Mr Darcy’s Persuasion – Chapter Twenty-Three
‘What the…where…?’ The captain’s words were barely discernible, and Anne leaned closer.
‘Frederick?’ A low sob escaped her. ‘You have been injured, but you are safe now.’
It was clear Captain Wentworth was struggling to keep his eyes open. ‘I—thirsty.’
His voice was rough, and he winced, trying to raise a hand to his head, but Anne took it in hers as Elizabeth hurried to fetch the flask left by Mr Robinson.
‘Only small sips at first, Anne.’ Elizabeth unfastened the stopper and poured the barley water into the feeding cup, handing it to her friend.
‘Come, Frederick, you must drink.’
His eyes were staring at the canopy. ‘I heard your voice…you were calling me…’
‘Yes, I called for you, and you came.’ Anne’s voice broke on the last word, and tears pricked Elizabeth’s eyes.
‘Get him to drink,’ she whispered.
Lifting the captain’s head, Anne held the cup to his mouth, and he took a sip.
‘More,’ he croaked.
Anne aided him in taking a few small gulps, then lowered his head to the pillow, and Elizabeth took the cup from her, offering a wet cloth in return.
A soft groan came from the gentleman. ‘I do not understand…’
‘You took a blow to the head. Frederick?’ Anne sent Elizabeth a frantic look as the captain’s eyes closed, and he became very still again. ‘Will he stay with us?’
Elizabeth had no answer to that. ‘Moisten his lips and just keep talking to him.’
Anne turned back to the captain and pressed the wet cloth to his mouth. ‘We are at Kellynch, Frederick. Well, on the estate, at least. They brought you here because you mentioned it, and you also spoke..…’ She swallowed hard. ‘You said my name.’
‘Anne.’ The sound was barely a whisper, but it gave them hope, and a few moments later, Captain Wentworth’s lids lifted a little. Then, he made a guttural sound, and his arms began flailing, his face distorted. ‘The water! So cold…My men…I cannot breathe. I cannot help them…’ Just as suddenly, his arms dropped heavily onto the bed, his breathing ragged.
‘What shall we do?’ Anne’s voice was frantic. ‘He is in distress!’
Elizabeth placed a hand upon her friend’s back. ‘He is coming to life. Can you not hear his breathing?’
Anne’s frame shuddered under Elizabeth’s hand, but she nodded, her attention fixed upon the man in the bed. How long they remained like so, Elizabeth was unsure, but then, the captain’s eyes opened again, more fully this time.
‘Need…a drink,’ he rasped.
A suppressed sob came from Anne. ‘Yes, yes. I have more of the barley water.’
Captain Wentworth pulled a face. ‘Brandy.’
Elizabeth pursed her lips to keep from smiling, as she handed the cup to Anne again before going over to the box of supplies left by the apothecary—supplies no one had expected to need. She returned with a small bottle of cordial, which Mr Robinson had asked them to administer if the sick man came around, watching as Anne helped the captain drink some more, then offering the bottle to her.
‘You must take a little of this now, Frederick.’
The captain spluttered as the liquid hit the back of his throat. ‘What the…?’
‘It is a restorative cordial.’
He pulled a face again. ‘I cannot stomach the stuff.’
‘This is on the apothecary’s orders.’ Anne persevered, then slowly lowered his head to the pillows.
‘My men…the water closed over my head and I could not see them. Blackness…’ The captain had closed his eyes again, but his brow was furrowed.
‘What do I tell him?’ Anne whispered to Elizabeth, but she shook her head.
‘Do not speak of it, for we know so little and you can say naught of any comfort.’
Before Anne had need of words however, the captain spoke again.
‘I had such…dreams.’ His voice held hardly any timbre, and Anne leaned in closer to discern it. ‘Lost…’ He turned his head from side to side on the pillow. ‘Thought…lost…’
‘You were saved, Frederick. They pulled you from the sea and brought you back to land.’
The captain’s frown deepened, then he pouted like a little boy, and Elizabeth had to bite her lip. It was not a laughing moment, after all.
‘Not me. Lost…you…I thought…’ He tried to raise his head in his agitation, and Anne placed a hand on his arm to calm him, leaning in closer so that he could hear her.
‘Now is not the time to worry about dreams. You must get well.’ Her eyes were clouded with anxiety. ‘Does he not recall? I must—’
‘What I must have is a kiss.’ The captain’s voice was plaintive, and Anne stared at Elizabeth, who was torn between tears and laughter at the expression on her friend’s face.
‘Humour him,’ she whispered, tapping her cheek, and Anne turned back to the bed.
‘There’—she placed a gentle kiss upon the captain’s whiskery face. ‘Now you must rest whilst we await the apothecary.’
Captain Wentworth’s eyes remained closed, but the hint of a smile graced his features.
Anne hesitated, then leaned forward, but as her mouth neared his cheek, the captain turned his head on the pillow and pressed his lips to hers.
Elizabeth looked away for her friend’s sake, adding, ‘He is disorientated.’
‘Who…who is there, Anne?’
‘It is my friend, Miss Elizabeth Bennet.’
‘Then…’ He attempted to clear his throat. ‘I trust she will forgive me.’
‘She will, but all the same, you should not—’
The captain made a weak movement with his arm, which then dropped heavily onto the coverlet. ‘Why should I not? A man’—he cleared his throat again—‘may kiss his betrothed if he so chooses.’
Anne gasped. ‘Oh, but you and I are not—’
‘Alone, remember?’ Elizabeth finished, though the captain had closed his eyes again and was probably insensible to their words.
She took Anne’s arm and persuaded her away from the bed.
‘He needs peace and comfort just now.’ Elizabeth spoke quietly. ‘Follow what his dreams have told him.’
Anne shook her head. ‘How can I? It is my dream he is lost in.’
‘You will not aid the captain by revealing the truth just now. He is too weak to even turn his back, never mind stalk out of the room. Just bear with it for now.’
Anne’s attention was fixed on the captain. ‘Do you think… he is not unconscious again?’
Stepping closer, Elizabeth studied the face upon the pillow and the rise and fall of the sheet on Captain Wentworth’s chest. ‘I am no expert on such matters, but I believe he sleeps of his own will. I must inform Mrs Reynolds.’
She turned to leave, but Anne grasped her arm. ‘You cannot go!’
Elizabeth embraced her friend. ‘Do not fret so. The man has received a severe blow to his head and received no sustenance for days on end. He certainly cannot be held accountable for a little delirium on first waking.’
She walked over to the door. ‘I shall leave this ajar and send a maid to wait with you. And keep talking to him, Anne. Your voice will bring him comfort.’
Anne did as she was bid, and Elizabeth, unable to locate a servant nearby, headed down the stairs, a myriad of thoughts whirling through her mind.
Captain Wentworth’s rousing was both unexpected and a blessing. Whether it would sustain should be swiftly determined, she assumed, but the implications for Anne were profound, especially if the gentleman persisted in his belief that they were still engaged.
As she reached the hall, Elizabeth stopped as a disturbing thought encroached upon her speculation. Mr Darcy could not have anticipated this, much as he might wish for the captain to recover. He had been more than gracious, but that had been when the prognosis implied no more than a night’s inconvenience. What now?
Elizabeth turned around in a circle. Where should she go? She had only seen the drawing room. Then, she noticed the door to the service areas, and as there was as much chance as any that Mrs Reynolds would be down there, she set off towards it.
‘Miss Bennet?’ Georgiana had emerged from a door to Elizabeth’s left. ‘Is all well?’
‘Good morning, Miss Darcy. I trust your health continues to improve?’
‘Indeed. Beyond a trifling cough, I am quite well. How is…Mrs Reynolds said there was some change and has sent for the apothecary.’
Elizabeth smiled as Georgiana approached her. ‘We may have turned a corner. The captain has awakened and seems a little confused but is now sleeping.’
Clasping her hands together, Georgiana returned the smile. ‘Oh, that is news I dared not hope for!’ Her expression sobered. ‘Are you looking for my brother?’
‘In truth, I sought word of when Mr Robinson might arrive. With hindsight, Mr Darcy ought not to be the last to know of this alteration.’
‘Then we had best seek him out.’ Georgiana gestured along the hallway, and Elizabeth fell into step beside her. ‘Fitz has been in his study since coming back from his ride.’
‘You and your brother have been most accommodating, Miss Darcy. I do not think I, and certainly, Miss Elliot, can thank you enough.’
Georgiana stopped, and through necessity so did Elizabeth. ‘My brother…’ She hesitated. ‘He has been brought low with worry and concern of late.’
‘I am sorry to hear it.’ Elizabeth hoped the young girl was not going to blurt out words Mr Darcy would wish she had not.
The girl was clearly uncomfortable. ‘There are matters I cannot…I must not speak of.’
Elizabeth was unsure this warranted an answer, but Georgiana seemed to labour under some anxiety.
‘You are a good sister, I think.’ To Elizabeth’s dismay, this did not bring comfort.
‘I am not. I do not deserve Fitz. He is the best of men, and the most attentive of brothers.’
The latter was true. Elizabeth could not fault anything she had seen in Mr Darcy as a brother. ‘It is quite natural, Miss Darcy, to feel for our siblings when we are powerless to aid them.’
Georgiana seemed thoughtful as they resumed their walk. ‘Do you experience this also, Miss Bennet, with regard to your own sister?’
Elizabeth slowed to a halt, and Georgiana turned to face her, colour filling her cheeks.
‘Forgive me. I know now I spoke out of turn the other day, about Mr Bingley. My brother explained, but I…’
She fell silent as a door opened behind them.
‘Georgiana?’ Mr Darcy emerged from his study, frowning. ‘Miss Bennet? Is there a problem?’
‘No, Fitz. Miss Bennet has news.’ Georgiana threw Elizabeth a conscious look. ‘I will advise Mrs Reynolds.’
With that, she hurried back along the corridor, leaving Elizabeth trying to decipher what Georgiana might have been about to say. She had a strong suspicion she comprehended something of the disagreement between herself and Mr Darcy.
‘Oh, yes! There was a change in the captain’s condition, a positive one, and Mrs Reynolds has sent for Mr Robinson again.’
Darcy gestured along the hallway and they walked back in the direction Elizabeth had just come. ‘Then he should be here directly.’
As they reached the main entrance hall, Elizabeth came to a decision.
‘Mr Darcy, should the captain recover—and I pray to the Lord he does—you may be obliged to extend your kindness in sheltering both the gentleman and Miss Anne Elliot a while longer.’ Elizabeth’s gaze raked his face, trying to discern his feelings but his habitual mask was firmly in place. ‘I appreciate my being here has been difficult in the light of our…’ What on earth could one call it? ‘Our discussion the other day. You will wish me to leave for Hertfordshire at the earliest convenience.’
Was he glaring at her? Elizabeth cast around for other words.
‘Not content with revealing what you think of me, Miss Bennet, you now wish to put words in my mouth?’
‘No! I did not mean—’
Elizabeth stopped as Mrs Reynolds came into the hall with Boliver, who assisted Mr Darcy into his great coat.
‘You will have to excuse me, madam. I am due up at the Hall.’ With that, the gentleman took his hat and gloves from his butler and strode towards the door.
Confused as to why her words had raised Mr Darcy’s ire, Elizabeth’s puzzled gaze followed him. What was his meaning? How could he not want her to depart as soon as possible?
Unable to account for such a notion, Elizabeth summoned a smile for the housekeeper. She would dwell upon Mr Darcy another time. For now, all her interest must be for her friend and the prompt return of Mr Robinson.
Anne had been staring with rapt attention at Captain Wentworth. Though five years had passed, he was as handsome as she remembered, despite the facial hair and the bruise upon his forehead. Full of thanks as she was for his awakening, however, Anne’s head was a complete muddle.
Frederick speaking her name in his delirium she negated, for it could be accounted for by all manner of things, but now this! How could he think the engagement persisted, when it could not be farther from the truth?
Wary of touching him now he had been conscious, Anne eased away from the edge of the bed, then got to her feet and walked over to stare out of the window. The sky was a heavy grey, indicative of further snow, and she shivered. What would happen now?
If Frederick recovered, he would soon realise his mistake, remember the angry words exchanged between them, judge her once more with the disbelief and disfavour of five years ago. Though it was a memory Anne had been unable to expunge, she had no desire to revisit it.
A sound came from across the room, and Anne flew back to Captain Wentworth’s side. She watched him carefully as his head moved restlessly to and fro on the pillow, grateful for these returning signs of life, then glanced over at the open door before retaking her seat.
Anne caught her breath as his eyelids flickered, then slowly raised. His face bespoke confusion but then the corners of his mouth lifted.
‘I did not dream it, then.’ The captain’s voice remained distant, and Anne retrieved the cordial bottle, doing her best to administer it, before he fell back against the pillows, his brow furrowed.
‘What happened to me? My ship, the men.’ Captain Wentworth sighed. ‘I cannot recall, though I suspect the dear old Asp is gone to her watery grave.’
Unready for this inquisition, Anne knew not how to respond. The Laconia was indeed sunk. The Asp was the sloop he had taken command of back in the year six, soon after their acrimonious parting.
‘I know only what the papers reported and the little supplied by the naval emissary who brought you here from the port. At first, we thought all hands had been lost, and—’
Anne drew in a short breath. ‘My friend. Miss Bennet. She was here earlier when you first awoke.’
The captain did not speak, his eyes closing once more, and assuming he had drifted back into sleep, Anne remained quiet, but then his hand gripped the coverlet tightly.
‘Tell me. I must know, however little.’
Despite its hoarseness, Captain Wentworth’s voice was as commanding as she recalled it, and Anne closed her own eyes briefly, simply relishing a sound she had long thought lost.
‘Your ship was caught in a monstrous storm off the coast of Ireland. I am so sorry, Frederick. I believe only a handful of men survived.’ She lowered her head, imagining those terrifying moments as the freezing waves crashed over them all, as they fought with all their being for survival, thoughts of their loved ones most prevalent in their minds as life was brutally forced from their bodies.
There was silence for a moment, but then the captain drew a shuddering breath and his eyes opened. Though Anne did not wish him to know she could see his distress, the moisture on his lashes was sufficient to have her reach for her handkerchief, which she held out to him.
Turning his head on the pillow, the captain took the square of linen, a strange consciousness filling his face. ‘You made me such an offering before. I kept it with me always as a token, but I fear it is now lost.’
Tears welled in Anne’s eyes, and she dashed them away. She recalled the moment, in one of those happy days before they had parted. Was Frederick speaking the truth in that he had retained it?
The captain pressed the linen to his eyes, then held it to his nose. He tried to raise himself, but fell back against the pillows.
‘I am ashamed to appear before you like this, dearest Anne.’ He weakly indicated his state of undress. Then, his frown reappeared. ‘How long have I lain thus?’
‘You have been here in Somersetshire a mere four and twenty hours, but you were brought into Plymouth a few days ago.’
‘I am so weary. My eyes persist in closing against my will.’ Captain Wentworth’s hand fell open upon the coverlet. ‘Stay with me. Take my hand.’
Anne reached out to take it, just as footsteps could be heard approaching, and Elizabeth entered the room with Mr Robinson.
Shepherd was once again at the desk when Darcy was shown into the study, his attention with the papers before him.
Sir Walter, who had been adjusting his cravat in the looking glass, greeted Darcy, then turned to his lawyer.
‘You may leave us, Shepherd.’
‘But Sir Walter, we must deal with the…’ The man flicked a wary glance in Darcy’s direction. ‘The Northamptonshire problem.’
Sir Walter waved a dismissive hand. ‘We will deal with it later.’
With a displeased glare, Shepherd left the room, and Darcy wasted no time in informing Sir Walter of his daughter’s intention of remaining at Meadowbrook House until she felt able to leave. He chose not to mention the captain’s awakening, or Elizabeth’s continuing in the neighbourhood. Besides, if the lady had her way, she would be homeward bound as soon as the horses could be harnessed on the morrow.
Darcy pushed away his feelings on the subject. It was no time for such indulgence.
Sir Walter, in the meantime, was eyeing Darcy with displeasure, but then he brightened.
‘Well, doubtless the man will soon be gone, and there will be an end to it. You will have heard I sent the Bennet girl onward? Anne’s choosing to bring her here was most ill-judged.’ He gestured towards the tray of spirits on the dresser. ‘Shall we drink to the departure of those who are naught but an obstruction?’
Darcy kept his tongue under good regulation, shaking his head as Sir Walter poured himself a large brandy.
‘That is better.’ He sipped at the brandy, waving Darcy into a chair and taking his own behind the desk. ‘She was harmless enough, I will warrant, but Elizabeth took it into her head Miss Bennet was some sort of threat.’
Sir Walter laughed, and Darcy gripped his hands together, his ever-present anger towards the man and Miss Elliot stirring in his breast.
‘Had some odd notion she was setting her bonnet at you.’ Sir Walter continued, oblivious to Darcy’s silence. ‘Nonsensical. Ladies can be irrational in matters of the heart can they not? I had no such fear, the lady’s circumstances being so decidedly beneath your own. You would never deign to stoop so low.’ He drained his glass. ‘But my daughter would not have it. What we do for those we love, eh, Darcy?’
Darcy stood up, almost choking on his words. ‘That we can agree on, sir. I will do all in my power to protect those who are dear to me.’
‘Capital. A father could not ask for finer sentiments.’ Sir Walter rose from his seat and gestured towards the door. ‘ Let us find Elizabeth.’
‘You will have to excuse me, sir. I came merely to advise you of your daughter’s wishes.’
‘Nonsense, Darcy. A good turn deserves one in return. If I am to cause no fuss over Anne defying me and making a fool of herself in your house, then you will humour me. There is much to be decided.’
Copyright © 2020 Cass Grafton & Ada Bright
Thanks for reading along! The next chapter will be up on Saturday (23rd).