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Persuasion, by Jane Austen

Part 5 out of 5

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solitary progress up the town (and she felt almost certain of meeting him)
could not be borne. The chair was earnestly protested against,
and Mrs Musgrove, who thought only of one sort of illness,
having assured herself with some anxiety, that there had been no fall
in the case; that Anne had not at any time lately slipped down,
and got a blow on her head; that she was perfectly convinced of having
had no fall; could part with her cheerfully, and depend on
finding her better at night.

Anxious to omit no possible precaution, Anne struggled, and said--

"I am afraid, ma'am, that it is not perfectly understood.
Pray be so good as to mention to the other gentlemen that we hope
to see your whole party this evening. I am afraid there had been
some mistake; and I wish you particularly to assure Captain Harville
and Captain Wentworth, that we hope to see them both."

"Oh! my dear, it is quite understood, I give you my word.
Captain Harville has no thought but of going."

"Do you think so? But I am afraid; and I should be so very sorry.
Will you promise me to mention it, when you see them again?
You will see them both this morning, I dare say. Do promise me."

"To be sure I will, if you wish it. Charles, if you see Captain Harville
anywhere, remember to give Miss Anne's message. But indeed, my dear,
you need not be uneasy. Captain Harville holds himself quite engaged,
I'll answer for it; and Captain Wentworth the same, I dare say."

Anne could do no more; but her heart prophesied some mischance
to damp the perfection of her felicity. It could not be very lasting,
however. Even if he did not come to Camden Place himself,
it would be in her power to send an intelligible sentence
by Captain Harville. Another momentary vexation occurred.
Charles, in his real concern and good nature, would go home with her;
there was no preventing him. This was almost cruel. But she could not
be long ungrateful; he was sacrificing an engagement at a gunsmith's,
to be of use to her; and she set off with him, with no feeling
but gratitude apparent.

They were on Union Street, when a quicker step behind, a something
of familiar sound, gave her two moments' preparation for the sight
of Captain Wentworth. He joined them; but, as if irresolute
whether to join or to pass on, said nothing, only looked.
Anne could command herself enough to receive that look,
and not repulsively. The cheeks which had been pale now glowed,
and the movements which had hesitated were decided. He walked by her side.
Presently, struck by a sudden thought, Charles said--

"Captain Wentworth, which way are you going? Only to Gay Street,
or farther up the town?"

"I hardly know," replied Captain Wentworth, surprised.

"Are you going as high as Belmont? Are you going near Camden Place?
Because, if you are, I shall have no scruple in asking you
to take my place, and give Anne your arm to her father's door.
She is rather done for this morning, and must not go so far without help,
and I ought to be at that fellow's in the Market Place.
He promised me the sight of a capital gun he is just going to send off;
said he would keep it unpacked to the last possible moment,
that I might see it; and if I do not turn back now, I have no chance.
By his description, a good deal like the second size double-barrel of mine,
which you shot with one day round Winthrop."

There could not be an objection. There could be only the most
proper alacrity, a most obliging compliance for public view;
and smiles reined in and spirits dancing in private rapture.
In half a minute Charles was at the bottom of Union Street again,
and the other two proceeding together: and soon words enough had passed
between them to decide their direction towards the comparatively quiet
and retired gravel walk, where the power of conversation would make
the present hour a blessing indeed, and prepare it for all
the immortality which the happiest recollections of their own future lives
could bestow. There they exchanged again those feelings
and those promises which had once before seemed to secure everything,
but which had been followed by so many, many years of division
and estrangement. There they returned again into the past,
more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their re-union, than when
it had been first projected; more tender, more tried, more fixed
in a knowledge of each other's character, truth, and attachment;
more equal to act, more justified in acting. And there, as they slowly
paced the gradual ascent, heedless of every group around them,
seeing neither sauntering politicians, bustling housekeepers,
flirting girls, nor nursery-maids and children, they could indulge in
those retrospections and acknowledgements, and especially in
those explanations of what had directly preceded the present moment,
which were so poignant and so ceaseless in interest. All the little
variations of the last week were gone through; and of yesterday
and today there could scarcely be an end.

She had not mistaken him. Jealousy of Mr Elliot had been
the retarding weight, the doubt, the torment. That had begun to operate
in the very hour of first meeting her in Bath; that had returned,
after a short suspension, to ruin the concert; and that had influenced him
in everything he had said and done, or omitted to say and do,
in the last four-and-twenty hours. It had been gradually yielding
to the better hopes which her looks, or words, or actions
occasionally encouraged; it had been vanquished at last by
those sentiments and those tones which had reached him while she talked
with Captain Harville; and under the irresistible governance of which
he had seized a sheet of paper, and poured out his feelings.

Of what he had then written, nothing was to be retracted or qualified.
He persisted in having loved none but her. She had never been supplanted.
He never even believed himself to see her equal. Thus much indeed
he was obliged to acknowledge: that he had been constant unconsciously,
nay unintentionally; that he had meant to forget her, and believed it
to be done. He had imagined himself indifferent, when he had only
been angry; and he had been unjust to her merits, because he had been
a sufferer from them. Her character was now fixed on his mind
as perfection itself, maintaining the loveliest medium of fortitude
and gentleness; but he was obliged to acknowledge that only at Uppercross
had he learnt to do her justice, and only at Lyme had he begun
to understand himself. At Lyme, he had received lessons
of more than one sort. The passing admiration of Mr Elliot
had at least roused him, and the scenes on the Cobb and at
Captain Harville's had fixed her superiority.

In his preceding attempts to attach himself to Louisa Musgrove
(the attempts of angry pride), he protested that he had for ever
felt it to be impossible; that he had not cared, could not care,
for Louisa; though till that day, till the leisure for reflection
which followed it, he had not understood the perfect excellence
of the mind with which Louisa's could so ill bear a comparison,
or the perfect unrivalled hold it possessed over his own.
There, he had learnt to distinguish between the steadiness of principle
and the obstinacy of self-will, between the darings of heedlessness
and the resolution of a collected mind. There he had seen everything
to exalt in his estimation the woman he had lost; and there begun
to deplore the pride, the folly, the madness of resentment,
which had kept him from trying to regain her when thrown in his way.

From that period his penance had become severe. He had no sooner
been free from the horror and remorse attending the first few days
of Louisa's accident, no sooner begun to feel himself alive again,
than he had begun to feel himself, though alive, not at liberty.

"I found," said he, "that I was considered by Harville an engaged man!
That neither Harville nor his wife entertained a doubt of our
mutual attachment. I was startled and shocked. To a degree,
I could contradict this instantly; but, when I began to reflect
that others might have felt the same--her own family, nay,
perhaps herself--I was no longer at my own disposal. I was hers in honour
if she wished it. I had been unguarded. I had not thought seriously
on this subject before. I had not considered that my excessive intimacy
must have its danger of ill consequence in many ways; and that I had
no right to be trying whether I could attach myself to either of the girls,
at the risk of raising even an unpleasant report, were there no other
ill effects. I had been grossly wrong, and must abide the consequences."

He found too late, in short, that he had entangled himself;
and that precisely as he became fully satisfied of his not caring
for Louisa at all, he must regard himself as bound to her,
if her sentiments for him were what the Harvilles supposed.
It determined him to leave Lyme, and await her complete recovery elsewhere.
He would gladly weaken, by any fair means, whatever feelings or
speculations concerning him might exist; and he went, therefore,
to his brother's, meaning after a while to return to Kellynch,
and act as circumstances might require.

"I was six weeks with Edward," said he, "and saw him happy.
I could have no other pleasure. I deserved none. He enquired after you
very particularly; asked even if you were personally altered,
little suspecting that to my eye you could never alter."

Anne smiled, and let it pass. It was too pleasing a blunder
for a reproach. It is something for a woman to be assured,
in her eight-and-twentieth year, that she has not lost one charm
of earlier youth; but the value of such homage was inexpressibly increased
to Anne, by comparing it with former words, and feeling it to be
the result, not the cause of a revival of his warm attachment.

He had remained in Shropshire, lamenting the blindness of his own pride,
and the blunders of his own calculations, till at once released from Louisa
by the astonishing and felicitous intelligence of her engagement
with Benwick.

"Here," said he, "ended the worst of my state; for now I could at least
put myself in the way of happiness; I could exert myself;
I could do something. But to be waiting so long in inaction,
and waiting only for evil, had been dreadful. Within the first
five minutes I said, `I will be at Bath on Wednesday,' and I was.
Was it unpardonable to think it worth my while to come? and to arrive
with some degree of hope? You were single. It was possible that
you might retain the feelings of the past, as I did; and one encouragement
happened to be mine. I could never doubt that you would be loved and
sought by others, but I knew to a certainty that you had refused one man,
at least, of better pretensions than myself; and I could not help
often saying, `Was this for me?'"

Their first meeting in Milsom Street afforded much to be said,
but the concert still more. That evening seemed to be made up
of exquisite moments. The moment of her stepping forward
in the Octagon Room to speak to him: the moment of Mr Elliot's appearing
and tearing her away, and one or two subsequent moments,
marked by returning hope or increasing despondency, were dwelt on
with energy.

"To see you," cried he, "in the midst of those who could not be
my well-wishers; to see your cousin close by you, conversing and smiling,
and feel all the horrible eligibilities and proprieties of the match!
To consider it as the certain wish of every being who could hope
to influence you! Even if your own feelings were reluctant or indifferent,
to consider what powerful supports would be his! Was it not enough
to make the fool of me which I appeared? How could I look on
without agony? Was not the very sight of the friend who sat behind you,
was not the recollection of what had been, the knowledge of her influence,
the indelible, immoveable impression of what persuasion had once done--
was it not all against me?"

"You should have distinguished," replied Anne. "You should not have
suspected me now; the case is so different, and my age is so different.
If I was wrong in yielding to persuasion once, remember that
it was to persuasion exerted on the side of safety, not of risk.
When I yielded, I thought it was to duty, but no duty could be called
in aid here. In marrying a man indifferent to me, all risk
would have been incurred, and all duty violated."

"Perhaps I ought to have reasoned thus," he replied, "but I could not.
I could not derive benefit from the late knowledge I had acquired
of your character. I could not bring it into play; it was overwhelmed,
buried, lost in those earlier feelings which I had been smarting under
year after year. I could think of you only as one who had yielded,
who had given me up, who had been influenced by any one rather than by me.
I saw you with the very person who had guided you in that year of misery.
I had no reason to believe her of less authority now. The force of habit
was to be added."

"I should have thought," said Anne, "that my manner to yourself
might have spared you much or all of this."

"No, no! your manner might be only the ease which your engagement
to another man would give. I left you in this belief; and yet,
I was determined to see you again. My spirits rallied with the morning,
and I felt that I had still a motive for remaining here."

At last Anne was at home again, and happier than any one in that house
could have conceived. All the surprise and suspense, and every other
painful part of the morning dissipated by this conversation,
she re-entered the house so happy as to be obliged to find an alloy
in some momentary apprehensions of its being impossible to last.
An interval of meditation, serious and grateful, was the best corrective
of everything dangerous in such high-wrought felicity; and she went
to her room, and grew steadfast and fearless in the thankfulness
of her enjoyment.

The evening came, the drawing-rooms were lighted up, the company assembled.
It was but a card party, it was but a mixture of those who had
never met before, and those who met too often; a commonplace business,
too numerous for intimacy, too small for variety; but Anne had never found
an evening shorter. Glowing and lovely in sensibility and happiness,
and more generally admired than she thought about or cared for,
she had cheerful or forbearing feelings for every creature around her.
Mr Elliot was there; she avoided, but she could pity him.
The Wallises, she had amusement in understanding them. Lady Dalrymple
and Miss Carteret--they would soon be innoxious cousins to her.
She cared not for Mrs Clay, and had nothing to blush for in
the public manners of her father and sister. With the Musgroves,
there was the happy chat of perfect ease; with Captain Harville,
the kind-hearted intercourse of brother and sister; with Lady Russell,
attempts at conversation, which a delicious consciousness cut short;
with Admiral and Mrs Croft, everything of peculiar cordiality and
fervent interest, which the same consciousness sought to conceal;
and with Captain Wentworth, some moments of communications
continually occurring, and always the hope of more, and always
the knowledge of his being there.

It was in one of these short meetings, each apparently occupied
in admiring a fine display of greenhouse plants, that she said--

"I have been thinking over the past, and trying impartially
to judge of the right and wrong, I mean with regard to myself;
and I must believe that I was right, much as I suffered from it,
that I was perfectly right in being guided by the friend whom
you will love better than you do now. To me, she was in the place
of a parent. Do not mistake me, however. I am not saying
that she did not err in her advice. It was, perhaps, one of those cases
in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides;
and for myself, I certainly never should, in any circumstance
of tolerable similarity, give such advice. But I mean, that I was right
in submitting to her, and that if I had done otherwise, I should have
suffered more in continuing the engagement than I did even in giving it up,
because I should have suffered in my conscience. I have now,
as far as such a sentiment is allowable in human nature, nothing
to reproach myself with; and if I mistake not, a strong sense of duty
is no bad part of a woman's portion."

He looked at her, looked at Lady Russell, and looking again at her,
replied, as if in cool deliberation--

"Not yet. But there are hopes of her being forgiven in time.
I trust to being in charity with her soon. But I too have been
thinking over the past, and a question has suggested itself,
whether there may not have been one person more my enemy
even than that lady? My own self. Tell me if, when I returned
to England in the year eight, with a few thousand pounds,
and was posted into the Laconia, if I had then written to you,
would you have answered my letter? Would you, in short,
have renewed the engagement then?"

"Would I!" was all her answer; but the accent was decisive enough.

"Good God!" he cried, "you would! It is not that I did not think of it,
or desire it, as what could alone crown all my other success;
but I was proud, too proud to ask again. I did not understand you.
I shut my eyes, and would not understand you, or do you justice.
This is a recollection which ought to make me forgive every one
sooner than myself. Six years of separation and suffering
might have been spared. It is a sort of pain, too, which is new to me.
I have been used to the gratification of believing myself to earn
every blessing that I enjoyed. I have valued myself on honourable toils
and just rewards. Like other great men under reverses," he added,
with a smile. "I must endeavour to subdue my mind to my fortune.
I must learn to brook being happier than I deserve."

Chapter 24

Who can be in doubt of what followed? When any two young people
take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverance
to carry their point, be they ever so poor, or ever so imprudent,
or ever so little likely to be necessary to each other's ultimate comfort.
This may be bad morality to conclude with, but I believe it to be truth;
and if such parties succeed, how should a Captain Wentworth and
an Anne Elliot, with the advantage of maturity of mind,
consciousness of right, and one independent fortune between them,
fail of bearing down every opposition? They might in fact,
have borne down a great deal more than they met with, for there was
little to distress them beyond the want of graciousness and warmth.
Sir Walter made no objection, and Elizabeth did nothing worse
than look cold and unconcerned. Captain Wentworth, with five-and-twenty
thousand pounds, and as high in his profession as merit and activity
could place him, was no longer nobody. He was now esteemed quite worthy
to address the daughter of a foolish, spendthrift baronet,
who had not had principle or sense enough to maintain himself
in the situation in which Providence had placed him, and who could
give his daughter at present but a small part of the share
of ten thousand pounds which must be hers hereafter.

Sir Walter, indeed, though he had no affection for Anne,
and no vanity flattered, to make him really happy on the occasion,
was very far from thinking it a bad match for her. On the contrary,
when he saw more of Captain Wentworth, saw him repeatedly by daylight,
and eyed him well, he was very much struck by his personal claims,
and felt that his superiority of appearance might be not unfairly balanced
against her superiority of rank; and all this, assisted by
his well-sounding name, enabled Sir Walter at last to prepare his pen,
with a very good grace, for the insertion of the marriage
in the volume of honour.

The only one among them, whose opposition of feeling could excite
any serious anxiety was Lady Russell. Anne knew that Lady Russell
must be suffering some pain in understanding and relinquishing Mr Elliot,
and be making some struggles to become truly acquainted with,
and do justice to Captain Wentworth. This however was what
Lady Russell had now to do. She must learn to feel that she had
been mistaken with regard to both; that she had been unfairly influenced
by appearances in each; that because Captain Wentworth's manners
had not suited her own ideas, she had been too quick in suspecting them
to indicate a character of dangerous impetuosity; and that because
Mr Elliot's manners had precisely pleased her in their propriety
and correctness, their general politeness and suavity, she had been
too quick in receiving them as the certain result of the most correct
opinions and well-regulated mind. There was nothing less
for Lady Russell to do, than to admit that she had been
pretty completely wrong, and to take up a new set of opinions
and of hopes.

There is a quickness of perception in some, a nicety in the discernment
of character, a natural penetration, in short, which no experience
in others can equal, and Lady Russell had been less gifted
in this part of understanding than her young friend. But she was
a very good woman, and if her second object was to be sensible
and well-judging, her first was to see Anne happy. She loved Anne
better than she loved her own abilities; and when the awkwardness
of the beginning was over, found little hardship in attaching herself
as a mother to the man who was securing the happiness of her other child.

Of all the family, Mary was probably the one most immediately gratified
by the circumstance. It was creditable to have a sister married,
and she might flatter herself with having been greatly instrumental
to the connexion, by keeping Anne with her in the autumn;
and as her own sister must be better than her husband's sisters,
it was very agreeable that Captain Wentworth should be a richer man than
either Captain Benwick or Charles Hayter. She had something to suffer,
perhaps, when they came into contact again, in seeing Anne restored
to the rights of seniority, and the mistress of a very pretty landaulette;
but she had a future to look forward to, of powerful consolation.
Anne had no Uppercross Hall before her, no landed estate,
no headship of a family; and if they could but keep Captain Wentworth
from being made a baronet, she would not change situations with Anne.

It would be well for the eldest sister if she were equally satisfied
with her situation, for a change is not very probable there.
She had soon the mortification of seeing Mr Elliot withdraw,
and no one of proper condition has since presented himself to raise
even the unfounded hopes which sunk with him.

The news of his cousins Anne's engagement burst on Mr Elliot
most unexpectedly. It deranged his best plan of domestic happiness,
his best hope of keeping Sir Walter single by the watchfulness
which a son-in-law's rights would have given. But, though discomfited
and disappointed, he could still do something for his own interest
and his own enjoyment. He soon quitted Bath; and on Mrs Clay's
quitting it soon afterwards, and being next heard of as established
under his protection in London, it was evident how double a game
he had been playing, and how determined he was to save himself
from being cut out by one artful woman, at least.

Mrs Clay's affections had overpowered her interest, and she had sacrificed,
for the young man's sake, the possibility of scheming longer
for Sir Walter. She has abilities, however, as well as affections;
and it is now a doubtful point whether his cunning, or hers,
may finally carry the day; whether, after preventing her from being
the wife of Sir Walter, he may not be wheedled and caressed at last
into making her the wife of Sir William.

It cannot be doubted that Sir Walter and Elizabeth were shocked
and mortified by the loss of their companion, and the discovery of
their deception in her. They had their great cousins, to be sure,
to resort to for comfort; but they must long feel that to flatter
and follow others, without being flattered and followed in turn,
is but a state of half enjoyment.

Anne, satisfied at a very early period of Lady Russell's meaning
to love Captain Wentworth as she ought, had no other alloy
to the happiness of her prospects than what arose from the consciousness
of having no relations to bestow on him which a man of sense could value.
There she felt her own inferiority very keenly. The disproportion
in their fortune was nothing; it did not give her a moment's regret;
but to have no family to receive and estimate him properly,
nothing of respectability, of harmony, of good will to offer
in return for all the worth and all the prompt welcome which met her
in his brothers and sisters, was a source of as lively pain
as her mind could well be sensible of under circumstances of otherwise
strong felicity. She had but two friends in the world to add to his list,
Lady Russell and Mrs Smith. To those, however, he was very well disposed
to attach himself. Lady Russell, in spite of all her former transgressions,
he could now value from his heart. While he was not obliged to say
that he believed her to have been right in originally dividing them,
he was ready to say almost everything else in her favour,
and as for Mrs Smith, she had claims of various kinds to recommend her
quickly and permanently.

Her recent good offices by Anne had been enough in themselves,
and their marriage, instead of depriving her of one friend,
secured her two. She was their earliest visitor in their settled life;
and Captain Wentworth, by putting her in the way of recovering
her husband's property in the West Indies, by writing for her,
acting for her, and seeing her through all the petty difficulties
of the case with the activity and exertion of a fearless man
and a determined friend, fully requited the services which
she had rendered, or ever meant to render, to his wife.

Mrs Smith's enjoyments were not spoiled by this improvement of income,
with some improvement of health, and the acquisition of such friends
to be often with, for her cheerfulness and mental alacrity did not
fail her; and while these prime supplies of good remained, she might have
bid defiance even to greater accessions of worldly prosperity.
She might have been absolutely rich and perfectly healthy,
and yet be happy. Her spring of felicity was in the glow
of her spirits, as her friend Anne's was in the warmth of her heart.
Anne was tenderness itself, and she had the full worth of it
in Captain Wentworth's affection. His profession was all that could ever
make her friends wish that tenderness less, the dread of a future war
all that could dim her sunshine. She gloried in being a sailor's wife,
but she must pay the tax of quick alarm for belonging to that profession
which is, if possible, more distinguished in its domestic virtues
than in its national importance.


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