Chapter 21 has Wentworth in spirit only so I decided to go on to Chapter 22. This is Anne and Frederick’s first meeting since his hasty retreat from the concert, and Anne’s finding out all of William Elliot’s dirty secrets. This is the end of the chapter when our couple finally begins to thaw and speak. There are of course interruptions galore. And finally, an interruption of epic proportions. I decided to write my own version, from Frederick’s point-of-view. I hope you enjoy it.
Getting around Musgrove was awkwardly done, but I made it to the fireplace. By Anne’s side. She doesn’t look up. She has every right to be cool. I was an idiot flouncing out of the concert like a pettish schoolgirl. Well, never mind the manoeuvres, just go right at it, Captain. “You have not been long enough in Bath to enjoy the evening parties of the place.”
That sweet face looks up and smiles. I am not sunk just yet. “Oh! no. The usual character of them has nothing for me. I am no card-player.”
“You were not formerly, I know. You did not use to like cards; but time makes many changes.”
“I am not yet so much changed.” Anne paused and frowned just a little. It was impossible to tell if it was genuine distress, or mere teasing.
“It is a period, indeed! Eight years and a half is a period.” There, it is done. For the first time, one of us has dared to mention the past. Her frown blooms to her usual, tentative smile. This is hope—
“Anne, let us go now, before anyone else arrives.” Henrietta stands over her, holding out her purse. I suppose I could insinuate myself and offer them my services as escort. “May I offer—” The door opens and more visitors are announced.
The room grows instantly silent. The smiles disappear and everyone ceases to move. Or breath. I turn and see the reason.
“Sir Walter! Miss Elliot! You honour us with a visit,” Mrs Musgrove is neatly up and out of her chair to greet the esteemed guests.
I toss a glance at Harville and he’s stunned to his whiskers. He’s been in the midst of the Musgrove chaos enough to know that not many forces in nature have the ability to quiet it. Well, even a bucket of icy water can quell amorous cats. Icy describes that sister—
“Captain Wentworth, we meet again.” The old block bows as if we are good and fast mates. To Mrs Musgrove, he says, “The Captain was with us at the concert this past Tuesday night. It was a magnificent presentation, I must say.”
Adding me to their party. Cheek indeed.
“Captain Wentworth.” Miss Elliot suddenly has the time and energy to greet me. Imagine that.
Anne is unreadable. I think it embarrassment for she stares off just enough to mimic attention. I shall play nice and bent my knee to the pair of them. For her. For her alone.
All the neat and tidy nothings are being exchanged. Let them coddle one another, I shall slip out in a moment and wait for Anne and Miss Musgrove downstairs. There is plenty of the day to be salvaged.
Miss Elliot is extending an invitation to Mrs Musgrove and looking around at everyone. There will be no slipping away for me. Yes, just lay the cards on the table. Despite the elegant gloves, you wouldn’t want to get any on you if there happens to be an accidental touch.
“And one for you, Sir.” She extends a card particularly to me. Yes, make me come and fetch it. As if I should ever the Elliot threshold again. It is the longest three steps I ever walked in my life. There is no bow—my pride won’t bend that far—and my nod is too shallow to be understood as real respect. “Thank you, Miss.”
They are suddenly gone and the whole company magically returns to its previous happy self. Even in retrenchment, the Elliots must still have the finest paper and engraving. Tearing it up would give me such pleasure. Even fine linen paper gives a tug of satisfaction when you give it a good—
“Only think of Elizabeth’s including everybody!” one of the ladies whispered. “I do not wonder Captain Wentworth is delighted! You see he cannot put the card out of his hand.”
Anne watches. I could not do that to her. And it is not delight, Mrs Musgrove, merely my astonishment at how easily utter disdain shifts and becomes respect. No, not respect. Utility. Like a mallet when you need one.
Musgrove comes close and nudges me. “Come on, Wentworth. I have tickets to return.” The room is called to action and we all are separating. There is no salvaging this day in my favour.
I put the card in my pocket and that gives me some ideas about tomorrow.