I am presently working on a longer story (at least 10 chapters), but wanted to give you something new in the meantime. This is a short, three chapter plot bunny that originated when I was struck down by the flu in March. We begin in the middle of Chapter 9 - in the novel, this is where Captain Wentworth saves Anne from little Walter, but I have changed the scene…
~~START OF STORY~~
"One morning, very soon after the dinner at the Musgroves, at which Anne had not been present, Captain Wentworth walked into the drawing-room at the Cottage…"
...where he only found Anne.
The surprise of being alone with Anne Elliot deprived his manners of their usual composure: he started, and could only say, "I thought the Miss Musgroves had been here: Mrs. Musgrove told me I should find them here," before he walked to the window to recollect himself, and feel how he ought to behave.
"They are up stairs with my sister: they will be down in a few moments, I dare say," had been Anne's reply, in all the confusion that was natural. She started to leave the room to release them both from the awkwardness of the situation.
Captain Wentworth detected a hoarseness in Anne's voice and turned around to look at her. As she made her way to the door, he noticed her laboured movement, drawn face and red cheeks - the latter were not the shade of a delicate blush or embarrassment, but the deeper colour of a fever. Concern won out over indifference.
"Miss Elliot, are you unwell?"
"I am well, thank you," she replied, her voice barely above a whisper from the exertion of too much talking.
Anne leaned her arm against a chair. In truth, she had been in low spirits since yesterday. To add to little Charles' misery while recovering from his fall earlier in the month, he had recently taken ill with a fever. At Mary's request, Anne had been constantly by his side nursing him over the past few days.
Captain Wentworth moved closer. "Truly, you seem unwell. You must sit down and rest." He took her hand to assist her. "Good God! Your skin is hot and you are shivering."
"Perhaps I have contracted little Charles' fever and sore throat," she said quietly.
He guided her to the sofa, then removed his great coat and folded it to form a pillow.
"Lean your head against this," he said before walking in the direction of the kitchen.
His behaviour startled Anne. Though she was unused to attention in general, she especially did not expect it from someone who had spoken fewer than ten sentences to her since his arrival several weeks ago.
As Anne closed her eyes and relaxed into the sofa, her head turned to the side and she inhaled Captain Wentworth's lingering scent from the wool coat. Instantly, she was transported back eight years in the past, to a cool day in October when he had wrapped his arms around her and whispered words of love into her ear as they paused along a favourite grove.
Knowing the danger of too much reflection, Anne opened her eyes again to bring herself back to the present. Captain Wentworth was returning from the kitchen with a glass of wine as Mary, Louisa, and Henrietta walked in, surprised at the scene before them.
Mary spoke first. "Anne, why are you lying down on the sofa?" She acted as if nobody ever lay on her sofa, though it was her own favourite activity on most mornings.
"Is that Captain Wentworth's coat?" Louisa eyed the folded brown fabric under Anne's head with envy.
"Miss Elliot is unwell and needs to rest," Captain Wentworth replied.
"That is not possible," Mary said decidedly. "Anne has a very stout constitution. I do not recall her being ill once in these past five years."
All eyes turned to Anne's face.
"I do feel out of spirits," Anne admitted, not wishing to draw further attention by saying more.
Captain Wentworth, however, had no such reserve. "Mrs. Charles, she has chills, is red with fever and has a sore throat. Are these not the same symptoms as your eldest son?"
Mary had no idea what symptoms her son had. Instead of answering the question, she simply shrugged and said, "Anne looks the same as she did yesterday." Not noticing Captain Wentworth's countenance darken, she continued, "I think it quite impossible that she should get sick from little Charles. I have not gotten sick, you see, and I am his own mother."
Had she looked at Captain Wentworth's hands, she would have noticed them shaking as he restrained himself from strangling something - or someone.
"You may summon the apothecary to confirm the diagnosis," Captain Wentworth said firmly, "or simply follow the same course of treatment as little Charles. Either way, Miss Elliot must be allowed as much rest as possible."
Feeling that Captain Wentworth had overstepped his bounds - she was Anne's nearest relation, after all - but sensing that he would brook no opposition, Mary replied unhappily, "Very well."
Meanwhile, Louisa and Henrietta stood about stupidly, neither saying nor doing anything. Whether they were unable to voice their own concerns regarding Anne's health or as unfeeling towards it as Mary, Captain Wentworth did not know.
Turning to her sister, Mary continued, "But Anne, you cannot expect me to stay here tonight when I have already promised to dine at the Great House. Jemima will have to look after the children by herself, I suppose, but there will be no one -"
"Mrs. Charles," Captain Wentworth interrupted testily, "We will need a pillow and blanket - nothing too warm - for Miss Elliot."
"Of course, Captain Wentworth. I was about to suggest the same."
Rather than spend a minute fetching the items herself, Mary rang for a maid who was slow to respond. Once the maid returned and placed the pillow and blanket on a table, Mary and the Miss Musgroves stared at each other, unsure how to proceed.
"I should not get too close to Anne," Mary finally declared. "I have already been very ill five times in the past year, and my fevers, you know, are always worse than anybody's. Louisa, you must bring these to Anne."
Louisa blenched. "Oh… ahh… Henrietta, you would be most suited for the task, for you have a better constitution."
Henrietta looked back at Mary and Louisa with pleading eyes. "I do not… I mean…" and in a lower voice, "She is infectious."
"Anne," Mary called out, "perhaps we can just toss these to you one at a time and you can catch them?"
Captain Wentworth, who had been watching the proceedings with a growing incredulity in his eyes, quickly grabbed the items and brought them to Anne.
"Can you sit up a little, Miss Elliot?" He removed his coat and pushed the pillow under her head, then unfolded the blanket and began to lay it over her.
"Are you comfortable?" He looked at her with such solicitude that she was grateful her blush was masked by her feverish skin.
Anne nodded and murmured her thanks. Closing her eyes, she was quickly falling asleep but heard Captain Wentworth say before she slipped out of consciousness, "Mrs. Charles, I will call again later to enquire after her."
Captain Wentworth left soon after, too disgusted by what he had witnessed to remain in the company of Mary, Louisa and Henrietta. Were none of them capable of caring for Anne? If they had fallen ill, Anne would surely have tended to their every need. In truth, the reason Anne was sick was because she had been caring for Mary's sick child! Captain Wentworth fumed over the situation.
He had not wanted to assist Anne. Upon entering the cottage, he had planned to continue acting indifferently towards her as he had done for the past few weeks. But when he saw her so unwell, feeling overtook reason and he took charge. With her sisters' incompetence, it had fallen to him to see to Anne's comfort. He who had the least connexion to her, forced to take the most responsibility! The whole incident brought an uncomfortable thought to the surface, one which he had previously avoided examining but which he could no longer ignore - why had he been paying his attentions to the Miss Musgroves when Anne's character was so clearly superior to either of theirs?
As Captain Wentworth strode down the path, he noticed he was entering the village. One shop in particular caught his eye. Recalling a distant, tender memory, he slowed his pace until he reached the door, then decided to go inside.
Upon awakening, Anne looked out the window and saw the sun quite low in the sky. She guessed she had been asleep for above five hours. The house was quiet; Mary and Charles must have already left for dinner at the Great House.
Feeling a bit better but still feverish, Anne's most pressing need was her very parched and sore throat. She looked around the room - a few new logs had been placed in the fire and a tea tray sat on the table nearest to her. She slowly sat up and carefully poured the water over the tea leaves. The water was still hot enough to steam, indicating that it had been recently boiled. Once the tea was ready, she added a small amount of milk into her cup and took a sip. She was pleasantly surprised to discover the tea was her favourite type of green tea. It was of high quality and therefore more expensive, and since Mary only kept black tea at the cottage, Anne had not enjoyed it in over a month. As the warm liquid soothed her throat, Anne sighed. She knew she had just missed Captain Wentworth's visit but was gratified that he still remembered such small details from the past. Though he might be perfectly careless of her now, that he could not see her suffer without the desire of giving her relief brought her feelings of both pleasure and pain.
At Captain Wentworth's forceful suggestion to Mary, Jemima came to check on Anne and asked if she would like some food, but Anne earnestly negatived. After finishing a second cup, the tea warming her stomach and thoughts of Captain Wentworth warming her heart, Anne fell back to sleep again.
~~END OF CHAPTER~~