Wentworth said nothing. He could only listen.

“I knew you would succeed, and that my sacrifice would be a small part of it. And now it is all rubbish for you are nothing more than a common thief. A liar and a thief.” The room widened, the noises grew loud again, and the ship pitched as it had before.

The shouting above took on a new urgency. He listened but did not seem alarmed. She was about to continue when the door opened. A man entered and Anne recognised his coat as belonging to the man who had been with Wentworth on the prow of the other ship. She thought it odd that he had the manners to acknowledge her as he approached Frederick. “The frigate, Abraham draws near.” The stranger looked back at her.

Wentworth’s expression hardened further. He seemed to study her, but she realised his eyes had merely come to rest on her as he considered this new intelligence. “Get the documents. Take them and yourself to one of the small boats.”

“Aye, Captain.” He nodded to Frederick, and to her, and then passed through to the companionway.

Wentworth stared at the door for a moment and then came to her. “Remain here. Bolt the door. The Abraham is a King’s ship. They will see you all safely to Dublin.” A cannon fired close by. The Bride shook with two answering shots. This violent shaking threw Anne back towards the chair, and then to the floor. Instantly he was kneeling beside her. “Are you alright, dear?” He took her arm and helped her to her feet.

The confusion of men’s shouts and screams replaced the thunder of the cannon. The pounding of running feet intensified above. He made no sign that he noticed any of it. He took her gently by the shoulders. “Remember, stay down here. Please.” His grip tightened. Anne could feel his eyes examining every inch of her face. She wanted to believe he had something more to say, or something he wanted to do for her, but he soon released her, turned, and disappeared.

To obey him would likely assure her own safety, and that of her sister and father. Again, a cannon roared above. She covered her ears, and began to panic. To leave the room foolhardy. The voices and unknown noises were relentless. She ran out the door and up the companionway to find Frederick.

It was completely dark but bedlam nonetheless reigned. Precious few lanterns swayed wildly from their anchors; men running here and there carried several others. A mist had risen she thought, but then realised it to be smoke from the cannons. Everything took on a dull, subdued quality because of it. She stood aside, observing the chaos, attempting to get her bearings. The haze and acrid air stung her eyes and made it nearly impossible to focus.

The black, soaring edifice alongside the Bride must be the Abraham. Uniformed men were jumping from the railing of the taller, higher ship, onto their smaller one. She looked about and saw Frederick going over the side just feet from where she stood. A popping sound commenced and the lanterns each went dark. The cause was a mystery, but she knew she could not remain fixed and vulnerable in the open.

She groped her way along the rail, splinters stabbing her fingers and palms. The railing disappeared under her hand and she fell forward. Before she fell, she caught herself. Below her she saw the two of them preparing to row away.

“Frederick.” His name came thoughtlessly to her lips.

He raised the lantern. His tender look returned. “Go back, Annie.” The little craft dipped and he struggled to keep his balance. “Go back below. You’ll be shot.”

The warning filled her with fear. It was merely feet back to the companionway, but now that she realised fully the dangers, her only escape might as well have been miles away. “I can’t. I can’t see anything. All is dark.” Her only hope was for him to take her back down.

“We’ve got to get out of here, Captain. If Harvey Fitzwilliam takes us, the whole plot is bust.” The man took a seat and grabbed an oar.

Frederick looked into her eyes. She understood he would not return to help her. He was bent on his own escape.

Chapter 2

The dark-lantern shone a sickly yellow light on Anne’s face. Her eyes were huge with terror and her lovely mouth was twisted with fear. Her voice was barely distinguishable from the bedlam around them, but he did hear her. If only she would go below, she would be safe. Captain Fitzwilliam of the Abraham was a decent sort of man who knew his duty. He would be more than pleased to assist a titled gentleman and attractive daughters to their destination. He would not be so lenient if he caught Wentworth and Harville.

“Row, Timothy. We’ll plot our course when we are out of sight.”

The sound of his name in her strangled, panicked voice would haunt him forever. As he was about to take an oar, frigid water splashed over the side onto his legs. He opened the doors of the lantern fully and raised it to see Anne’s head slip under the dark surface of the water. If she flailed about, she might hit her head and knock herself unconscious. Or worse, be trapped by floating beneath the ship. He dropped the lantern and pulled off his cloak. The oars clattered and hit his shins as he climbed over them. Timothy grabbed the lantern, their only source of light, and held it up for him. “Make it quick, sir.” Wentworth took a breath and dove in. The freezing water shocked him. He kept his head by demanding that God should keep Anne safe.

He surfaced and looked about. “Annie,” he called quietly. “Annie.” She broke through the dark surface, thrashing and gasping. He caught her hand and quickly turned her to face away. “I have you—”

She screamed his name. He put his hand over her mouth. “You must be silent.” He struggled to kick hard enough to keep them afloat. “Trust me. I will get you in the boat.” He removed his hand and she gulped in deep breaths. “Quietly, dear,” he cooed in her ear. As soon as he touched the side of the small boat, Timothy reached down and grabbed her by the shoulder. Wentworth made his way around to face her. He groped to find her waist. The fabric of her dress slipped, but he finally got a sound grip on her. “Take her up, Tim.”

Harville hoisted her aboard. Wentworth clung to the side, watching. “Get her covered.” He was soon in the boat alongside her. She was already shivering violently. He buttoned his boat cloak at her neck, tucked the folds of heavy wool around her, and secured her between the thwarts of the boat. The tiny vessel dipped with the waves coming off the larger ships. The motion, along with a stiffening breeze, plastered his wet shirt to his torso. He could not stop the violent trembling that overtook him. His only hope was to exert himself. He moved to the oars. Timothy was already in position. They began to pull together.

Thankfully, they had not been noticed, and as they smoothly moved out of the arch of light sloping over the side of the ship, Wentworth confidence grew that their escape would come off without incident.

His heart went out to Anne. Despite the deep darkness, and his heavy cloak, he could feel her shivering, and hear her teeth chattering. “Why in God’s name did you jump?” The words came out in little batches, and with a tone more sharp than he intended.

She shifted. He imagined her looking up at him. Her silence frightened him. What if she had been injured in the fall?

“I did not jump. I was pushed, or someone crashed into me. I did not want to follow you.” She sobbed. The sounds were muffled. If there were tears, they would be added to the freezing Irish Sea.

Of course she had not jumped. Anne Elliot was a young woman whose only bit of disobedience that night was in leaving the room. Her fall into the water was nothing more than a dreadful accident, for Anne was a woman who usually did precisely as she was told. She would obey, even if her actions brought grief and heartbreak to herself and others.

*

Anne lost all sense of time. The steady motions of the tiny boat may well have gone on for hours as much as she could tell. All she could feel was the ache of her cold muscles and the pain in her jaw from clinching her teeth. Things changed only when their forward motion ended with a jolt. The men got out and hauled the boat out of the water. The sound of the wood grating against the rocks of the shingle was extraordinarily loud and she wondered if such a racket might draw attention to them. Pain shot through her neck as she raised her head to look about. There would be no one disturbed by the noise, for they were on a deserted bit of beach. The only light, aside from their own lantern, looked to be miles away. The surf relentlessly battering the rocks was the only sound. Icy wind stung her cheeks and nose so she dropped her head back down under his coat. She was too stiff and cold to move. If Frederick wanted her out of the boat, he would have to lift her out himself.

*

“She is in no condition to walk. To even try would be foolhardy. Where’s the hide?” Wentworth looked towards the boat. Anne was safe and had not stirred.

Harville held up the lantern. The light made a pathetic effort to pierce the darkness. He rose from his place on the boat’s gunwale and began to walk inland.

“Are you sure it’s around here, Harville?” Wentworth rubbed his arms hard in a pathetic attempt to ward off the cold. He ached from tense muscles and shivering.

“Sure as I am able with this infernal light. Look, the smuggler’s hole he showed me is just up behind those rocks.” They climbed a small hill and looked about. “Here it is.” He knelt and pushed aside a fragment of a board covering an iron ring anchored in a wooden hatch. He looked quickly over his shoulder. “Are you certain that you should keep her with you? We can forget the beach altogether, and press on to the inn.” Harville handed the lantern to Wentworth, brushed aside the sand, and revealed the hide. He took back the lantern and examined the hole.

Wentworth joined Harville. “Do you fear for her virtue?” He leant farther into the hole to measure its size and to ascertain of if animals were using it for a den. He prayed it contained anything that might be useful to them.

Harville handed him the lantern. “Perhaps I am too cold, but, no. Besides, the girl’s virtue is none of my concern. I am concerned this stick thrown into the wheels will distract you.” Both men sat upright.

“You see she is in no condition to press on.” He ignored his friend’s last statement. “You’ll have no trouble finding another place, out of this weather?”

Harville smiled. “No. You did well sending me off to reconnoitre this part of the shoreline. I found a couple of other hidey-holes a little farther up the way. We’ll meet at the Lock and Key the day after tomorrow.”

“Terrible way to spend Christmas.” They rose and started back down the little hill.

“Yes, well, I’ve managed to be away from home for the past three, why would this one be different? For glory and nobility, eh?” Harville went straight to the boat. “Miss?” He touched the captain’s coat and shook it a little. “Miss, we’ve arrived.”

“I shall see to Miss Elliot.” Wentworth jumped the side of the boat, barely moving it. He crouched near Anne and tried to get out of the wind. “Annie. I need you to get up. We’ve got to walk just a little way.”

She looked up. The light from the lantern cast terrible shadows across her face. “I can’t move.”

Harville and Wentworth exchanged glances. It was unspoken between them, but each knew she must move to warm her limbs. “Sorry, dear, but walking is our only chance. We can’t stay out in this weather.” He reached out, guessing where all her parts were, and stood, bringing her up with him. “Help her out, Tim.” The two men lifted her out and got her standing on the rocks.

He put his arm around her waist. “Lead us on, Harville.” They staggered away from the roaring sea.

*

Even with Frederick’s help—he was practically carrying her—each step was a torment. Both of them were unsteady as they lurched and slipped their way up what seemed to be a mountain of hard, sharp stones, punctuated by the occasional stretch of loose sand. Each step required Anne concentrate. So much so, she could not attend to the bantering of the two men. Their voices were lost in the sound of the waves and her own gasping for breath.

They halted suddenly. She was grateful and sagged against Frederick. “I thought the only hole in the ground I’d ever go into was a grave,” the Captain shouted to his friend.  His voice was strangled, likely gritting through gritted teeth. He was shaking as much, if not more, than she. In another circumstance, the mention of a grave would alarm her, but her aching head, throbbing body, and the stabbing pains in her feet took precedence. Anne did little more than lightly consider the prospect.

Harville lifted the lantern and gestured with his hand. “Your accommodations for the night.” They stood at the edge of a hole about waist deep. “Just be glad Providence saw fit not to put any of us in graves tonight, Captain.”

They continued talking. Anne was too exhausted to give rational consideration to sleeping in a hole in the ground.

Harville bent and looked around. “Did you see anything besides this bale of wool?”

Frederick seated Anne on the edge and jumped in. He took the lantern and crouched. “I saw—these.” He held up another lantern and a wine bottle. “G-give us a light.” Using some dried grass they managed to feed enough of a flame to light the second lantern. “Help Miss Elliot and then be on your way.”

Harville did little; it was Frederick who lifted her down. “Is there anything else?”

“Only a partial bottle of wine and a couple of empty crates.”

Harville lifted the hatch, ready to close it. “The wind’s picking up.”

Wentworth crouched and pulled Anne down alongside him. “Close us in then. Remember. Day after tomorrow at the Lock and Key.”

“And you’re buying, sir.” Harville laughed a little and closed the hatch.

“What is this place?” Anne realised she was out of the weather.

“It’s a hide. They’re dug out to give us a place to secrete a haul. Most of the time boats make signals and are met on the beach by those living nearby, but if the weather is too dirty, like it is tonight, we leave the goods in a hide like this.” He looked around and found a place to hang the lantern. A burst of wind screamed overhead. She could feel a breeze across her cheek. He shivered. “We’ve got to get settled for the night.” Anne could see no place for them to lie down and sleep.

He crawled by her and pushed a bale of wool, wrapped in coarse cloth, towards one corner of the hole. “There.” He tested his handiwork. “This should keep off any wind that leaks in.” The idea of cool air was repulsive, but she was shivering so hard now it did nothing to increase her discomfort.

She crawled to him. “Where will we sleep?” He had removed his coat and was now unbuttoning his waistcoat. He must stop undressing soon for he was down to his shirt with little else left to remove. “I don’t believe undressing in this cold is wise.”

He laughed and easily slipped out of his waistcoat. “Very counter to logic, I admit.” He arranged it and the coat on the bale. “The cold naturally draws all the warmth from the body. The sooner we get out of our wet clothes, the better.” He now struggled to loosen the knot in his neck cloth. “You will be wonderfully surprised how well that tiny flame along with the heat we generate will warm this tiny space.” He cursed the wet lawn rope the tie had become. It finally joined his other garments. To her great relief, he was finished and did not remove his shirt, or anything else.

His next move was to seat himself and remove his boots and stockings. “You should remove yours as well. It is amazing how miserable wet feet make one feel.” She sat back so he would not catch her in the mouth with his elbow. “My boots will not likely be dry by morning, but your small shoes should easily be so.” He held out his hand. “I’ll put them closer to the lantern.”

She said nothing, but rearranged the skirt of her dress over her feet.

Frederick scowled and moved close. His fingers brushed her ankle as he took the hem of her skirt and lifted it. “Where are your shoes?” His scowl deepened as he awaited her answer.

Anne tried to pull her cold feet back. He seemed to accuse her as if she was a careless child. “I lost them. They slipped off when I fell in.” She expected an exasperated sigh, or to hear him click his tongue at her sloppiness.

Instead of a scolding, the scowl disappeared. “Of course they did.” He said it more to himself as he took her left foot in his large hands and rubbed at the spots of mud around her ankle and the soiled sole. He pulled his hand away, looked at it, and then with an awkward little jerk turned her foot.

This surprised and angered her, but before she could speak, he put her foot down gently and looked at the sole of the other. He then crawled to his clothing.

Anne looked at her feet. Large spots of blood-soaked stocking overlapped to cover most of both soles. She felt suddenly ill and panicked. She looked to see what Frederick was about.

He examined the interior of his waistcoat and then tossed it aside. He picked up his coat and did the same. She was puzzled by his smile as he ripped the lining out of the body of the coat. There was a bit of a struggle to pull out the lining of the sleeves, but he managed. With the bottle of wine and the lining in hand, he returned to her side.

“You must remove your stockings.” He put out his hand to receive them.

to be continued…

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