A Plan of His Own Making, part 8

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

Chapter 5

There had been little else spoken between them the previous night. They had wished one another a good night, to which Anne silently added a wish for his pleasant dreams. She remained awake for some time after. As she listened to him moving about, sighing, and feeding the fire, she scolded herself and felt selfish that she was happy he hadn’t fallen quickly asleep. Perhaps it indicated he was thinking of her, just as she was thinking of him.

In the morning, Anne heard no sounds and congratulated herself on waking before the rest of the household. When she opened her eyes, she found the day was much further along than she thought.

Frederick was gone from his post at the hearth, and Maria silently moved about clearing up after breakfast. Even more surprising was finding herself being closely observed by the two young girls.

Neither had been introduced to her by name the day before, and neither in the course of helping her to undress, or in getting into the bed had they offered one. In fact, Anne could not recall ever hearing either girl speak. However, she was now faced with them both, quietly gazing upon her. The darker of the two—having medium brown hair like herself, with blue eyes—was carefully holding her dress. The other—smaller, more frail, with reddish hair and green eyes—was holding a neatly folded pile of undergarments and a pair of blue kid slippers.

When Anne sat up, the smaller girl said Maria’s name and she was instantly by the bed. “So, you are feeling better?” She helped her to stand, and said she would help her dress. She sent the older girl to keep watch of the door. “It won’t do to have one of ’em blunderin’ in here just now,” Maria said with a smile.

Her dress was freshly laundered, though not pressed, as were the under things. She was astonished when the shoes fit perfectly. They cradled her tender feet wonderfully, and they were of such quality that even her sister could not object to them, despite their source.

“The gentlemen are at their work. Tomas is sure they can finish today, before supper I am hoping. And speaking of the supper, after you have had some porridge and beer, I shall need you to help me.”

Sir Walter took pride in the fact that his daughters were completely ignorant of the domestic arts. Elizabeth had managed Kellynch Hall since she was sixteen-years-old, at the death of her mother. Anne had begun to learn when she returned from school, and was now even more knowledgeable in the overall than her sister. Though both understood the general management of a fine country estate, it was deemed more important that both knew how to direct servants hired to do a particular task than to know how to perform the task itself. This being the case, when Maria set a large bowl full of flour, a wooden spoon, and crocks of dried fruits before her, Anne was completely baffled.

Maria noticed the look and gave her instruction to, “mix all the fruits and the flour with that in the pitcher at hand.” She then put before Anne a board with two glistening kidneys nestled in lumps of milky white fat. “They are fresh this morning. Cavan brought them when he brought the girls. When you finish with the flour and water, mix in the suet.” She went off to see to the rest of the meal. A large knife was within reach, and Anne pondered how to attack the kidneys.

She picked up the spoon and began to mix the contents of the various crocks, bowls, pitchers, and pots together. It was a simple enough request, and Anne was willing but found her efforts awkward at best.

When she had mixed as much as she thought necessary, she watched Maria for a moment. With a practiced ease, the woman peeled and sliced several potatoes for a gratin she was putting together. Anne marvelled as her hands easily manoeuvred the foods and all the various tools of the kitchen.

When she returned her attention to her task, she was immediately disappointed with her own, comparatively clumsy results. All had gone well until she poured a small cup of beer into the flour and it became stiff and sticky. The mass was so unwieldy, as she endeavoured to mix, it pulled the spoon out of her hand several times. After adding the kidneys, it was worse than ever. At one point she was ready to admit defeat, but thought of Frederick.

For her sake, he was willing to paint and plaster, occupations that she assumed were beneath him. He did not complain or retreat because of difficulty. The Captain would be her example. She pushed on to thoroughly mix the pudding.

Maria was back and forth between the hearth and the worktable, making no comments and leaving Anne to her task for quite some time it seemed. When she finally did join her, Maria looked over bowl. A scowl barely touched her forehead.

“Is this the first meal you’ve helped prepare, Miss Anne?”

“Yes. My father forbade us to cook. He thought it more important that our time be spent in refined pursuits.”

A smile touched Maria’s lips. “Well, Miss Anne, I think that knowing how to feed oneself, and others, is important. And cooking can be quite a refined pursuit depending on the food and people you are feeding. I shall finish up my dish, and then help you further.” They both looked to the gratin. All the slices, perfectly spaced, spiralled tightly around the oval dish. Maria left her to ponder this new idea about cooking, and her pathetic attempt at the pudding.

Stamping feet and loud voices from the new room caused both women to look its way. Tomas grumbled as he took the one small step up into the main room, then shuffled outside. Wentworth stood in the doorway, watching the ladies and wiping his hands on a rag.

“So what is it now?” Maria asked as she poured cream over the potatoes. She looked at Frederick and smiled as she pressed the contents to distribute the liquid throughout the ingredients. “By the quiet, the two of you have been getting along so well.” She wiped her own hands, and took a bit of potato and ate it.

Wentworth laughed and tossed his rag away. “Yes, if you call his swearing at me under his breath getting along. He is angry because I keep things too tidy. He thinks it a flaw somehow.” He came to stand next to Anne. He took a pinch of currants from a bowl.

Maria raised a spoon. “Eh, stay out of the goods, Captain.” She smiled and wiped her hands. “As to the other, Tomas is put off by any sort of civilised behaviour, I think.” She took the dish to the hearth and placed it to one side of the fire, and checked other dishes baking, roasting, and braising. “Miss Anne is making the Christmas pudding, sir. She is doing very well at it.” A large joint of beef now had Maria’s attention.

Wentworth studied the hearth for a moment. “Beef for our feast. That is rare in these parts.”

Maria smiled, looking up from her work. “Truly, a blessing from heaven it is.” She went back to salting the joint.

He turned and looked into the bowl Anne was using. “It looks very…” His silence did not bode well for her efforts. He must think her a simpleton, incapable of making the pudding tempting in some way.

A cloud of red powder and a rain of sugar pelted the flour.

They looked up. Maria was dusting off her hands. “Can’t forget the sugar and spice. It is the spice that makes everything worth the while. Do you not agree, sir?” She looked particularly at Wentworth with an easy smile that made Anne pause for a moment. “Get that mixed in good then we’ll wrap it for steamin’.” Maria went back to the meat.

Anne stared at the batter in the bowl. There were few times when she felt put upon and completely overlooked, yes, but never truly inferior. Until now.

The harsh rasping of something metal against the bowl roused her out of her pitiable bout of self-absorption. Frederick held up a dented, tarnished spoon. “May I have a taste?”

Anne jammed the wooden spoon into the batter and began to stir. “It is not yet mixed very well.”

He took a huge dollop of batter and dipped it in the reddish sugar. “This will give me a fair idea of how it will taste.”

It was horrible, Anne could tell by his expression. He rolled it around in his mouth, held it for a long moment, and then forced himself to swallow. By his expression, she could have served him poison and he had resolved to it poison if needed to prove himself. Before she could protest this antic as ridiculous, he made quite a show of licking the spoon clean. “Ah, a Christmas pudding to remember.” Tomas bellowed from the other room. “My Master begs me join him.” He put down the spoon, winked, and left her.

Maria gave a final, thorough stir to the pudding batter. As she scraped every last bit into a cloth-lined bowl, she said, “He is smitten. Though, I’m guessin’ you’ve not been under his protection long.”

The statement, and Maria’s tone put Anne on her guard. While Anne knew herself to be somewhat sheltered, she easily guessed that Maria’s meaning of ‘protection’ was not in the most innocent sense. It was an awkward and presumptuous question. Anne knew she did not lie with any skill so averted her eyes. “Protection? Only for the last two days.” Maria said nothing, but did snigger. Anne glanced up. The woman was just looking back to tying the cloth around the pudding. There was an amused smile on her full red lips.

Maria went to work scraping some gnarled carrots. She was in no rush to say anything, but did look up at Anne occasionally. Eventually, she cut them into small bits, sprinkled a pinch of salt, and then pepper, and a few other spices over the top of them. The tense quiet was broken when Tomas and Frederick walked through the room to the outer door. However, this time, Tomas was less discrete about his reproach of the captain.

The door slammed and the women returned to work. A moment passed before Maria spoke. “You say that you and Wentworth have not been together but a few days. I find it miraculous.”

Anne attempted to go unobserved by taking a cloth and cleaning up around all the serving dishes, crocks, and boxes scattered about. The task did nothing to ease her mind. “And what is miraculous about us being together such a short time?”

She looked up from her work, brushed a lock of hair from her forehead, and smiled wide. “Because, he is very much in love with you, silly.”

Anne was shocked at Maria’s frankness. She tried to find words with which to respond, but was left silent.

“A man’s lustful thoughts show in their looks.” She winked. “But so does the true love that shines quite brightly in the Captain’s lovely brown eyes. That is an emotion born only of time and thought.”

The words sounded so well in her ears. The idea that Frederick might genuinely love her still, so much so that a stranger could see it, was astonishing. However, if that were the case, why did she not see it, or sense it in some way? Her cautious nature caused her to step back from the high emotion of optimism and settle back on the safer ground of rationality.

“I doubt that Frederick—the Captain sees me as anything more than a burden.”

“Why-a-burden?” Maria kneading bread dough punctuated each word. “It is clear to me when he looks upon your face, he sees not a burden, but a woman of great worth.”

It would be so easy, so enjoyable to run headlong into belief that Maria was right. For all of what seemed to be insight, the woman did not know either of them and to make such a claim was as much a guess about them both as it was a proclamation of true understanding. “The Captain is merely doing his duty.” It hurt to say it, but to hope for more would in all likelihood end in utter disappointment. Anne picked up some spoons and took them to a bowl of hot water on the far end of the table.

“He may well be doing only his duty, but please do not toy with me and try to make me believe that the two of you have known one another for only a few days.”

She began to pick up various items in need of cleaning as she returned to Maria. “You are correct. We have known one another for some time. It was over two years this past autumn. We met when he came to visit his family in the area where I live.”

Maria smiled. “And where is that?” She had finished with the bread, and was now clearing up the table.

“Somersetshire.”

“Is that near Plymouth or Portsmouth?”

“My home is nowhere near either. We are a fair bit away from the sea.”

“But he is a sailor.”

“Yes, he was in the navy at the time. He was visiting his brother just after returning to England. He was promoted after taking part in a great battle in the West Indies.” She folded a cloth and saw not the task, but remembered only her first look of him in his uniform.

Maria turned the kneaded bread into a pan. “I assumed when he introduced himself, he meant that he was the captain of his own fishing boat, or something of that nature.” She rubbed a nut of butter over the top of the bread and then placed it on the hearth. “I did not suspect him to be an officer in the King’s navy.” She said it quietly and then returned to help Anne clear the table. “We must ready the dishes and such for dinner now.”

“Yes. Well, he was not a full captain when I met him; he was but a commander then. It is new—the elevation to captain—but I think he is no longer in the service.”

“What makes you think this? Why did he not remain in the navy? Time are hard and an income of any size is very desirable.”

Seeing him in his role of smuggler was painful and she wished she had not told the woman anything. “He wished a change of occupation.”

Her only response was a low, gentle murmur. “Oh look, I forgot to get the pudding on to steam.” To Anne she said, “You two never thought to marry?”

“My family did not view it as a suitable match.”

“Ah, families can be the cause of so much heartache, can they not?”

“Yes, yes they can. So, in answer to your first question, we are not together, other than his being forced to travel with me.”

Maria laughed and finished tying the cloth around the pudding. She looked at Anne as she passed to the hearth and a pot of boiling water. “I can see in your face that you do not believe me, but I still believe you are….” She lowered the pudding into the water, making sure the wooden spoon, which held the bag, was secure on the pot’s rim. After she ensured the other dishes were progressing to her satisfaction, she returned to the table. “I don’t mean to pry, and I wasn’t casting aspersions; heaven knows I should be the last to say anything about the affairs of others; but any fool can see the man is in love with you.”

Though Anne was coming to think in many ways Maria was a very clever woman, she doubted she knew her or Frederick well at all.

to be continued

All text and graphics copyrights © held by Susan Kaye

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