Frederick looked around the room. It was his own, his sleeping cabin on the Laconia, and best of all, the time before him was his own, to make amends in.
"I will take the lessons that the Spirits have shown me. I will change!" He repeated as he swung out of his cot.
When Denham came in, he could not hide his surprise at seeing Frederick already dressing himself.
"Denham, what day is it today?" The man raised an eyebrow but then quickly lowered it. He had never known his captain to forget the calendar.
"The twenty sixth of December, sir," he replied, grabbing Frederick's coat and holding it up for him.
The twenty sixth of December! The Spirits had done it all in one night! Frederick still had three days ashore and Anne was but eighty miles away.
"I have time," Frederick muttered to himself.
"I beg your pardon, sir?"
"Ah, nothing, carry on." Frederick impatiently stood still and thought out his plan as Denham finished helping him put on his uniform.
Frederick decided he would take advantage of being in England and seek Anne out in person. A face-to-face exchange would be better than one conducted through the post, and after his visits from the Spirits, he was anxious to see her again. He had many duties related to the Laconia to attend to but could pass many of them onto Lieutenant Harville, allowing just enough time to travel to Kellynch and back. Frederick did not want to chance missing Anne, so after Denham left, he took a sheet of paper from his desk and began to write.
My dearest Anne,
Please forgive my bold address, for I know I do not deserve to use it, but you shall always be my dearest Anne. I cannot imagine any happiness for myself without you by my side. I have been unjust and angry, but have loved none but you. Tell me not that I am too late, that those precious feelings you once held for me are gone forever.
I write to you as a post-captain with five thousand pounds and the expectation of more so long as the war continues. My ship has returned to Plymouth and as you read this letter, I shall already be on my way to Kellynch. At eleven o'clock on Thursday morning, I will call at Kellynch Hall, where I hope to have the honour of asking for your hand in person and receiving a favourable reply.
I remain ever yours,
Placing the sealed letter in his coat pocket, he went up to the quarterdeck to start his day. Once ashore and with a moment to spare, Frederick stopped at the post office, then the inn to arrange a room for the night.
Early the next morning, Frederick departed Plymouth for Crewkherne in a post-chaise. His plan was to stay at another inn, since he would arrive at night, and then hire a horse for the short ride to Kellynch in the morning. Thankfully, luck was on his side. The roads were somewhat crowded with post-Christmas travellers but the weather was mild, allowing for easy travel, and he arrived at Crewkherne at half past eight. Unable to sleep well that night, Frederick arose the next day well before sunrise, shaved twice and put on his best clothes. He passed the early hours pacing the empty streets of the town, frequently pulling out his watch to check the time and occasionally shaking it, wondering if it was working properly. Never had time moved as slowly as it did today. Finally he returned to the inn for a light breakfast, and then with a heart full of hope and nervous anticipation, he set off for Kellynch.
As Frederick approached the familiar main gates, he slowed the horse to a stop. The area was quiet except for the mild wind rattling bare branches all around and the slight sound of skylarks hopping on the ground nearby, searching for seeds. Frederick suddenly wondered if Anne and her family were even at home. What if they had gone away after the ball? What if they had left before his letter even arrived? He had not considered those possibilities. Winding through the paths of the vast grounds and finally approaching the stables, he saw something which answered his question in a very disagreeable way: Lady Russell's carriage, easily recognisable from the arms on the panel. Surely this meant Anne was at the Hall, but so too was the woman who had persuaded her to relinquish him, and who just two days ago wanted her to accept Charles Musgrove's offer of marriage.
How would Lady Russell react upon hearing that he was calling? Would she convince Sir Walter to turn him away with that socially acceptable falsehood, that the family was from home? Frederick regretted not saying in his letter that he would meet Anne somewhere on the grounds instead - but that would not have done either. She was too proper to agree to an assignation. In any case, it was too late now. The die had been cast. He must accept whatever happened next.
A groom approached and offered to take his horse. Frederick dismounted and proceeded to the house on foot with much trepidation. On the next quarter of an hour depended all which this world could do for him. His mind was so occupied with what might happen that he almost missed the person sitting on a bench at the side of the house. His heart jumped and his feet stopped abruptly.
She was already standing and making her way towards him, a vision of loveliness in a white velvet pelisse trimmed with sable and a matching bonnet, her cheeks pink from the cold winter air and a consciousness about her.
"Good morning, Frederick."
He blinked and stared for a long moment. Was she real or a figment of his imagination? "Why… why are you outside?"
"Your letter said you would call at eleven." She nervously bit her lower lip. "I wanted us to have a chance to speak freely, without the rest of my family nearby."
For a moment, her words struck fear in him that somehow, despite all that the Spirits had shown him, she wished to speak privately because she intended to refuse him again. However, her eyes shone with hope and anticipation. It was all the encouragement he needed.
He went to her and reached out his hand. He needed to confirm that she was real, that everything happening right now was real and not another scene conjured by a Spirit. When their gloved hands met, he squeezed tightly and held her fast.
"Anne, my dearest Anne," he murmured, bringing her hand over his heart. She lifted her eyes and gazed at him in wonder. "I must apologise profusely for the past three years: my unjust words when we parted and my silence since then. I refused to understand you and allowed anger and pride to overcome me. I know better now. I was foolish and stubborn, and as a consequence, I lost the best thing that ever happened to me. If you can find it in your heart to forgive me for the past, I promise to spend the rest of my days endeavouring to deserve you and make you happy. Will you do me the great honour of marrying me?"
Her beaming smile gave the answer before she spoke.
"Yes, with all my heart."
Frederick closed his eyes as her words sunk in and exquisite happiness flooded his body. When he opened his eyes again, he dropped his arms to Anne's waist and she tilted her chin up, anticipating his kiss. His lips brushed hers and she responded in kind. They continued kissing for several minutes, the two of them oblivious to the rest of the world. Frederick pressed Anne closer and sighed contentedly. Everything was right - the sweet taste of her mouth, the feel of her warm body molded to his, the way her delicate lavender scent enveloped him. She was the part of him he had refused to admit was missing, the piece that had been wrenched from his heart three years ago, now returned to make it whole again.
Eventually and with great reluctance, he pulled back. She leaned forward to follow him, unwilling to separate, and when they finally did, her slight frown made him chuckle.
"You must be cold, Anne. Shall we go inside?"
Her gaze lingered on his mouth as she shook her head. "I am perfectly comfortable." Before he could ask the next question on his mind, she answered it. "I told Lady Russell I would be gone for an hour to walk the grounds, so no one will wonder about my absence for some time yet."
He smiled at her foresight and offered his arm. "In that case, let us walk further out." There was nothing like the possibility of Lady Russell or Sir Walter seeing them through a window to dampen his desire.
As they walked, the Hall growing smaller and smaller in the distance, they talked about their lives since their last meeting. He mentioned his time in the West Indies and Mediterranean, and she spoke of Kellynch and Uppercross. The happy conversation flowed easily as it had once done, but a troubling thought lingered in the back of Frederick's mind. He led them towards the gazebo, feeling nervous about introducing a subject that would ruin this perfect morning, but it must be discussed. When their talk came to a natural stopping point, he took the opportunity to begin.
"Anne…" He glanced at her. She looked so beautiful at that moment - the sun shone upon her, infusing her porcelain skin and dark brown curls with a golden glow, and her eyes gazed upon him with extraordinary tenderness. His heart constricted at the thought of losing her again. He steeled himself by thinking of the Christmas ball and her refusal of Charles Musgrove. "Much has changed since we last met, yet I cannot help but worry that much may have remained the same."
She understood his meaning perfectly. "Nothing, absolutely nothing, will induce me to relinquish you again."
He moved a hand over hers and squeezed. "I could not bear to lose you a second time, Anne. My prospects - they are much improved, but Lady Russell -"
"Lady Russell erred in her advice," Anne said simply. They reached the gazebo and sat down on a bench. She turned to him with determination in her eyes. "I did not realise it then, but I do now. And as you said, your prospects are much better. With our combined fortunes, we will have the independence which alone was wanting before. Lady Russell can offer no reasonable objection to our marriage now."
"Perhaps not, but she may still object nonetheless. What then?"
"Her opinion will have no bearing on my decision. Not anymore." She placed her hand in his and intertwined their gloved fingers. "As much as you could not bear to lose me again, neither could I bear to lose you."
Frederick saw her move as the bold statement it was meant to be. Her frankness and sincerity touched him, and the strong clasp of her fingers told the truth of her words. He untangled his hand from hers and pulled off his gloves, then helped her remove hers as well. Pleasure shot through him as his bare fingers touched her warm skin.
"I am so glad to have you back, Anne."
He moved his other hand to cup her cheek and leaned into her, the smell of lavender consuming him again. Before their lips met, he heard her whisper, "I was always yours."
How long they kissed this time, he did not know, but soon the desire coursing through his body ignited into a raging, burning fire. He knew he had to stop while he still had some command of himself. He ended the kiss and placed his forehead against hers, his breathing ragged.
"As much as I would like to remain here, Anne, I must return to Plymouth soon. I also need to speak to your father before I go."
"Yes," she replied shakily, unable to say more as she too attempted to regain her senses.
He helped her up and together, they retraced their steps and entered Kellynch Hall. When they stepped into the drawing room with Anne holding Frederick's arm and ecstatic smiles on both their faces, Sir Walter and Lady Russell could not hide their astonishment. After exchanging awkward greetings, Frederick said, "Sir Walter, may I speak with you in private?"
The gentlemen left for the study and Lady Russell came over to Anne, while Elizabeth and Mary sat disinterestedly across the room.
"Why is Captain Wentworth here?" Lady Russell asked.
"He proposed to me again and I accepted. He is now asking papa for his consent."
"You are engaged! But my dear Anne, are you sure about this?"
"I have never been more sure of anything in my life."
"What of Captain Wentworth's profession, his lack of connections and fortune?"
"He is a post-captain now, which means any further advancement is by seniority alone, and between the two of us we will have a comfortable life."
Remembering Anne's refusal of Charles Musgrove only days earlier, Lady Russell decided not to press the issue. She may have succeeded in persuading Anne once, but could tell it would not work again. Anne's heart belonged to Frederick and there was nothing for Lady Russell to do but to take up a new set of opinions and of hopes.
"Then I wish you great joy," Lady Russell replied, and she repeated her felicitations to Frederick when he returned.
Sir Walter gave his consent and agreed to finalise the marriage articles with Frederick through the post. It would be an easy task, as Sir Walter's agent had drawn up the documents three years ago and other than Frederick desiring to increase Anne's pin money and jointure, neither gentleman saw a need to make further changes.
Too soon, it was time for Frederick to depart. Anne regretted his short stay but did not complain, grateful for the time they had enjoyed together. As she accompanied him back to the stables, he voiced the thoughts that she would not.
"I hate that I have to leave you so soon, Anne. And I am sorry I must leave England before we can marry, nor do I know when I shall return."
She wrapped both her hands around his arm, not wanting to let go of him until the last possible moment. "Do not apologise for doing your duty. We are engaged again; that is enough for me, for now."
"It is not enough for me, but it will serve as a lesson in patience. Had I not been so stubborn, we would have been married by now. I cannot wait until we are." He stopped walking and pulled off his gloves again, needing to feel her with his fingers once more before he left. He brought a hand to her cheek, gently brushing it with his thumb before moving to trace her jawline. "How much I shall miss you. You will write to me often?"
She blushed under his intense gaze and nodded. "I shall write a little each day and bore you with all the mundane details of life at Kellynch Hall."
He chuckled. "I look forward to reading every word." They shared one final, long kiss before parting ways.
When the Laconia departed Plymouth, the men noticed an immediate change in their captain's demeanor. Gone was the subdued man who seemed to harbour a secret sadness, replaced by one so imbued with happiness that he seemed to be lit from within. When the first post bag arrived on board, the men whispered that the captain, who once despised its arrival, eagerly hauled the bag to his cabin and emerged half an hour later with an irrepressible smile on his face.
The Laconia returned to England fourteen months later, and Frederick and Anne married at Kellynch church. After the war, they leased a small estate near Kellynch and the Crofts settled close by. Frederick never told Anne about the Spirits and had no further intercourse with them, but he continued to live by the lessons he had learned; and those who met him always said that he was a man of even temper who never became overset by anger or pride. The future, ever fluid and changing, did not turn out exactly the way Frederick had foreseen, but the overall feeling remained the same. He and Anne enjoyed over fifty blessed years of marriage, and every Christmas they spent together was filled with joyous laughter, heaps of plum pudding, and an abundance of love.