<p>The revolution which one instant had made in Anne, was almost
beyond expression. The letter, with a direction hardly legible,
to "Miss A. E.--," was evidently the one which he had been folding
so hastily. While supposed to be writing only to Captain Benwick,
he had been also addressing her! On the contents of that letter
depended all which this world could do for her. Anything was possible,
anything might be defied rather than suspense. Mrs Musgrove had
little arrangements of her own at her own table; to their protection
she must trust, and sinking into the chair which he had occupied,
succeeding to the very spot where he had leaned and written,
her eyes devoured the following words:</p>
<p>"I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means
as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony,
half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings
are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart
even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years
and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman,
that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you.
Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been,
but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath.
For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this?
Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even
these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have
penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing
something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can
distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others.
Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed.
You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men.
Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W.</p>
<p>"I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither,
or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look,
will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house
this evening or never."</p>
<p>Such a letter was not to be soon recovered from. Half an hour's solitude
and reflection might have tranquillized her; but the ten minutes only
which now passed before she was interrupted, with all the restraints
of her situation, could do nothing towards tranquillity. Every moment
rather brought fresh agitation. It was overpowering happiness.
And before she was beyond the first stage of full sensation,
Charles, Mary, and Henrietta all came in.</p>
<p>The absolute necessity of seeming like herself produced then
an immediate struggle; but after a while she could do no more.
She began not to understand a word they said, and was obliged
to plead indisposition and excuse herself. They could then see
that she looked very ill, were shocked and concerned, and would not
stir without her for the world. This was dreadful. Would they only
have gone away, and left her in the quiet possession of that room
it would have been her cure; but to have them all standing or
waiting around her was distracting, and in desperation,
she said she would go home.</p>
<p>"By all means, my dear," cried Mrs Musgrove, "go home directly,
and take care of yourself, that you may be fit for the evening.
I wish Sarah was here to doctor you, but I am no doctor myself.
Charles, ring and order a chair. She must not walk."</p>
<p>But the chair would never do. Worse than all! To lose the possibility
of speaking two words to Captain Wentworth in the course of her quiet,
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.</p>
<p>Anxious to omit no possible precaution, Anne struggled, and said--</p>
<p>"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."</p>
<p>"Oh! my dear, it is quite understood, I give you my word.
Captain Harville has no thought but of going."</p>
<p>"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."</p>
<p>"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."</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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--</p>
<p>"Captain Wentworth, which way are you going? Only to Gay Street,
or farther up the town?"</p>
<p>"I hardly know," replied Captain Wentworth, surprised.</p>
<p>"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."</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>"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."</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>"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."</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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
<p>"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?'"</p>
<p>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
<p>"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?"</p>
<p>"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."</p>
<p>"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."</p>
<p>"I should have thought," said Anne, "that my manner to yourself
might have spared you much or all of this."</p>
<p>"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."</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>It was in one of these short meetings, each apparently occupied
in admiring a fine display of greenhouse plants, that she said--</p>
<p>"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."</p>
<p>He looked at her, looked at Lady Russell, and looking again at her,
replied, as if in cool deliberation--</p>
<p>"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?"</p>
<p>"Would I!" was all her answer; but the accent was decisive enough.</p>
<p>"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."</p>
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