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Fiction by Pen . . . . . not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment

Of Duty, and a Path Not Ridden

with thanks to frausorge for the beta


Miss Anne Elliot had never considered herself to be an accomplished horsewoman. She could ride, naturally, but for her the exercise was a useful necessity, not a pleasure, and she generally preferred to be conveyed in a carriage.Riding to visit the families of the estate had required the attendance of a groom, for the opening of gates, for keeping the mare occupied while she paid her call, and for assistance in remounting without the aid of the block.

It had been no great hardship to her to give up her horse, and she had never regretted making the suggestion. Her father had received it with surprise, but after discussing with his eldest daughter whether it was proper for the child of a baronet not to possess her own riding animal, had eventually decided that since the child in question was only Anne, it could not be said to signify. The notion of economy was still abhorrent to Sir Walter. At twenty-one, Anne was not privy to the details of the household accounts, still less to those of the estate, but she had eyes, and ears, and sense, and knew all too well that since the death of her beloved mama almost seven years ago, moderation and common sense had had very little to do in Kellynch Hall. There were more important matters than owning a horse that afforded more expense than pleasure.

It remained, however, an essential part of the Elliot family duties to visit the tenants of the estate. It was the Elliot way, just as it was the Elliot way always to be the smartest in their company, first in appearance just as they were first in consequence. Elizabeth claimed for herself the right of calling upon the wives of the chief tenants, and it was left to Anne to seek out the humbler residents. Perhaps it was better so. It must be deemed a greater honour to receive Miss Elliot, and Elizabeth certainly enjoyed the flattery of those she did not consider so far beneath her that even their flattery could afford no compliment.

At times, Anne thought it might be pleasant not to be constrained to do things the Elliot way. But, since her name would be Elliot for the rest of her days, there was no escape.

This morning, Anne had called at three cottages. At the first, she had dispensed friendliness and interest, at the second, friendliness, interest, and a basket of apples for the children of the house. At the third, she had given sensible advice, sincere well-wishes, and a recipe for a mustard poultice copied from her mother's household book.

And now, the better for several small cakes of admittedly varying quality, she was on her way home. The air was cool and fresh, the sky clear and blue. A good day, in fact, for a walk, and she was not at all averse to a walk. Lacking a horse to control, however, meant that her mind was entirely free to wander, and unlike her feet, which found their way back to the Hall without hesitation, wander it did. Although since her mind tended to find its way back to one particular topic, perhaps it followed a path almost as familiar and inevitable to her as the route back to her home.

Did he ever think of her? Had the hurt of rejection faded like an old bruise, or was it still too painful to touch? Did his mind return to the same sore subject as hers did, or had time and employment driven her from his thoughts? Had he, perhaps, come to recognise that she had been sensible and prudent to refuse him? It was her only comfort, now, that she had done the right and proper thing. Did he understand, now, that she had been thinking of him, of his career, as well as herself? Was he inclined to forgive her, or still bitter? Or had he forgotten her altogether, which would be worst of all. She should wish it, for his comfort, but she could not.

She would never see him again. She had accepted this truth, and yet still, she could not overcome the pain of it.

She ought not to think of it, she knew that she ought not to wish for it, yet somehow it was impossible not to imagine, to dream, that one day... one day, the butler might interrupt her quiet sewing to enquire whether Miss Anne would receive Captain Wentworth. No, that was too much to dream of, but a letter, perhaps one day, there would be a letter for her, perhaps even today when she got home, there would be a letter. Asking if he might call, asking if she still thought of him.

There would be no letter. She followed his career when she could, scouring the Lists to see whither he was posted, what actions he—his ship—had been involved in. He was busy, active, he was far away. He would not choose to write to Miss Anne Elliot, who had refused him.

But as she walked towards Kellynch Hall, free for the next hour from all duties other than the walk, she could dream.

As she walked quietly through the hall, her eye was briefly caught by a card on a silver tray. Who could be calling upon them today? It was not Lady Russell's day for visiting, but she knew that her father and both her sisters were at home, and any other visitor would surely have been taken up to be received by them. Lady Russell was the only visitor who might choose to see Anne alone, and it was not her day for visiting, so—

Chiding herself for curiosity, Anne looked at the name on the card.

Captain Frederick Wentworth.

She could not move. Her limbs drained of all strength, for a moment she felt as though she must faint, but she clasped the bannister and struggled to breathe.

She could not believe—he, here?

And she had been out.

Her hands shook and her feet stumbled as she climbed as quickly as she might and sought the sanctuary of her own bedroom. Frederick—here? How? Why, why had he come? To see her, she had no doubt, but...was it possible, was it possible he had come to renew his addresses to her? Her heart hammered so in her chest, blood thumped in her ears, she closed her eyes and tried to breathe, calmly, carefully.

The housemaid was here to help her out of her muddied walking dress and into the next gown. Anne had no personal maid, it having been apparent even when she left the schoolroom that such an expense would be unwise. Elizabeth had a dresser, of course, but Elizabeth's woman was above ministering to mere younger sisters, even had Elizabeth countenanced such an imposition.

But Ellen was capable, and attempting to better herself. Anne managed vague answers to the rote questions that came, submitted to having her hair put up again and her stockings changed. "Thank you, Ellen," she said, at last. "I expect Mary will be impatient for you. I am ready."

She must speak to Harvey. The butler would surely know whether that card—it had not been an illusion, surely it had not—whether Captain—if he had asked to see her, if there had been some message.... Oh, could she not have done her Elliot duty yesterday, tomorrow, any other day than today!

"The Captain asked to see you, Miss Anne, and I explained that you were not at home," the butler explained.

And he would not know, he would not realise that she had truly been out of the house, that her errands had taken her away. He might think she had given instructions that he was not to be shown up, if ever he should present himself. What could she possibly do?

"Did the Captain say he would call again?"

"He did not say so, Miss Anne."

"If. If he should call again, if I am at home I will see him, naturally, that is, supposing I am not sitting with my father or my sisters. If I should be in company—"

"I will have a message conveyed to you privately, Miss Anne," the butler said, with gentle calm.

"Yes, yes, that will do very well. And if I should be from home again, please be sure to inform the Captain where I am, and when I am expected to return. I should not like him to think that I—that he is not welcome."

Harvey nodded. She thought he understood. Perhaps he understood rather more than she wished him to understand, but if Frederick should return she must, she must speak to him.

Anne picked up the card. Her fingers curled over it lovingly, and she hurried back to her bedroom to hide it beneath her pillow. Oh, if only she had not been from home.

The face that looked back at her from the morning's mirror was not one to gladden a lover's heart. Anne had not slept well, tumbling over and over in her mind the possibilities—he had sacrificed his pride only to be rebuffed, he would come back and insist on seeing her, he had come only on some trivial errand, he had returned to his ship, he would return and renew his addresses, he would return and upbraid her again for not trusting herself to him, or, he would not come. No matter how often she told herself to wait until the morrow, her head would not be quiet.

Cold water helped her dull countenance, and a neatly combed head, and the prettiest of her day dresses. And today, Anne would not be from home. After yesterday's walking, she needed to rest somewhat, and she had tasks enough about the house and in the garden to keep her busy. She would not be out when—if—when he returned.

Frederick did not return.

Sir Walter spared a moment of his attention from his dinner that evening to comment that Anne looked very wan, and recommended Gower's Lotion to her. Elizabeth merely sniffed and turned her attention back to her father. Mary, almost seventeen and old enough to join them at dinner, contrived to ask in an undertone if Anne was quite well, and to complain that she herself had had the headache all day and had only got up from her rest out of a sense of duty. Anne, noting that Mary's appetite did not seem unduly impaired by her sufferings, disclaimed the headache and reported simply that she had been outdoors, and perhaps the sun had been too much for her.

On the following day, Anne prepared as usual to walk to Lady Russell's house, whither she regularly went several times a week, except that today, it took her longer than usual to decide which walking dress she ought to wear, and which was the most becoming bonnet. Would Lady Russell notice the turmoil occupying her mind? She thought she must be able to hide it, and collected her book, intending to offer to lend it to her friend and thus, divert the conversation into an easily managed track.

She sought out Harvey to remind him that Captain Wentworth was to be apprised of her whereabouts, and received his calm reassurance with a little comfort, but not enough to quell the fluttering dread in her stomach. If he knew she was visiting Lady Russell, a person who had angered him so considerably in the past, would he—oh, she could not tell. How could she tell?

Anne had her duty to fulfill, and out to see Lady Russell she must go. Out, therefore, she went, with her gaze checking the road ahead and the fields beside in case that familiar figure should appear. She could not dream of it, not today, she was too much in dread that it might not happen, and perhaps dreading a little that it might, for then, what would she do? What would she say? What would he say?

Lady Russell did not notice anything amiss, and Anne's frantic thoughts were calmed by the measured and sensible conversation of her dear friend. They talked of books, and neighbours, and a little of Anne's attempts to moderate her father's extravagance, although Lady Russell of course would never criticise her father to Anne, only suggest a possible plan of action which both of them knew perfectly well would not come to fruition. Lady Russell had a visit of her own to pay, but offered to take her friend up in her carriage for at least a part of the walk back to Kellynch. Anne, considering how very dreadful it would be if—if—Frederick were to seek her out, were to come upon her in Lady Russell's carriage—no. She had no rational expectation that he would try to find her on the road, but her heart clung to the notion that he might, perhaps he might, and she must not be found with Lady Russell. So she declined with a smile, said that it did her good to take her solitary walk, and set off to walk home.

Not until Anne had walked almost a mile, still looking about her and failing to see that dear, tall figure in the landscape, did she realise there was something she could do. It was the sight of the distant church tower that reminded her: Edward Wentworth! Frederick's younger brother, the curate. Why had she not thought of this sooner? Frederick had been staying at Monkford two years ago, what could be more natural than that he be there now? Unless he had returned to Portsmouth. In that case, his brother would know, and it would be better for the steadiness of her mind to know the worst. She must go to Monkford.

Oh, never had she so much regretted giving up her horse! Anne knew her own limits, and to walk on to Monkford now would leave her quite unable to make her own way back to Kellynch Hall. She must go home. She must go home, and trust that she would have the strength to walk to Monkford tomorrow. She would have the strength. She must.

She turned for home.

So preoccupied was Anne in turning over the possibilities of the morrow, in considering whether she might encounter Captain Wentworth at his brother's house, whether he might already have left the neighbourhood, whether he might be pleased to see her, and what in the world she was to say, so many thoughts whirled in her mind that she quite forgot to look about her.

Thus it was that when a tall, well-proportioned gentleman approached from the curve in the path, she did not for a moment realise what was happening.

The gentleman—Captain Wentworth—Frederick—oh!—removed his hat politely and hesitated as she stared witlessly at him. Sensibility flooded her being and her face flushed with it, and she was too confused to speak.

"Good day, Miss Wentworth," he said, looking earnestly at her as he spoke the anodyne words. An instant later the blood rose into his cheeks until he was quite scarlet, and Anne, astonished, understood what he had said and what it must mean, and a profound and glorious joy chased out all the self-consciousness of a moment ago.

She stepped forward, took his right hand between hers, and said, "I am so very happy to see you."

Captain Wentworth was better able to master his confusion, and his burning cheeks faded somewhat. "I beg your pardon, I was, I spoke without thinking." He smiled, tentatively. "Miss Elliot. You look very well. You are in good health, I hope?" Seeing her return his smile, he grew bolder. "I have been to Kellynch Hall, and your servant informed me you were gone to visit your friend. I am pleased to have understood his directions as to the road you would take."

Harvey had not betrayed her trust! Anne's smile grew, for Frederick had come to find her. He had called to see her, despite the disappointment of his first visit. He had come! "I am so glad now that I gave up my horse," she said. His look invited her to explain. "Had I been on horseback, I should have gone to Monkford, and thence to Kellynch by the eastern road, and we should not have met."

"Then I too am glad that you gave up your horse," he said, and his left hand closed over her two hands which still grasped his right. "Miss Elliot. Anne." Seeing encouragement in her eyes, he went on. "Anne. You said you are happy to see me. If I had but time, I wish I might court you as you deserve, but I must leave Somersetshire tomorrow, and I must ask at once. I have hoped, I have dreamed, I have no right to expect, but perhaps in your heart there is still a place for me?"


"I have lately—I have just come into a new ship, I am to captain the <em>Laconia</em>, and I have hopes, great hopes, that with her I may make my fortune. For now, I have some prize money, enough I hope to support a wife, and I could not but come to see whether perhaps... Anne, my dearest Anne, I have not been able to forget you. Through all the exertions of the past two years, you were constantly in my thoughts. When I spoke to you two years ago I was a man with only my character and my ambitions to recommend me. Now, I have some substance to my name, and I must ask, must hope that you, in short, I am here to ask if you are ready to change your mind, if you will marry me." He looked as though he would have said more, if he could only find the words, but Anne needed nothing more.

"Yes," she said. "Oh, Frederick, yes."

As they walked, slowly and with her arm snugly twined with his, they talked of those most intimate feelings which every body in love must recognise. A half mile sufficed, more or less, to reassure each other that those tender emotions had not been wasted, had always been reciprocated even at such a distance. In the next half mile they discussed how soon they might be married, whether Anne would wish to accompany her husband aboard his ship or should prefer to remain under her father's roof as an engaged woman until he might return to claim her. Anne was most decisive in preferring to marry as soon as possible, and to travel with him wherever his employment might lead him. To remain merely engaged for an unpredictable time would be to experience all the anxiety to which their relationship entitled her without any of its joys. A delay of a few months she could countenance, but not more. She wanted to share his life, and to marry as soon as might be possible.

"I am likely to be posted to the West Indies now that our troubles with France are over, but for the present my orders are to remain in home waters. I must return to Portsmouth tomorrow. For today, I shall escort you all the way to Kellynch Hall, and I will speak to your father at once."

"He will be very much surprised, but I think there can be no objection."

"There may be some objections," Frederick said, "but I will not be gainsaid. With your consent to marry me, I have all that I need."

Anne held his hand more tightly, and saw ahead the bright horizons that stretched into the future.


Lady Russell was not a woman who shirked her duty. She had always taken pride in doing the right thing, even when it pained her. She never avoided a necessary duty, never slid out of an obligation, never left a letter unanswered—no. No, she could not quite claim that. She had once—but it had been impossible to respond, quite impossible. But that aside, Lady Russell always kept her conscience clear, always did as she ought.

There was now nothing further she could do for her dear Anne's family. She had tried for years, heaven knew, to convince Sir Walter that his chosen style of living was to be regretted, lacking as it did any acknowledgment of the responsibilities attached to his position in the world. To no avail. It had taken the combined persuasions of herself, Mr Shepherd and the estate manager to convince Sir Walter that he must retrench. He and his daughters were now settled in Bath, and appeared not to notice the reduction in their circumstances. From Kellynch Hall and its estate to a house in Camden Place, no matter how fashionable the street, no matter how handsomely furnished the rooms, such a change could only be a diminution, even a degradation, in Lady Russell's eyes.

Ah, if only her dear Anne had lived. With his wife beside him, Sir Walter had not been quite so profligate, quite so foolish. For that matter, if only her dear namesake had remained at home there might have been some hope that her sensible influence would prevail. Perhaps the younger Anne might have caused Elizabeth to question her own pride, perhaps with Anne's influence in the house, Mary might have learned to be a more sensible woman. Although, Lady Russell had to admit to herself, the faults in the characters of the other sisters had meant Anne's influence was less than it deserved to be.

And my counsel was not enough, she thought. The younger Anne had married Captain Wentworth against all advice, and gone with him to heaven knew where. Anne Elliot, the daughter of a baronet, allied to a penniless naval captain. At nineteen, Anne had been sensible, had understood the full force of the arguments against such a rash and perilous match, but at twenty-one she had been reckless and scorned all advice. Perhaps there was more of her father in her than Lady Russell had ever suspected.

Lady Russell had entertained some hopes of the Musgrove heir. Not a brilliant match for Miss Anne Elliot, but when Anne rarely went into company, and never into what might properly be called Society, the prospects of anything better were hard to perceive. No, Charles Musgrove might have courted Anne with Lady Russell's best wishes, but Captain Wentworth's return to Kellynch had put paid to any such hopes. Lady Russell had considered whether Mr Musgrove might be brought to pay attention to Elizabeth, or to Mary, but the haughty elder daughter would never have lowered herself to the level of a country squire, and Mary was learning only the worst lessons from her elder sister, and seemed to derive more pleasure from contemplating the Elliot coat of arms than from imagining herself taking another name. Whether the gentlemen of Bath would find haughtiness or pettiness more appealing than the country gentleman had done, remained to be seen, though Lady Russell was not hopeful. At any rate, without the lure of Anne Elliot to bring him to Kellynch, Mr Musgrove had turned his eyes in quite another direction, and was now married and the father of a little girl.

Well, she had done her best for them. And now the Elliots were no longer near neighbours, unless Lady Russell chose to spend a season in Bath. Which no doubt she would do, and keep up the acquaintance, though it brought her little pleasure.

And now, here were tenants at Kellynch Hall, where her own dearest friend had once presided, and it was her duty to call upon them. And Lady Russell did not shirk her duty.

She was received in the blue drawing room, and with a welcome that she could not fault. Admiral Croft was much as she had expected: a sailor, bluff, somewhat coarse, but genial and pleasant enough. He did his best with polite conversation, but was obviously glad to make his escape into some business or other, just as the refreshments arrived.

Mrs Croft, by contrast, was a very pleasant surprise. Despite herself, Lady Russell was inclined to like her. And Mrs Croft was delighted with Kellynch. Her praise was judiciously bestowed, and in it Lady Russell could perceive true discernment. She began to wonder if she might after all be able to befriend this newcomer.

"How did you and the Admiral come to Kellynch?" she inquired, after accepting tea.

"I had been aware of the place for some time," Mrs Croft explained. "My younger brother, Edward, was a curate in the neighbourhood several years ago, and a little acquainted with the family."

Lady Russell could only suppose the acquaintance must have been very little indeed. Sir Walter would have considered a curate entirely beneath his notice.

"But I have more recently learned a great deal about this house from my sister-in-law, and the garden, and indeed, about all the neighbourhood, and when my husband discovered that it was available I could scarcely contain my curiosity. And, it proved to be just what we wished for, so here we are."

"I am glad to hear that you are pleased with the house. Already, I can see that your influence is a positive one," Lady Russell said, graciously. As they had been conversing, she had already satisfied herself that Mrs Croft was proving a better mistress than the Hall had known in several years. Those little neglects Elizabeth had allowed to fester had been put right: stitches set in torn curtains, the furniture polished, the scent of rose petals in the air. "Have you any plans to improve the gardens? They were very lovely, when my late friend Lady Elliot was here, but sadly neglected in recent times."

"I have no experience of gardens," Mrs Croft admitted. "I have spent so much time at sea, the opportunity has not come my way. But I hope that some attention will soon be paid to the gardens, when my sister-in-law is here. Not Edward's wife, but Frederick's, he is the elder of my brothers, and writes that he will visit soon. I have just received the letter this morning, and although the visit is certain, the date of it is not. Sailors, you know, can never be exact with dates and times. His ship will be at Portsmouth soon, and he promises to send better information then."

"I suppose the winds..." Lady Russell said, vaguely. She had never given any thought to the vagaries of life at sea. "Has it been very long since you last saw your brother?"

"Almost, dear me, almost four years. I have not had the pleasure of meeting their little boy, although Anne writes to me so frequently that I almost feel I have seen Freddy grow up. He is three and a half years old now, and I am very excited to meet him for the first time, although not as excited as my dear husband, who has such a way with children. He will be taking him to sail paper boats on the pond. I'm afraid that when one is born into a naval family, there is no escape!" She smiled, and truly did not seem put out at all.

So there would be a child at Kellynch Hall after all. Lady Russell remembered that the Crofts had been represented to Sir Walter as excellent tenants because there were no children in the case. She did not feel she could mention it, however, and returned an encouraging reply.

"Anne is going to stay with me until she is confined," Mrs Croft continued. "She was fortunate that Frederick was stationed at Bermuda when Freddy was born, because, you know, there is a very pleasant community there and she received the best possible care. But now, the Laconia is returned to home waters, and she can come here."

Lady Russell was unable to summon up the words to comment, so she looked interested instead.

"Anne is very much looking forward to having the opportunity to see you again," said Mrs Croft, unexpectedly. "I don't know whether you have any correspondence, and it is of course so very irregular, even with the best will in the world. Perhaps you know my news already! But when she is at Kellynch again, you will be very welcome to call whenever you wish."

Lady Russell was so surprised that she could not command her features. "Anne? Are you—are you talking of Anne Elliot?"

"Yes, indeed. It was through knowing Anne that we came to settle at Kellynch," Mrs Croft said, apparently unaware of the confusion her words had ignited. "She spoke so often of her home, and with such affection, that when the Admiral and I found that Kellynch Hall was to be made available, it seemed like the workings of providence. And of course, we are very happy to have made it our home. Did Anne not tell you that we had taken the tenancy?"

"I have not, we, ah. When Anne decided to marry, it was against my advice." Lady Russell stopped. To admit that she had not corresponded with Anne, although Anne had written to her, suddenly seemed impossible. "I had not realised that you—that the connection—I beg your pardon."

"I am sure you had your reasons for disapproving the match," Mrs Croft said, gently. "The advantages might be said to be all on my brother's side, since he is married to the daughter of a baronet, and one of the loveliest, kindest and most accomplished young women I have ever met."

"Yes," Lady Russell said, eagerly. "He was only a captain, no fortune, and she was so young. I could never have advised her to accept such an offer."

"And yet, they are so very happy together. Frederick is well aware of his good luck, I assure you! But, you know, he has made excellent progress in his profession, and has been most fortunate in taking prizes. I do believe if he were to present himself now as a match for Anne, nobody could object. You must judge for yourself, when they are at Kellynch together. Anne will stay here for her confinement. I think she is very happy to know that her second child will be born in the very house where she herself was born. And she and Freddy and the baby will stay here, although Frederick will have to return to his ship."

Lady Russell had not previously taken any interest in the doings of the navy, but she was an resourceful woman, and it did not take her many days to discover that Captain Wentworth had indeed been very fortunate in his profession, and was unquestionably a desirable match for the daughter of a penniless baronet who could no longer afford to live in his own house and had not even, she knew, paid over the entirety of Anne's portion.

It was clear to her that she had been—no, not wrong, in her advice to Anne, but proved mistaken by time and circumstance. She maintained and would continue to maintain that her advice had been sound when it was given. If the Captain had waited until he had made his fortune before claiming Anne as his wife, she would not have stood against the match. As things were, they had been married nearly six years now, and apparently happy. That, she would judge when she saw her dear Anne once again. And she must prepare herself to ask forgiveness, to ask to be readmitted to that friendship she had cherished for so long.

In the event, it was far easier than she had expected. She called, at Mrs Croft's invitation, to find Anne there in the very drawing room her mother had once graced. Anne, burgeoning and blooming and looking so very well that Lady Russell's heart skipped at the sight of that dear smile. She was greeted with affectionate kindness, and her halting but heartfelt apology for having failed as a correspondent was met with instant warmth and a plea to bring Anne up to date on the doings of the neighbourhood which Mrs Croft, as a newcomer, could not have been expected to know.

She did not see Captain Wentworth until some six weeks later, when Anne's confinement was nigh. Their first meeting was cool on both sides, but Lady Russell was determined to find out what had so captivated Anne, and did everything she could to be cordial and to encourage conversation. And it seemed to her that the captain was willing to do his share, which she attributed to his wishing to please his wife. What began stiffly gradually turned to fluency, and she soon learned to value his plain and open expressions as evidence of his honest, straightforward character. It was true that he lacked the finesse of other gentlemen Anne might have met had she gone to Bath with her family, but he also lacked artifice. Not for him the shallow judgements Sir Walter accorded to every body, nor did he value rank or wealth as estimable of themselves. While Lady Russell could not altogether agree with the details of his opinions, she could not deny that he was energetic, intelligent and perceptive, and understood that Anne had been wiser, even at nineteen, than she had recognised.

Lady Russell had always been a woman who did her duty. Her duty today was an honour and a delight to her, and she undertook it in her very best church dress and an extremely handsome bonnet trimmed with pheasant feathers, which the infant Anne Sophia Wentworth attempted to grasp as her new godmother handed her back to her mama. Lady Russell's eyes dimmed with sentiment at the sight of Anne's face so bright with joy. No matter what had happened eight years ago, no matter how mistaken she might have been since, she now had the very real felicity of seeing Anne, her dear Anne, truly happy.


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