Eleven – Reunited
When Wentworth planned to seek out Harriet Smith, it dawned on him that, regarding Anne’s life and circumstances, he was only at the beginning of getting to know her. Where would he start looking for Anne’s friend? Where did she live?
Damn! He had been stupid not to ask her when Mrs Smith had sought him out, three days ago. He had simply called her a carriage and sent her home. Well, he would have to ask the only other person who might know, and that was Lady Russell.
She was about to leave her house in Camden Place when Wentworth arrived. He startled her yet again, in fact, he was glad to see that she had been thoroughly shaken the previous time they met.
“My lady, forgive my intrusion, but I am looking for some information you might be able to partake with me. Do you know the whereabouts of Anne’s friend, Mrs Harriet Smith?”
“Why … erm, yes, Captain Wentworth, as a matter of fact I do. She lives in that dismal block of rooms near the road to Bristol, Westgate Buildings. She … erm, she has of not much of a breeding; I’m afraid , she …”
“She is Anne’s friend. That is good enough for me,” Wentworth cut her short. He made his bow and left, already disgusted by her shallow judgement yet again.
When twenty minutes later, he returned to his lodgings in the company of Mrs Smith, a surprise awaited him. In the drawing room the bedraggled figure of Mrs Penelope Clay rose from the settee.
Wentworth’s eyes narrowed at the sight of her. This was the widow who had been clinging to Sir Walter’s arm before she had turned her attentions toward that slippery eel Elliot. He bestowed her a stern look which she totally ignored.
Instead she came forward, gripped his arm and said in an urgent voice, “You have to help me, sir! Anne is in great danger! She is being held captive by William Elliot, and he wants to force her into marriage by ravishing her. She will have no other choice but to become his wife!”
Anne recoiled in absolute horror when she felt Elliot’s hands sliding up her thighs.
“Please, William … I … I am untouched … I have never …”
“You have never let that Wentworth chap take a sample out of you? Oh, come on, Anne, you had a fierce love affair with him years ago.”
She could not believe what she had just heard!
“You … you know about Frederick? How ..”
“Surprised you there, haven’t I? Oh, yes, my dear, I know everything there is about your sordid little love affair because I made it my business to know. You have been my most coveted target for years now, since you were the easiest way to get to your nitwit of a father and his damned baronetcy!”
“Stop!”, Anne gasped as he was tugging at her drawers. She tried wriggling out of his grasp and then suddenly remembered she had actually freed herself from her bonds. When her drawers were torn to shreds, she finally reacted; with a hard shove, she raised her knee, right where she thought to hurt him the most.
Unfortunately Elliot had foreseen her move. He pinned her leg under his and pulled her mouth to his by grabbing her hair in a painful grasp. She gagged when his tongue invaded her without mercy.
In huge panic she felt his hand on her and desperately tried to get away from him.
A voice like thunder boomed hard enough to pierce through the red haze before her eyes. The next second her assailant’s weight left her trembling body, and Anne blissfully fainted.
Wentworth nearly choked on his red hot rage when he saw what Elliot was doing to his beloved Anne. He threw himself at his enemy and sent him from her with one mighty shove. Giving the other time to recover, he quickly rushed at Anne’s side and covered her with a sheet. Blast the villain!
Then an arm around his neck was pulling him up, suffocating him in a grasp of steel.
The many man-to-man fights he had experienced on his ship during battle provided him with an answer to an attack from behind. He let himself go limp, so that Elliot was taken by surprise and was drawn downwards. Wentworth was then able to grab his collar and throw him over, whereupon he served him a dry cut on the jaw. Elliot did not move again after that, and Wentworth neatly tied him up by hands and feet. To the two women who had followed him into the room he said, “Mrs Clay, go and call for a police officer. Mrs Smith, come and assist me with Anne.”
They obeyed him without question.
“Mrs Smith,” Wentworth pleaded, “you have seen what he did to my sweet girl. Kindly restore her clothing so that I can take her with us in the carriage without her being exposed to curiosity and shame.”
His voice had given way during his last words and Harriet Smith laid a hand on his arm in compassionate affection.
“Rest assured, Captain. I will care of her. Thank God she is unconscious.”
Anne reluctantly opened her eyes when the light became too bright to ignore. The smiling face of Frederick was the first thing she beheld and her heart leapt with joy.
“My dearest, loveliest girl …,” he whispered, his eyes glistening with tears of relief.
“Shh, shh, be still, my darling. Everything is well now, I found you and I will never ever let you go out of my sight again.”
There was so much Anne wanted to say but she knew not how. There was so much she did not know had happened, too. A million questions were milling around in her head, making it spin and ache.
Frederick’s gentle voice soothed her instantly, however.
“My own, sweet love, my treasure, my Anne … how you must have suffered …”
He took one of her hands and raised it to his lips. They felt firm and warm and his breath upon her skin was sending tiny flames down her arm.
“I have failed you, my love. I have tolerated this. I have not prevented nor foreseen this. I can only hope for your forgiveness and I promise you, I give you my word that it will never happen again.”