A Plan of His Own Making, part 9

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

*

Wentworth was trowelling on the last of the plaster, covering the wattle wall where it met the ceiling. From the corner of his eye, Wentworth saw Maria step into the doorway of the room. She studied him for a moment and then summoned them both to dinner. On hearing the call, Tomas grunted it was about bleedin’ time, dropped his paintbrush mid-stroke, and walked away from the mess of plaster, whitewash, buckets, and rags. Wentworth quickly put some order to clutter, taking care to cover the buckets with rags so as not to waste perfectly good whitewash and plaster. He wiped his hands as best he could, and just before joining the others, he prayed Anne did not notice his desperate need for soap and water.

In a neat twist of irony, it was left to Wentworth to say grace over the Christmas meal. Tomas made it clear he felt not the slightest need to thank any man or god for a scrap of food before them. “Would you, Captain? I think we must prove to Miss Anne we are not savages,” Maria said. Before the prayer was finished, Cavan entered the house and took a seat next to the woman. With this new arrangement, the table was more unbalanced than before. Maria, Tomas, and now Cavan were the seated on the one side. On the other, Anne and Frederick were bookended by the two little girls. For young children, the girls took up a great deal of space on the bench; so much so that he and Anne were shoulder-to-shoulder. There was so little room that their plates not only touched, but rested one on the other.

Unlike a fashionable dinner, the platters were passed with everyone having as much of each dish as they liked. Tomas took from every dish as it passed by him, though he did not lift more than a fork. The little girls spoke to one another in Gaelic behind their backs, while the adults, except Tomas, spoke English. The conversation was mostly about the new room. And though they all spoke of it as a great boon to the household, Wentworth was still never precisely sure who Cavan and the girls were in relation to Tomas and Maria. Who would occupy the room, or that it would be occupied at all remained a mystery. It mattered not. All he cared about was how well Anne looked after a peaceful night’s rest.

“Tomas says the room should be done this evenin’. That means you’re leavin’ in the morning?” Cavan ended his question by poking a heaping spoon of potatoes into his mouth. A large gobbet clung to the corner of his mouth. Anne took pity on him and cleared her throat while dabbing at her mouth with her napkin. Cavan took no notice.

Wentworth took a drink of his ale. Tomas had grudgingly brought it out when coaxed by Maria. He looked towards Cavan, but took care to avoid the potatoes. “Yes, I think we will be on our way tomorrow. And very grateful that you took us in.” He nodded to Tomas—who was engaged in the brutal sawing of a slice of beef—and then to Maria. It was to her he was most grateful, for she took care of Anne’s feet in particular; the most worrisome and dangerous aspect of the journey thus far.

“Yes, thank you all for your hospitality. And, thank you for the shoes, Maria. I have never had such a delightful colour. I shall treasure them.”

“You are welcome, Miss Anne. Cavan, tell them what we’ve decided.” Maria wiped away the gobbet and gave his mouth a general tidying in what seemed to Wentworth to be a rather tender gesture. Again he thought these a strange little knot of people. The sooner he got Anne away from this place, the more at ease he would feel.

For a moment, there seemed to be a disagreement. Cavan and Maria spoke very low, with glances towards Anne and Wentworth. Tomas merely grunted now and then. Maria eventually smiled, and said, “You may have the use of Cavan’s little pony cart. It will be an easy ride into Dublin in it. And it will keep the shoes from harm.”

This was a stroke of good fortune indeed! Wentworth had got from Tomas that they were approximately four miles from Dublin, and the use of the cart would get them there with no difficulty. He would be able to take Anne to her cousin’s house, return the cart, and then go to the rendezvous point. Harville would crow over him being days late, but he would have enjoyed his ease, and stuffed himself with several good meals, that was certain.

With all the needs of the next day seen to, Wentworth settled down to enjoy the rest of the meal. When it was time for the Christmas pudding, he braced himself and was determined to eat it with good cheer and a smile. Maria gave him a knowing look when she placed a large slice on his plate. Cavan did not care for any—too many bloody nuts and such—and the little girls were off to play already. Maria was extraordinarily generous with the hard sauce. Tomas ignored propriety and went ahead. Everyone was poised for their first bite when Tomas squawked and spit a large gob of it across the table.

He cursed in Gaelic, and continued to spit little bits of the pudding all over the table covering.

Wentworth glanced at Anne. She looked horrified and sat with a spoonful halted mid bite.

Aside from Tomas’s violent antic, Maria’s reaction was the strangest of them all. She sat unmoving, watching Tomas, smiling faintly.

Tomas paused his spitting and cursing to ask who made the pudding.

“Miss Anne did, sir.” Maria sounded genuinely shocked.

The old man made a gross noise and slammed his napkin to the table. He crossed his arms and muttered abuses.

Wentworth glanced at Anne. Her head was bowed, her cheeks crimson. She was biting her lower lip, and she still held the spoon.

Cavan laughed. Maria herself giggled as she looked to the younger man. “I think Tomas did not appreciate the addition of the entire kidney to the Christmas pudding, Miss Anne. As for you, Cavan, I think you should know better than to laugh at the clear ignorance of a guest.”

Anne looked up and watched Cavan leave the table. She looked to Maria for a long moment and then she turned to Wentworth. “I am sorry. I know nothing about this sort of thing.” Her cheeks were redder still, and her expression anguished.

His heart bled for her. He glanced at Maria. She still looked at Anne, her not fading a bit.

Wentworth had been appreciative of Maria’s intervention with Tomas, and her helpfulness with Anne. This sly enjoyment of Anne’s embarrassment was uncharacteristic with her previous behaviour. However, it did not shock him that she seemed to take pleasure in another woman’s humiliation. He realised he had sketched her character in accordance with the surroundings. He again suspected she did not belong in this place. He had little experience of how ordinary women treat one another. It was clear Maria was not an ordinary woman.

Anne put down the spoon, and began to gather dishes and utensils about her. She paused in her task to look directly at Maria. “I am sorry I have ruined the meal, Maria. And after you have been so kind to us.” It was obvious that Anne was no ordinary woman either.

Maria’s expression varied little and she made no attempt to comfort her guest.

Wentworth laughed. Both women lookedvery surprised.

“And here I thought the pudding was just being made in the style of Liverpool.”

Anne frowned in confusion and Maria raised a brow. “You are not serious, sir.” She glanced at Anne and then back to Wentworth. “I cannot believe that in Liverpool they would eat such a gross concoction and dare to call it a Christmas pudding.”

Anne still said nothing, but studied him intently. “I am very serious. They are mostly poor in that city and there is no reason to waste a bit of good food.” Anne’s expression eased some. Their eyes met and she looked away. To Maria he said, “I find it a bit exotic, but I think my Liverpoolians brethren are onto something.” To prove his point, he took a huge bite and fashioned an expression as brimming with delight as was humanly possible.

Maria studied Wentworth for a moment, and then considered Anne. There was a shade of annoyance to her expression, he thought, but it passed quickly and she soon rose to clear the table.

Chapter 6

Tomas was finished with the nonsense and rose from the table. The faint growl receded as he left the room. Wentworth remained to finish his wine. He said nothing but stared at the door for a moment. Cavan appeared and went into the unfinished room. Soon, Wentworth’s name filled the house, followed by a string of invectives. He rose from his seat slowly and smiled at Anne. “It is wonderful to be so universally loved.” He made a noise with his tongue and left them. Anne attempted to converse with Maria but she was not receptive and answers to Anne’s comments were clipped. They did their work in silence.

The day went on quietly with the only sound of the scraping trowel, brushes dipped into paint, and Tomas’s swearing. Every quarter hour a lovely chime sounded from the clock on the mantle. Maria found small household tasks to busy her hand. She offered Anne nothing with which to occupy herself. “You are our guest and must not be put upon.” With nothing useful to do, Anne took comfort only in the clock’s soothing tick and the golden pendulum’s swing.

It was a relief, well after dark, to be called into the new room.

They gathered to bestow the proper compliments on the workmanship and beauty of the space. “It is all thanks to our new friend, Captain Wentworth. It is certain that Tomas could not have finished without you. We will see each stroke of the plastering and think of your helping hands.” Maria pose and blatantly touched his arm as she flattered. Her smile was most beguiling and Frederick received it with pleasure.

Anne turned away to further examine the workmanship of the room. To her untrained eye, Frederick’s work did look respectable. His willingness to undertake a task so foreign to him was a lesson worth learning. She came to an unfinished place in the wall, a nook the size of a small closet, next to the hearth and asked what it was for.

Maria joined her at the alcove. “It is to be used later, to store all of those troublesome things that accumulate about the house that just seem to get in the way.” She touched one of the edges, smiled, and turned away from Anne to rejoin the party.

It seemed to Anne an odd place to store things for the house, but it was not her place to judge how another woman arranged her home. She too joined the others, in time to see Maria place a kiss on Tomas’s cheek. It surprised her how repulsive the kind gesture struck her, for certainly what passed between these people in the way of affection was none of her concern.

The overt effusive warmth brought the old man to the limits of his goodwill. With a great deal of sputtering—but no swearing—he practically shoved the women out. Again, Anne’s attempts at conversation with Maria were rebuffed.

“The girls will stay here tonight.” They were taken upstairs with Maria, who did not reappear.

Anne went to her bed, while Cavan, Tomas, and Frederick’s voices murmured late into the night. Anne tuned over and over in her little bed. At first she strained to hear the men’s conversation. When this proved impossible, she made an effort to anticipate rejoining her family. However, there was no pleasant anticipation, only the acknowledgment that the night she shared with Frederick in the hide was the best she’d had since leaving Kellynch Hall.

*

It was still night when Frederick followed Cavan and Tomas as they staggered out of the new room. Both stumbled on the step and Frederick took care to do otherwise. The plan was go outside, clear their heads and relieve themselves.

Frederick followed as the two men fumbled and lurched outside. He was clearheaded enough to keep a useless little vase of flowers from being destroyed when they crashed into a small table by the door.

The deed was done, and then Cavan and Tomas decided to sit on the woodpile and philosophise. Frederick was not so in his cups he did not feel the cold and so went back inside.

The cold air had done wonders, but not sobered him completely. He leant against the hearth and stared into the orange glow of the dying fire. The homebrewed cordial they had drunk was strong, and hung on just enough to make playing with fire dangerous. He shivered but was tempted to take a seat and doze a bit until more stable. Anne sighed and turned to face the fire. He could not allow her to catch a chill and so slowly began to feed kindling into the glowing coals.

The Captain’s sense of time was ruined by drink and so he had no idea how long it took to bring the embers back from near oblivion to the cheery, chaotic blaze now before him. It didn’t matter as there was no hint of light out any of the windows so there was still time to sleep.

“Frederick.”

The voice startled him and he looked to the door, thinking it might be Tomas or Cavan returning.

Anne spoke his name again. He responded.

“Are you all right? What is the time?” Her voice was thick with sleep.

He went to her bedside. “I am well.” He went to lean on the cot, missed, and fell into her. “Sorry, there deary.” He pushed himself up but saw her shiver. “You’re cold.”

“Yes, a little.” She looked away.

Here took her in his arms. “Let me. I’m good at making you warm, am I not?”

Anne protested for an instant and then allowed herself to settle into his embrace. “You do have a talent for it, I grant.”  Her voice was still thick, but no longer with sleep.

She moved closer and rested her head against his chest, and her hand stroking his upper arm.

His sense of time was gone as was his sense of duty to her. “The place will warm up soon.” It was a ridiculous thing to say, as it was clear neither of them had any concern for the temperature of the room. He should lay her down, go to his corner, and make the night safe for them both. But as any man of the Navy knows, battle plans go awry the instant combat is engaged.

Anne shifted again. The warmth of her against his chest touched off more and deeper desire. “I am not looking forward to leaving this place, strange as it is. I will miss you.” Her breath touched his chest and he knew he must end this or continue to the natural conclusion.

Frederick shifted and put her down on the thin pillow. “You’re warm enough I’ll wager.” He straighten but her hand remained over his heart.

“My breaking the engagement did not end us, did it?” His body blocked the firelight and so her expression was left for him to imagine. They breathed in unison for a moment and then he bent to kiss her.

The kiss was deep and relentless. It was the sort that drove a body mad unless accompanied by the release of consummation. It was the kiss he had meant to give her as a bridegroom. That was impossible for so many reason, and while he did not wish to have her under these crude circumstances, he did want her. She moaned and raised her head, pressing her lips more roughly against his. He broke free and began to kiss her neck.

She smelled of the sea, the wool in the hide, spices from the meal, and a scent that must be her own.

Anne pulled away, “This is what it is.” Her whisper was urgent, and her hands pulled at him.

He rose up. Now the light reached her face. Anne was wide-eyed and her breaths quick and shallow. Other women had been this open to him, but the sight of them had never roused him to this severe fervour.

She touched his neck and her finger trailed down. “Poetry speaks of passion, but that is dull and lifeless in comparison to this. I see now why a woman falls to pretty promises.” She touched his side through the linen shirt and he shivered.

This indulgence must stop. He must return her to the safety of her family, uncompromised. To take his pleasure in her would be the worst betrayal of their palpable, enduring love.

Frederick kissed her forehead, stood, and went back to the fire.

to be continued

Copyright ® for text and graphics held by Susan Kaye

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