Besides providing the usual disclaimer -- I am NOT Jane Austen, nor do I play her on television -- I must say this story was written in response to LadyKatherine's latest Period Drama Challenge, and is duly based on an Austen novel (Persuasion, my favorite) and contains the required elements: a box of chocolates, but no Forrest Gump; a cat; and something scary.

I'll admit to fudging (Insert groan here) a bit on the chocolates, as I'm not sure anything but drinking chocolate was known in England during the Regency period. Our poor, deprived ancestors!


A submissive spirit might be patient, a strong understanding would supply resolution, but here was something more; here was that elasticity of mind, that disposition to be comforted, that power of turning readily from evil to good, and of finding employment which carried her out of herself, which was from nature alone. Jane Austen, Persuasion

********************

....there are those who have, either by conscious decision or unconsciously, learned the secret of survival. Paul Vigyikan, Seizing Life's Second Chances

********************

Chapter 1: A Dull Afternoon

It was raining again, but then it always rained in Bath. So Mary had learned.

She had been fairly beside herself with joy when Charles had first proposed this excursion. Autumn at Uppercross had proven so very dull, and her sisters-in-law provided her no diversion at all. If anything, they had grown a good deal more tiresome since their respective marriages, with Henrietta's frequent letters containing little beyond reports on the furnishing of the parsonage, and whether the chickens were laying regularly, and Louisa, who had of late complained of feeling unwell, drawing an undue degree of attention towards herself, for the most joyful of reasons, as Mrs. Musgrove never failed to remind them all. One should think no other woman had ever been in like circumstances! At times it seemed to Mary that no one at Uppercross spoke of anything but what name the child ought to be called, and how soon his papa might return from the sea. It was all very tedious, to say nothing of indelicate.

Mary had therefore been very happy to quit her home when Charles, for once displaying proper regard for her health and spirits, had suggested their little family repair to Bath, where they might see her father and eldest sister, and as well enjoy the diversions and delights the city afforded.

The promise of amusement in Bath, however, had proven very empty indeed, and Charles himself less attentive than his proposal might have suggested. Indeed he was always gadding about after some pipe or gun or other thing that a gentleman might want, and leaving Mary to her own devices.

Moreover since Anne's marriage he had been brought a great deal into the company of sailors, and pronounced them as fine a group of fellows as he had ever known. Indeed Charles never tired of their stories, nor of their hearty, frank manner of speaking, and it had been a trial to Mary's patience to be forever sitting across the card table from some vice or rear admiral, or greeting the same in her own sitting-room. At least Charles had not proposed a journey to the seaside; that she ought to have been unable to countenance.

Her father and Elizabeth had proven rather more helpful, and indeed on occasion brought her out into company, and presented such opportunities for amusement as she condescended to accept. But they neither of them had ever paid much attention to Mary's delicacy of health, and as a consequence at times neglected her, preferring some tedious concert or lecture to an hour spent in her society.

Anne was a little kinder and, being as regular in her habits as a clock, called upon her sister once daily, at the very least, and as well sought her company on her frequent walks. It was most indelicate, given Anne's condition, that she should as yet remain so wild for walking, and Mary privately believed that her sister-in-law Mrs. Croft had proven a most unwelcome influence in that regard, and counseled her to embrace the hardships and privations of a sailor's wife.

But then Anne had always had, as their father observed, the most extraordinary taste. She accepted the society of Captain Wentworth's brother officers, of their wives and innumerable children, with never a complaint, and as well continued her most unseemly intimacy with the pitiable Mrs. Smith, a widow past thirty, whose once considerable wealth and health remained as yet only partially restored.

Father and Elizabeth had quite given Anne up for lost, at least in regard to her preferences, and believed she should never distinguish herself by her family connection to the nobility of England and Ireland.

That was not to say that Anne did not, on occasion, make herself useful. This afternoon she had taken the little boys for a walk, and had very nearly persuaded Mary to accompany them. It was such a fine day, indeed quite remarkable for November, and a walk ought to prove refreshing. But Mary had declared herself too unwell to join them, and in the end counted herself the wiser for her refusal, for after their departure the rain had begun, and Anne and the boys had no doubt been forced to seek shelter.

Of course Mary remained snug at home, albeit with nothing but The Castle of Otranto and a box of very good confectionery from Molland's for company. Now she had no particular fondness for novels, but where else might she find diversion, when so wholly abandoned by her sister and husband?

Still, she hoped that Anne would be unselfish enough to remember to bring another box of dainties from Molland's, if indeed she and the children had taken refuge there during their walk. No doubt Anne would seek to distract the children with all manner of sweets, and their dinner should be quite spoilt, but it would be too unkind to forget Mary, who could not stir out of doors.

Just then there was a noise from the hallway. Perhaps Charles had returned, or perhaps Anne and the little boys were back from Molland's, if they had indeed spared a thought of going to Molland's. That should be very timely, as Mary had eaten nearly every morsel in the box beside her.

She closed her novel and arranged her shawl carefully about her shoulders, then quietly opened the door and made her way down the stairs. The hallway was quite empty, and so she proceeded to the sitting-room, and opened the door.

A massive figure, perhaps over six foot tall, and broad of shoulder, stood with his back to her. The man turned round, and all at once Mary beheld his countenance clearly: a heavy brow, furrowed but by no means marked by advanced age, and below that -- below that --

One eye. The stranger had but one eye.

A shriek escaped Mary's throat.


To be continued...