When Fates Conspire
A short story inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion

By Jane Greensmith

Copyright © 2004
 All rights reserved.


Frederick Wentworth’s hands shook as he lowered the glass to the table and pushed himself away from it. Losing himself in amber was the coward's way, and Frederick knew that he wasn't a coward, much as he would like to be at this moment. A coward would have written to his sister and declined her invitation to come and stay at her new digs at Kellynch Hall for a fortnight. A coward would have been giddily spending his latest prize money in London , leasing a house of his own and squiring lovely ladies around town, to the theatre and to parties and, occasionally, home from parties. A coward would not be sitting at a private table at a roadside inn doing his best to resist the urge to drown his memories whilst ruminating over the irony of his return to Kellynch Hall as an invited guest. What fates had conspired to make Sophie and the Admiral lease Kellynch Hall, of all places? The same ones, no doubt, who tempted him into Lethe time and again. The same ones who...


Frederick came to in a small dark room. His vision was blurred and his ears were ringing. He closed his eyes and groaned. Every muscle in his body ached and his head was throbbing with pain. He turned onto his side and tried to sit up.

"Best to lie down, laddie, for awhile yet," said a gravelly voice next to his ear. He opened his eyes again, and this time a face came into focus and hovered above him. It was a very old face, with folds of pink and gray skin wrinkled into a mosaic that exuded friendliness. Whether man or woman, he couldn't tell.

He lay back down and gazed at the apparition, sure now that he must have partaken more of the spirits the landlord had offered than he had intended.

"Oh, let him up," another voice said into his other ear.

Frederick rolled his head to the left and looked into another face, a twin of the first. Dazed and disoriented, he wearily closed his eyes as the voices babbled above him.

"He'll need all his strength for when he sees Anne again," said the second voice.

"Shh," wheezed the first voice irritably, "you knobbledly-headed knucklehead. He's not to know that she's still there. Not yet anyway..."

"Well, he knows now, that's for darn tooting. You and your jabbering mouth!"

"Anne?" Frederick said, fixating on the one word that actually meant something to him. This time he did sit up. He was on a hard, narrow bed in a dark narrow room—the same room, in fact, that he had procured for the night from the innkeeper not two hours earlier. He could just make out the shape of the door at the end of the room, and he could hear raucous sounds coming from tavern below. He concluded that he must have drunk himself into a stupor, crashed to the floor, and had been carried up to his room. Groggily, he wondered whether he had been robbed into the bargain but decided that there was time enough to worry about that later.

The two wraithlike creatures were now swirling around the room, wisps of ectoplasm trailing behind their disembodied faces as they darted about.

"Anne Elliot?" Frederick demanded, knowing that in his mind there was no other Anne, yet feeling compelled to be completely accurate in his raving.

"Now you've done it," the first wraith screeched at the second. "Cover's completely blown. You might as well fess up that you were responsible for their blow up eight years ago."

"Me? It was you. You were the one who shot the blasted arrow in the first place. You were the one who made him so dashed dashing and swept my poor lass off her dainty little feet, ruining her heart for any other man, and a good many there were too. And did you think to charm Lady R. as well? No, you didn't, you shriveled mass of goo. You should have known that Her Royal Busybodiness would stick her long, pointy nose in where it wasn't wanted and then turn up said nose when she didn't see a title attached to this here sailor boy. Charming the girl and not charming the Lady was sheer negligence on your part. I'd have had you drummed out of the Fates, I would have. But no, you got off on good behavior and sweet talking. Now here we are with a second chance. He'll never go to Kellynch if he knows. Oh, I don't know why I bother! "

"You're the Fates?" Frederick asked, rising from the bed, feeling wobbly but determined to conquer himself. "The Fates that brought Anne and me together? And then tore us apart?" he added bitterly. "I suppose you're also the ones who thought it would be a jolly good joke to have my sister and her husband lease the house where I courted Anne and where she pitched me over because I wasn't Somebody?"

The wraiths nodded—the first one ruefully and the second one, giving a hard glare at the first, defiantly.

"Mind you," said the first, "this bit about Sophie and Rex. It's not a joke. Minnie, here," the wraith cocked its head at the second wraith, "thought if we could just get you two in the same room together, you'd go woozy over each other all over again."

Frederick scowled at both wraiths. He was a captain of the seas. He had led men into battle, devised ingenious plans, executed daring strategies, buried the unfortunate few who lost their lives under his command. He had sailed through rough seas and calm. It galled him that a pair of nitwit spirits were apparently in charge of his life and Anne's, and they had botched it big time.

"Well, Lester liked the idea of bringing you to Kellynch," Minnie said stoutly, "as he hadn't figured out how to get Anne further than Bath in the eight years he had to work on the problem."

Lester shrugged as well as he could without the benefit of shoulders, and then screwed his already wrinkled face up so tightly that Frederick though it would swallow itself.

"Well, I'm not going to play this little charade with you any further. You may think I'm a puppet on a string," Frederick declared dismissively, "but I'm not. I'm going to visit my sister Sophie and her husband, who, by the way, only allows Sophie to call him Rex so I'd be careful if I were you.  And, I'm not going to go all "woozy" over Anne Elliot as you so inelegantly put it. It's high time I got married, and I know there are lots of lovely young girls who think I'm the cat's whiskers. I'll just spread a little sail and bring one home!"

Lester slowly relaxed his face, and Frederick watched in amazement as the folds and wrinkles of gray and pink swirled and danced until they finally settled themselves into a serene smile. "You're the boss," he said with a resigned air.

"That's right," Minnie said soothingly. "You're the captain of your destiny. You're the commander..."

The wraiths were fading now, their wispy faces dissolving into memory as Frederick 's eyes grew heavy with sleep.

"It's too bad," he heard Minnie saying to Lester, "that Anne's..."

Frederick stood at the window of the blue room in Kellynch Hall and looked down into the garden below. This had been Anne's room. For the thousandth time, he wondered what fates had conspired to bring him here, to this house, lodged in this room, overlooking the garden where they had shared their only kiss.

He wondered what Anne would have said if he had returned after he had won his first share of prize money, or after he had been given his first ship. Would she have taken him back if he come then, instead of now, when it was clearly too late? Always the coward's way, he thought, with self-loathing. He could look down the barrel of a pistol but he couldn't face putting his heart in harm's way again.

He wondered what her husband was like. He would meet them tonight. They were dining with the Musgrove family at Uppercross and Sophie had told him that Charles Musgrove had married one of the Elliot girls, which could only mean that Anne was now Mrs. Charles Musgrove.  There had only ever been one marriageable Elliot girl…he wondered whether she still played the pianoforte, whether she still danced, whether she would remember him at all.

He looked at himself in the mirror in the blue room. His skin was bronzed-weathered by the sun. His eyes were hard and cold from years of doing his duty regardless of what his heart might want. He had never been a handsome man, and time had not been gentle with his features. He wasn't cut out of gentleman cloth. Anne had been right to tell him "no."

He put on his captain's hat. He squared his shoulders and set his jaw. Time to spread his sails and find a wife. Let the fates that brought him here laugh if they dared.

As he closed the door of the blue room behind him and started down the corridor of Kellynch Hall to the staircase that would deliver him to the waiting carriage that would take him to dinner with the Musgrove family, a gust of wind blew through the window he had left open. It swirled down into the flower garden below, kissing the heads of the dying blooms before swirling over the courtyard wall and coming to rest on the top of the carriage as it left Kellynch. On top of the carriage it manifested itself as two roly-poly spirits grinning from ear-to ear.

"I think we've got our man, Minnie."

"Good job, Lester. Now, let the games begin!"


The End

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