The following was inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion, and was written in response to LadyKatherine's Period Drama Challenge of November 2009, and according to her guidelines. All characters are Jane Austen's, save an invention or two of my own.
Many thanks to my readers/reviewers, especially Solo Lady and theHuntgoeson, and to LadyKatherine for the inspiration in the first place. I take any and all comments very much to heart.
"There is hardly any personal defect which an agreeable manner might not gradually reconcile one to." Anne Elliot, Persuasion
Chapter 2: An Unexpected Meeting
"You might have spoken of it to me, Charles," said Mary later that afternoon, after Anne had returned with the children from their walk, and the Musgroves' visitor had taken it upon himself to escort Mrs. Wentworth safely home.
"My dear, I had not expected to meet with Captain Webb as I walked out today," said her husband earnestly. "Nor did I know that you had remained behind. The boys were nowhere about, and I trusted you had all gone with Anne."
"I am not well enough to go walking, Charles," replied Mary with a sniff. "Especially when it is so disagreeable out of doors."
"It was a fine enough day when I took my leave. Indeed it is uncommonly pleasant for November. Why should you not take some exercise?" asked Charles, somewhat impatiently.
"It is my sister, not I, who prefers to spend the afternoon in such a fashion," said his wife. "The children cannot be kept always in-doors, and Anne is better able to bear their noise than I, especially as it is not she who must check them every moment of the day."
"Still, you might have gone with them. It ought to have done you great good."
"And yet, for all that everyone had deserted me," continued Mary peevishly, "I was expected to entertain Captain Webb myself."
"You were not five minutes in his company before I returned! Besides, I told you that he was in Bath, and that we might expect him to call upon us. Indeed, did not Frederick speak of it in his last letter?"
"My brother-in-law may have written something of the sort," allowed his wife. "But I am sure he gave us no account of Captain Webb's countenance and person."
"My dear, it is not uncommon for a fellow who has seen action to return wounded, perhaps forever altered in appearance," said Charles quietly. "One ought to honor such a man, not flee his company."
At the words Mary colored slightly. "I was perfectly civil to the poor captain. He can have no doubt of his welcome here."
"The boys certainly liked him," said her husband, smiling to himself. "Walter asked if he might come to Uppercross at Christmas. "
"Did he indeed? I heard nothing of it. He ought to have spoken to me first!"
"And Charles asked him if he'd fought pirates," said Charles, chuckling.
"Pirates!" said Mary. "I do not know where the children got such notions, or learnt to pose such indelicate questions."
"I suppose you mean regarding how Captain Webb lost his eye --"
"Please, Charles! Must you speak so bluntly?" said Mary, shuddering.
"I expect Webb is used to it. And he took no offense; you saw as much. He is a good fellow, Mary, and Frederick says you'll not find a braver man."
"Does he indeed? Well, I expect my brother-in-law knows the truth of that. Surely they served together, or some such thing, and he is accustomed to Captain Webb's company."
"'Accustomed to'? That seems to me not such a very hard thing to endure, my dear. He is a most capital fellow, and I should like to know him better. I expect we shall see a great deal of him while we are in Bath."
"Shall we indeed," replied his wife, her voice suggesting resignation, rather than pleasure, at the prospect.
The rain had stopped now.
Puss should be glad of that; she did not like water in any fashion, not that she had much cause for worry, comfortably settled as she was in a very large basket. Of course it was awkward to carry, but there was no other manner in which the cat could accompany Mrs. Rooke on with her visits to patients who might be cheered by the sight of such a fine creature.
The experiment had begun when Nurse Rooke tended a child, fretful at being kept in-doors, and greatly frightened by physicians. She had soothed the little girl with talk of resting as cozily and contentedly as a cat, and spoken of Puss, and how happy she always was to sleep before the fire, or beneath a sunlit window, and indeed seemed wiser and more at peace than many a soul in Bath! Of course the little girl had wanted to see such a thing for herself, and so Puss had made her first journey into society, that she might amuse the child, who, though she remained in delicate health, was now much improved in spirits.
After that there had been other other patients, such as the charming little German lady, Frau Seitz, who fairly clapped her hands with delight at the sight of the cat, and called her Mietze, and stroked her orange fur. Of course Puss was as amiable as she was handsome, and seemed pleased enough herself at such attention.
And then there was the poor old major, who now and then suffered pains within his chest, but always bore them manfully. He ought to have kept a cat or a dog himself, for company, but was much reduced in circumstances, and moreover stirred out of doors less frequently than he had been used to doing. But when he sat by the fire with Puss on his knee, and talked of past times, Nurse Rooke could well see the handsome, brave soldier he had been in his prime.
Today she was on her way to see Mrs. Smith, who was no longer an invalid, though she had been, for a good long while. Mrs. Rooke had tended her too, when there had been need, but now that her health was to some degree improved and her circumstances in similar condition, she had not forgotten her former nurse's kindness, and maintained their amiable friendship.
Yet even now Mrs. Smith did not often go out of doors, and had but little acquaintance in Bath. So it was that Mrs. Rooke meant to call upon her this day, and bring Puss as an additional source of diversion.
She was very near to Mrs. Smith's new lodgings -- by no means fashionable, but much preferable to Westgate Buildings -- and had paused for a moment in preparation to cross over the street when she recognized that something was amiss. The cover of the basket had become loose, and Puss had pushed her head free of confinement.
Her body did not take long to follow.
Mrs. Rooke fairly cried out as the cat leapt from basket and darted across the street, just as a landau was approaching.
"Stop! Oh, Puss!" And the nurse shut her eyes at the terrible prospect.
When Mrs. Rooke dared to look again, the carriage had passed, and Puss was nowhere to be seen. She had escaped, then, but to what refuge?
A tall man in a naval uniform was standing at the other side of the street, and looking down at his feet. Mrs. Rooke followed his gaze, and saw that Puss had found him, and was brushing against him in a decidedly friendly manner.
By the time Nurse Rooke had come safely over the street, the man had bent down to stroke the cat's back.
"Do forgive me, sir," said she, curtsying before the officer. "Puss escaped her basket before I might stop her, and I fear she has been very forward."
The man smiled down at her. Heavens, he must stand six feet tall – or more, likely enough. "That is a most handsome animal," he said pleasantly, then bent down to lift Puss in his arms.
Mrs. Rooke smiled in response, taking her first proper look at the man's countenance, and at the hair beneath his hat. Perhaps Puss had thought him a near relation, for all that her fur was a good deal brighter than this officer's red hair!
"Now then, you must cause your mistress no more worries," said the man, placing his quarry inside the basket. But he smiled as he offered the admonition, and Puss seemed to feel no ill will towards her captor.
"I am most obliged to you, sir," said Mrs. Rooke, fastening the cover of the basket, and bowing towards the officer.
"It is nothing, ma'am," said he, bowing in reply.
Mrs. Rooke did not look back at the officer after they took their leave of each other, and she made her way again towards Mrs. Smith's lodgings. Still, it should be impossible to forget such a person, even among the bustle of Bath. Such a tall, manly figure, so broad of shoulder and red of hair. Alas -- poor man! -- he'd a patch over one eye.
To be continued…