The Shorter Persuasion: Frederick’s Return to Bath
Thus far the conversation with Captain Wentworth—Frederick—was delightful. The warmth and the sweet, delicious smells of Molland’s surround us and accent every word. He has noticed Elizabeth, and she sees him. Wonderful! Her acknowledgment will change everything.
The crowd keeps moving in and out of view. The noise is deafening. No one but us three takes any notice of Elizabeth’s coldness, and lack of acknowledgment of this man. The shop is intolerably hot suddenly. Oh Lord, he is about to speak. Let it not be about her.
“The Lady Dalrymple’s carriage for the Miss Elliots,” shouts a servant.
Thank God. Elizabeth smiles, for now the entire shop understands her intimate connection to the Viscountess and they have permission to gawk. My sister is making as much fuss as possible as she and Mrs Clay displace the other patrons.
There is a great clattering of hooves and chains, and a high-pitched scream outside. The crowd, including Frederick, surges to the window. Elizabeth is standing at the door, forgotten.
I follow Frederick. We had been conducting our little conversation right where he first spoke to me, in the way of everyone trying to make their way in or out. And I did not care a bit. This puts us close to the front of the store. I have no choice but to seize his blue wool sleeve and allow the movement of the crowd to carry me alongside him.
At first glance it is apparent that a smart barouche has mowed down a smartly dressed chap. At least there is equality in the accident and there will be none of the embarrassment of high and low meeting in such a vulgar manner. The man was likely crossing the street and got caught up with the horses. He is now sprawled on the ground. The impact was such that it sent his umbrella and beaver hat across the cobbles and onto the pavement.
There is a crowd gathering. Some are merely observing the accident. The same happened in Lyme when Louisa Musgrove fell. I wonder what there is in the human heart that sees such a frantic scene and must take part, even in a small way. Fortunately for the poor soul, others are truly endeavouring to help. There is a break in the crowd and I make a startling discovery.
“The man is my cousin, William Elliot.”
I am of course shocked, as is Frederick. He hands me his umbrella, turns to the door, and says, “I shall venture to help.” Certainly this is for my sake. Prior to my revelation he was content to stand and watch along with the rest of us.
“No, wait.” I grab his arm again. “There are plenty of men out there doing the same. See, even my sister has joined them.”
Poor Elizabeth. The scene is chaos and she is determined not to miss being taken home in a barouche. With a great deal of grace and judicious use of elbows she is able to make her way to the carriage and grasp the door’s handle. Too bad a gentleman—no doubt concerned for her safety—takes her and tries to move her away. It is clear by her raised hand and red face that my sister does not appreciate his chivalry. “I think it best to allow them room to work on him.” I wonder where Mrs Clay has got off to.
Frederick takes his umbrella and settles back next to me. He bends closely and whispers, “Perhaps we should move away from the window. This must be very unsettling to see your family member this way.” Before I can answer, he takes my arm and starts to make his way through the crowd around us.
They have not yet removed Mr Elliot from the ground. Thankfully, as with Louisa’s fall, there is no blood. A man is kneeling beside my cousin, and again as with Louisa, there seems to be no broken bones as the fellow manipulating his arms and legs does it with with no trouble. Knowing this, I feel a slight rush of relief but no more. I’m very surprised that I feel so little concerning the grievous plight of such a close member of the family.
Frederick pauses as I hesitate. “No, no, this is nothing,” I tell him. “I have the ability to keep my head in a crisis.” I looked at him and smiled. “As you well know.” I return to the scene quite anxious to see what will happen next.
He again settles in next to me. I cannot see his face but I imagine him smiling. “Yes, your cool head in Lyme—Oh! Blast, that will hurt.”
For some odd reason I feel like laughing. Fighting back a smile, I say, “Yes, very careless. Someone should have moved the horse away so that it couldn’t kick like that.”
It wasn’t really a kick. The horse just nudged William’s head with his hoof. Just a little. But still—
“Who is that dreadful woman dismounting the carriage? The woman took absolutely no notice when she stepped on his hand.” Frederick’s voice was equal parts alarm and amusement. Just as in the past, when together no two tastes are so similar as ours. We are dreadfully pathetic though, taking such grim pleasure in the misfortune of another. Even if it is my weaselly cousin.
William now clutched his hand to his breast and writhed a great deal. I am relieved at this for it assures me he was not too terribly injured.
“That would be another cousin of mine, the Viscountess Dalrymple,” I explained
“A viscountess, eh?” He looks at me and charmingly raises a brow. “You are quite well-connected, Miss Anne.” A shout from the crowd outside draws our attention back. “Oh no. They’d better pick him up before that happens again.”
“That was Lady Dalrymple’s daughter, the Right Honourable Miss Carteret. She is extremely nearsighted and likely didn’t notice him when she jumped from the step.” As would be expected of a lady, Miss Carteret is bending close to Mr Elliot and no doubt apologizing for her carelessness. “Fortunately, since Elizabeth did not make it into the carriage, there is no one else inside.” It takes every bit of restraint to keep my laughter under control.
Still with a smile in his voice, Frederick said, “The poor fellow. He didn’t appear to be much injured to begin with, but he’s holding his gut and grimacing like he’s in terrible pain.” He then coughed. Well, it was a noble effort to cough rather than laugh.
That was when I decided we must have a change of scene. I brazenly took him by the arm and began to move through the crowd. Many wanted our places and so made room easily. “I don’t think you need worry about my cousin. I have observed that he has a knack for making people like him. I am sure he will find all the assistance he needs.” Frederick opened the door and we left Molland’s.
As we made our way, I considered how it was only Monday when I spoke about Frederick with the Admiral. There had not been time for an invitation from the Crofts to be extended and accepted. Obviously, he knew of the change of affairs concerning Louisa and Benwick and had rushed to Bath.
Was this for me?
We were now on a quiet path, well away from the crowd of the accident, and the noise accompanying it. I think it is time Frederick and I continue our previous conversation.
“Captain, before we allow any other trivialities to distract us, I would like to frankly discuss why you have come to Bath.”