When Jane Austen's Persuasion opens in the year 1814, Frederick Wentworth, now a famous and wealthy captain in His Majesty's Navy, finds himself back in England and, as fate would have it, residing as a guest in Anne's former home. Now, it is the baronet who is in financial difficulties, and Anne exists only at her family's beck and call. For eight long years, Frederick had steeled his heart against her. Should he allow Anne into his heart again, or should he look for love with younger, prettier woman in the neighbourhood who regard him as a hero?
The mature sweetness of Jane Austen's Persuasion is brought to life in Wytherngate Press's, None But You ., the first in the two-volume series, Frederick Wentworth, Captain, by Susan Kaye.
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"Captain Wentworth, thank you for inviting Anne and me. There is no honour quite like taking dinner in the Great Cabin of a frigate." Admiral Hammond pumped the captain's hand and then dropped it to move to the side, admonishing the men manoeuvring his niece in the boson's chair, "Carefully there, carefully, you grass combers."
Wentworth was glad to be released from the man's sweaty grasp but bristled at the remark. His men were gentle as a gaggle of nannies with the fair Miss Hammond. The Admiral's remarks were uncalled for, though it was only natural, as Hammond had no good reputation amongst seagoing men. Stories from his active service were punctuated with instances of cruelty and barbarism, and the captain took this into account.
Nodding to the smiling Miss Hammond as she disappeared over the side, he noticed a little wave. He hoped the Admiral did not see it, as it was meant for his friend, Gilmore Craig, who kept a vigilant watch just next to the accommodation ladder. They were on the verge of carrying off another successful meeting between the two youngsters, and he wanted nothing to go wrong at the very close of it.
With the niece safely stowed, Hammond insisted on another round of handshakes. "Thank you, again, Captain. There are few men whose invitation don't make me wince and whose company I can abide so well. I wouldn't mind having more of it." The man's meddling was always off-putting, particularly having to do with his niece, but Wentworth would endure for the sake of his friend.
"Thank you, sir. I too look forward to our next meeting, but as you leave for India inside the week, I fear it will be delayed some."
Still grasping Wentworth'shand, Hammond pulled him closer. "Yes, but with enough warning and depending on the time of year, I can be back in country in two months time." Brushing past Craig, he growled, "Good evening," then gingerly picked his way down the accommodation ladder.
Wentworth and his guest watched them row out and away. Craig finally said, "As much as I would have liked to be in Miss Hammond's company, I am quite glad the Admiral's boat is too small to safely accommodate three passengers."
Wentworth smiled. "Yes, but I'm certain there would only have been two passengers by the time the shore was reached." Turning, he headed to his cabin.
"Just what did you mean, Captain? Captain?" Gilmore Craig followed.
The Marine opened the door to the Captain's Great Cabin and the hot air met them full on. At nearly six on a July day, even with skylights and stern windows wide open, the room was oppressive. Fortunately, only in summer was the closeness a nuisance to him. In other seasons, Wentworth took comfort in the closeness of the two rooms. They held minimal furniture-a desk, table and chair with side table in the outer room. His sleeping chamber held a shaving stand, dresser and his cot. He could not think that any accommodations on land could compare, and he was satisfied to endure a few months of discomfort in exchange for such a snug place to call home.
Craig acknowledged the heat with a muttered, "By God," and continued to press his question about Wentworth's comment. "And what exactly did you mean by that curious remark?"
Their entry interrupted Michaelson, Wentworth's steward, who was in the process of carefully removing the china and crystal onto a tray. The man was as meticulous as any woman about the captain's personal possessions, and it was always amusing to watch him titivating and fussing after such things. After tucking the last of the linen in a basket, he poured the gentlemen each a glass of port.
Wentworth took a drink, unsure his friend would appreciate the humour. "I suppose I meant that, considering Hammond's disapproval of you and your understandable dislike of him, one of you was sure to hove the other over the side and been done with the whole battle of wills." He hesitated in taking another drink. "Poor Miss Hammond. To witness such a thing would be a frightful end to an enjoyable evening." Taking the drink, he awaited Craig's response.
Gil opened his mouth, then closed it, looked puzzled, then spoke. "It would answer, would it not? The old boy over the side and I get Annie."
The captain turned and watched a gull perched on a beef barrel, floating past Laconia's stern windows. His friend's bloodthirstiness was not so disturbing as Craig's pet name for the Admiral's niece.
Holding out his glass to be refilled, Wentworth said, "Let us put that all aside and play. Michaelson, you may set up the table and then leave us."
"If we are to play, then I am taking off this bleedin' coat. I don't mind telling you, when there is no breeze, your cabin has all the appeal of playing chess in Hades."
Michaelson divested the Captain of the heavy, dress uniform coat. With the removal, Hades cooled considerably. Since it was just the two of them, he followed Gil's lead and unbuttoned his cuffs, rolling them up.
"I must say, that is a very apt analogy of what it is like playing chess with you, my friend."
"When it is your turn, there is very little to do and the wait is an eternal one," said Wentworth with a smile.
Craig began unrolling his sleeve. "I could leave you alone with your sparkling wit, you know."
Taking his seat, the captain said, "No, no. I shall behave and watch my tongue."
Michaelson filled their glasses one last time and departed.
An hour or so later, the evening gun sounded. Soon after, he heard the arrival of the shore party. The summer of 1814 was overseeing the end of the war and an enormous number of ships being called back to home port. This being the case, he endeavoured to keep his men in some sort of decent order by granting them a day's leave by gun crews. With only eight men ashore at a time, it reduced the chances of fighting with other ship's crews and having to fill his brig for such foolishness.
The board was a strategic mess with only ten turns accomplished. Playing chess with Craig was more an exercise in patience than a lesson in tactical thinking. "Gil, please. Have mercy on my nerves and make a move."
He slid a pawn forward, which Wentworth immediately captured with his King's knight. There was no satisfaction in the seizure, but it could be thought of as progress, of a sort.
"You know, I've been wondering something." Craig made a move towards his Queen's knight, but thought better of it.
"And what might that be?"
"The Admiral makes no secret that he wants Anne to marry a navy officer. You particularly." He moved another pawn.
"That is the rumour." It was only one of the rumours in which the clacking tongues of Plymouth engaged. They also had her going to India and being married off to a maharajah so that the Admiral could establish himself a sort of colony of which he would be the undeniable head. The reliability of such talk was suspect at every turn.
"Have you ever thought about her that way? I mean marrying her. Annie is certainly beautiful. I cannot imagine a man not liking those blue eyes and fair hair. And she is educated and has a wonderful sense of humour . . . "
Taking a deep breath, Wentworth settled in for another lecture on all the graces of Miss Anne Hammond. Since Gil's meeting her ten months earlier, whenever her name was mentioned he would, unbidden, set about listing her fine qualities. To be sure, she possessed many, but the list was becoming longer with each recitation, and the recitations were becoming more frequent.
The fact was, early in Wentworth's life he nearly broke himself over a woman named Anne, and ridiculous as it might be, he would rather be hanged than face another over the table, in his bed or anywhere near his thoughts for the rest of his life. However, with the lectures being more frequent, Wentworth might consider marrying the inestimable Miss Hammond, despite Gil's obvious feelings, just to shut the man up.
"Well, have you?" There was almost an accusatory quality to his question.
The Captain was both amazed and amused. His friend now seemed angry that he harboured no romantic interests in the woman. The absurdity of the human heart would never cease to amaze him. "No, Gil, I have never thought of Miss Hammond in that way. She is obviously in love with you."
Gilbert brightened. "Do you really think so?"
"Yes. There is a look about her when you are around. Women in love have a look about them."
"Yes, they do. Now make a move."
He watched Gil scrutinise the board and realised the words had an ironic double meaning that seemed quite suited to his friend's situation. Before he knew it, he was contemplating a summer long gone and someone who had said the words to him.
"Now make a move," the girl said.
"I cannot." He sat up and tossed his hand of cards into the waste pile. "You have an unfair advantage."
"How can I possibly have an unfair advantage? You have just taught me this abominable game. And I am losing!" She held out an ill-arranged mass of cards to prove her point. All he cared for was her smile and the way her eyes welcomed his gaze.
"I can see nothing but you." Gently taking her cards, he tossed them down with his and moved closer. "There. Now it is a draw. Your beauty is no longer an advantage."
"Not in the game at least." He was delighted with her mortified expression when the full meaning of what she said burst upon her. "I didn't mean I am-"
"Yes, you meant every word," he teased. Looking deeply into her startled brown eyes caused the cards, the picnic, and the quiet countryside to disappear. It also caused the already warm temperature to rise markedly. "You are beautiful."
"And you are a flatterer."
"Ah, but you see, flattery is merely a seed of truth stretched to its uttermost. To say you are beautiful is no exaggeration. It is a truth with no limits."
She looked away.
It was touching that his comments could embarrass her so easily. "What have I said?"
Turning back, her eyes were bright. "In our family, it is Elizabeth who is the beauty. Not I." Taking up the cards, she began to sort and straighten them.
"She is beautiful, by definition. However, there is no attraction there for me. Since my arrival, there has only been you. I have set my course and will not change it." He felt panic when the words returned to his ears, but in almost an instant, their meaning was perfectly analogous to his feelings.
"And what is your course?" Her voice was barely audible.
"To make you my wife."
The thought had been uppermost for days, and when waking that particular morning, he had made no plan to ask the question. However, there was something about her that day, that hour, that minute that made him want her more than he wanted anything else in the world.
Her expression remained quizzical, and she rose to walk a little. He followed.
"What have I done? You do not like the idea of being my wife." Again, he felt panic, but this time there was no immediate consolation.
He could hear the wind in the plane trees that made up the small grove where they met. He could hear the sound of her picking at a bit of loose bark.
She finally turned to him, she leant against the tree and said, "Look at me, and tell me what you see."
He took advantage of the circumstance to draw closer than he had ever dared. He too leant against the tree, taking the opportunity to stare at her openly. "I see a woman who takes my breath away, and I see that she loves me as well, and that she wishes to marry me." After his answer, she smiled and said her feelings were just that. He moved closer for a kiss, but she drew back a little.
Anne Elliot was intelligent and beautiful and her acceptance of his proposal made him feel the world open more widely that he had ever dared consider, but she was still a country girl with country sensibilities. He would not pursue the issue though he wished mightily for more than smiles and the occasional holding of hands.
It was unfortunate that his memories of such a tender moment were polluted by his knowledge of their future. In the past, when he would allow himself to think about her, scenes such as this had been charged with emotion to the point they brought on a rapidly beating heart and the sweats. Now, the memories had lost their edge. Even what he saw in his mind's eye had dimmed. The face was fair and the hair was deep brown. Her eyes were brown as well and he remembered that she was smiling. Nevertheless, it was like gazing through a fog. It was unfortunate that he had fooled himself into believing she loved him. He learned a few days after the impromptu proposal that her loving him was not the truth. If she had truly loved him, she never would have let him go.
Opening his eyes, he was mortified to find his friend reaching over the chessboard to shake his arm.
"That's better. It's bad enough that you take advantage of my poor tactical skills and goad me into playing you, but the least you could do is put a good face on it and stay awake as I humiliate myself."
"Sorry, Craig, I was just going over a list of minor repairs that we now have the opportunity of doing. I'm having to reach to find things to keep my men occupied."
"Do you think they will take Laconia from you?"
"Can't see a reason why not. With Napoleon no longer on the rampage, there is no reason to feed and clothe most of us. I've had no official confirmation, but I expect it any day."
"Damn rotten luck. But surely something will come up."
"Thrown ashore with half-pay is not ideal, though I don't come away from my service exactly poor." Wentworth was known throughout the navy as one of the luckiest captains afloat. There was wild speculation as to his worth, most of it grossly exaggerated, but the truth was, with judicious living, he could be very comfortable for the rest of his life. This was no mean feat considering that he was self-educated, the son of a struggling merchant, and, aside from having a rear admiral of the white for a brother-in-law, unconnected to any real power in the Admiralty. He had done well for himself, but there was still more he wanted. Much more.
Craig looked out the window and then checked his watch. "Ah, time to be off. You know I hate being on the water in the dark." Rising, he put on his coat and cast about for his hat. Wentworth donned his coat and looked over the chess pieces; the win was his in less than five moves. It was true Gilmore Craig did not care for being on the water after dark, few landsmen did, but he had to wonder if the loss of yet another game might have as much to do with his desire to be ashore.
"Thank you for inviting me to dine with Miss Hammond and her uncle. This subterfuge is wearing thin, I know."
"Not at all. One sort of chase is as interesting as another," Wentworth said. "Though I do expect, once the Admiral leaves Plymouth for India, the two of you will find your own ways to meet."
"Unless, of course, he is able to convince you to marry her before he sails. That's what he really wants. Blast it, Wentworth, I am what I am. I own a warehouse. I own five warehouses and make a very good living. Nevertheless, because I do not wear that blue and gold coat like you, he refuses to acknowledge I exist. Really, you have no idea how grinding it is to have a man despise you for not being good enough."
Better than most, the captain knew precisely what such a humiliation was like, though he said nothing to Craig. "As I said, once he is departed, the two of you will find your own way in this."
"But she is a good girl, Captain. I don't know that she will go against what she knows to be his wishes, even if he's thousands of miles away."
"Then you will convince her, Gil. She is of majority; you said she has some money of her own. I understand very well the claims of authority, but I also think the heart is its own authority. You must not let her put you aside for a misplaced notion of obedience."
Craig hesitated and studied Wentworth. "That sounds strange coming from you." He headed to the door, and then stopped. "Just out of curiosity, what do you think of elopements? She has no close family other than Hammond; so who would be the wiser?"
Wentworth picked up his scraper and gave it a brush as Craig worked out another fantastical plan to have her for his own. He opened the door and the Marine stationed outside snapped to attention, Gil prating on as they came up on deck.
"Thank you for a good evening. I appreciate all the arrangements you make."
"As I said, in a few days you will be able to make your move."
Craig smiled and shook his head. "You should be a politician, Wentworth. You have a knack for choosing the most advantageous strategy."
The captain watched him descend into the small boat assigned to row him ashore. Taking a turn on the quarterdeck, the Officer of the Watch gave him a report while a procuress came alongside, offering a bargain price for several of her girls. When she was sent on her way without making a sale, she pronounced a pox on Laconia and all her crew. Wentworth mused that she was too late for some of the men had already obtained their own curses, their own ways.
He turned away from the activity of the quarterdeck and walked along the waist, the men giving their obediences and making a clear path for him. Letting them think he was observing the nightly rituals, in reality, he watched the sun set behind the western hills. As the last of the orange radiance slipped behind the black mounds, he saw the glass turned and bid the officers a good evening.
Michaelson was just clearing away the chessboard and glasses when he entered the Great Cabin. He dismissed the steward, removed his coat, and loosened his neck cloth. Leaning out the stern window, he enjoyed a cool breeze that kicked up.
He had no wish to dive into ship's daily paperwork or to read. Too early to turn in for the night, he dragged a chair before the windows, took a seat, kicked off his boots, and put his feet on the stern lockers. It was an ungracious pose, but at this time of night, short of a skylarker falling from the rigging or a fire breaking out, only Michaelson would dare to interrupt him.
It felt good to be alone, an uncommon occurrence on a ship of war, but considering where his thoughts had strayed earlier in the evening, it was also dangerous. He'd given no thought to Anne Elliot, or his engagement to her, for some time. As he recalled, the last miserable go round with his memories had been the previous summer. Obviously there was something about the hot weather of July that wrung such oppressive thoughts out of him.