Exquisite Excerpt – Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion: Austen’s Classic Retold Through His Eyes
This excerpt comes from one of my earliest titles: Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion. It is told from the Wentworth’s point of view and uses flashbacks to set the story. In the beginning, Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth have married. They are aboard his ship, The Resolve, and he is leading his men in pursuit of a French ketch. The book’s cover is a Joshua Reynolds’ painting, entitled “Captain Robert Orme.” As I have recently rereleased this title in both eBook and print format, I thought I might pique your interest. I will share another excerpt from the re-release later this week.
By day or night, in weal or woe,
That heart, no longer free,
Must bear the love it cannot show,
And silent ache for thee.
Lord Byron,“On Parting”
“I have you, Captain!” the midshipman cried. “I require assistance over here!” the youth screamed over the turmoil on the deck, as he attempted to support the weight of the slumped-over officer, who clung to his exhausted frame.
Captain Frederick Wentworth had recognized the danger of pursuing the retreating French sloop, but he had also recognized the urgency of keeping the French from reaching reinforcements and from taking English secrets straight to Bonaparte’s pocket. He made the decision to take the French vessel despite the facthis wife traveled aboard ‘The Resolve’ with him and his crew. He had ordered his men to seize the enemy craft. “Above all else, her crew cannot escape,” he instructed; the British had no reason to permit the French to live. The countries, after all, were at war.
For two days, Wentworth’s ship chased the French craft. In truth, he admired how the smaller French ship skimmed the water, attempting to evade his best efforts to overtake the ketch. Frederick initiated his favorite maneuver in stopping his enemy-full broadsides, a lesson he learned from the tales of the infamous Blackbeard. ‘The Resolve’ caught the French ship during the night, and dawnbrought his enemy the knowledge it faced the full force of the British Navy, one of the finest to sail the seas.
* * *
Anne Wentworth smiled lovingly at her husband as he ordered her below deck. He meant to protect her from the worst of the battle. Frederick Wentworth possessed a natural charisma; his men had sworn to follow him anywhere, and she knew the truth of those declarations. A strong, formidable man, his intense eyes told the world he would tolerate nothing less than success. He made few errors in his choices, reasoning things out carefully before he made a decision. He lived for the adventure of the sea, but he was her Frederick, a practical man who had accomplished his dreams by organizing the chaos of his mind. She touched the weathered lines of his face with her fingertips before lightly brushing his lips with hers.
“You will be safe, my Love,” he said as he cupped her chin in the palm of one large hand.
“Of course, I am safe,” Anne insisted, realizing he feared for her comfort. “You are the captain of ‘The Resolve’; we are all safe under your command.” She captured his large hand in her two smaller ones and kissed his the before releasing him. “Now, do what you must do, Frederick. I will be well.” With that, she left him. Only when she was certain that he could no longer see her did she look back. He had turned away to load his gun. Knowing the strong possibility of hand-to-hand combat when the British boarded the sloop, Anne fought the shiver of dread simmering down her spine.
* * *
Wentworth glanced at her retreating form as she headed for the protection of the lower levels of the ship. He had loved her from the first time he had looked upon her countenance; only her beautiful expression brought him peace. In that moment long ago, he had set his sights on his Anne. Although it had taken nearly nine years for him to win her, he could say he regretted the wait. Anne Elliot Wentworth epitomized the things to which Frederick Wentworth aspired: acceptanceand love. His lovely wife had overlooked his common origins; she had seen the man he was, and he had sworn to prove to her aristocratic world she had not taken a step down with her choice of a husband. Anne Wentworth symbolized why he fought this war against the French emperor.
Some day, he hoped to purchase an estate close to the shoreline, especially for her. They would live there when he finally cashed in his commission from the service or at the end of the war. Anne, the daughter of a baronet, deserved the best he could provide her. Frederick had lost her once, when youth demandedthey make decisions not their own. Anne belonged to him now, and he loved her beyond reason. Soon they would take their place in society and start a family. He smiled as the image played before him, and he enjoyed the dream of family before he reluctantly turned his attention to the other ship and prepared to strike at his country’s enemy.
Wentworth felt the distant vibration as ‘The Resolve’ ran out its guns. The ship readied itself for an assault. When he placed a spyglass to his eye, he saw the French scrambling to respond to the surprise encounter. Older seamen shouted orders, but Frederick recognized the confusion and the dismay upon the younger sailors’ faces. His men, on the other hand, stood their positions on the deck, awaiting the inevitable. His crew had kept a determined silent vigil throughout the night, using the darkness to overtake the French.
With a nod of his head, Wentworth ordered his men to their stations. The gunports were all pointed directly at the French warship, and shots rang out. He watched with satisfaction as the enemy’s sails crashed to the deck. As the smoke cleared, he could readily see the gaping hole in the enemy’s starboard tack. But the French powder magazines did not explode. “What the devil?” he muttered. The sloop’s mizzenmast lay in multiple pieces on the deck. With the longboats in the water, Wentworth knew the French would fight, but he also knew he had managed another capture. Along with it would come the financial reward that would secure his future with Anne. Everything he had ever wanted was within his grasp, but first he must weather the chaos of the battle.
Beside him, a sailor called to his partner, “We’ll not be waiting!”
“They’ll not surrender peacefully,” a lieutenant cautioned his men.
“They’re daft!” a man with a knife held tightly between his teeth hissed to the others gathering on the deck. A fierce curse sounded from the crow’s nest above his head as Wentworth placed a rolled-up map in his assistant’s hand.
He maneuvered ‘The Resolve’ alongside the captured ship, readying to board her officially and claim her in the name of the Crown. Then, the unexpected, the unthinkable arrived in the form of a red hot strike. A single shot rang out, and the heat seared through his side. Surprised, he examined the bloody opening in his jacket. How? he wondered as he slumped forward into the arms of the nearest midshipman. He was not close enough to the French ship for a French sailor to deliver such a blow. Instinctively, he raised his eyes to his attacker. The man, wearing a leather-fringed jacket and a floppy-brimmed hat, held a long rifle. Frederick recognized it as oneAmerican privateers used often to fight off personal attack. It was a superior weapon to the Baker rifle used by Wellington’s men in the rifle units. It had the distance the single-shot .60 musket, known as the Brown Bess, that the British carried did not. “Give that to your good King George!” he heard the man’s voice exclaim before British sailors surrounded him.
Frederick’s pain came not from his French enemy but from an American assisting Bonaparte’s Navy. He could hear the air gurgle in his throat as he sank to his knees. The pain and the fire radiated throughout his chest as he sprawled upon his back, allowing his eyes to search the thin, smoky air for the blue sky with streaks of sunlight opening a new day. “Anne,” he murmured as another midshipman cradled his head.
“Assistance is on its way, Captain. Just stay with us,” the man gasped through clenched teeth. Frederick could feel the man’s fear, and it enflamed his own.
Shipmates rushed to lift his frame onto a net stretcher before carrying him to his quarters. As they settled him on the bed, Laraby, the surgeon assigned to the ship, rushed in, hustling various sailors from the room. “Get me plenty of rum!” the doctor demanded.
“Yes, Sir,” one of the lieutenants snapped as he darted from the room.
Wentworth groaned deeply as another officer assisted the surgeon inremoving Frederick’s jacket. Throughout, he told himself he could not die. He told himself he had waited for Anne, and he would not leave her behind. The physician cut the shirt away from the wound and began to clear away the seeping blood. “Easy, Captain,” the surgeon cautioned him. “Allow me to see what we have here.”
His eyes searched Laraby’s countenance for evidence of the severity of his wound. “The bullet tore a zigzag path through part of your lower abdomen, Sir. There is quite a bit of damage. The good news is the bullet exited out your side. I must sew you up, but you will not require surgery.”
Frederick nodded his understanding. “Where is my wife?” Seeing Anne would be the only medicine he required.
“I will retrieve her, Captain,” one of the junior officers said. His pale countenance said he sight of all the blood had taken its toll on the man.
“I am giving you some laudanum.” The surgeon assisted the first officer to ease Wentworth to a resting position onto the bed.
“Might I have some rum?” Wentworth’s mouth had gone dry.
The surgeon mouth turned up in a “I knew it to be so” grin. “That is the reason I ordered it.” He supported Frederick’s head as he sipped the heady brew.
Just as the surgeon set the glass upon the table, Anne rushed into the room, shoving those standing about from her way. “Frederick,” she said, whispering his name close to his ear as she brushed the hair from his eyes. “I am here, my Love.” She interlaced her fingers with his.
With an effort, he squeezed her hand and opened his eyes to hers. “I require an angel watching over me,” he whispered as she lowered her mouth to brush his lips lightly with hers.
“Nothing can keep us apart-nothing ever again. I am here, Frederick. Allow the surgeon to do his work. ‘In sickness and in health,’” she murmured before kissing his temple.
Their eyes held. He felt the laudanum take effect. His lids closed, but Anne’s image remained with him.
* * *
Commander Frederick Wentworth made his way across Somerset. The sway of the public carriage along the uneven roadway reminded him of the rolling motion of the sea; at least, it did as long as he kept his eyes closed. When he had opened them an hour or so earlier, the grandmotherly woman sitting across the way had questioned him about the war and about his prospects. He assumed she had an eligible femalesomewhere in her family, but Frederick had no intention of pursuing the subject. When he chose a wife, it would be a woman with whom he could share his hopes and dreams, one who would recognize his potential. So he had closed his eyes again, feigning sleep and imagining he strode the decks of his own ship.
Passing through Uppercross, he finally allowed himself the pleasure of looking at the rolling countryside, which was peppered with herds of sheep and Brinny cattle grazing in the fields. His brother, Edward, resided as the curate at Monkford, and Frederick planned to spend part of his leave with his family. Quiet time was a pleasant prospect after the action he had seen of late. Although he had not been with his sister’s husband, Benjamin Croft, and with Nelson as they defeated Admiral Vileneuve at Trafalgar, Frederick had seen his share of battles and had won his share of the prize money. Like Benjamin, he expected to use the war with the French emperor to make his fortune. Thoughts of his sister brought Frederick a pang of loneliness; Sophia and Benjamin shared a rare love. “Someday,” he silently whispered. “Someday, I will turn my head…”
The slowing of the horses interrupted his thoughts. “Uppercross!” the driver shouted. “Changing horses!”
Frederick disembarked from the carriage and looked around. People hurried forth and back at the posting inn. Knowing he had had not much farther to go, he chose only to stretch his legs in the inn yard rather than spend his hard-earned money on libation inside the crowded tavern.
“How much time?” he inquired of the groom as the man unhitched the horses.
“More than a quarter hour…less than a half hour,” the man responded. The driver leaned over the edge to accept the mail pouch from the innkeeper.
Frederick looked at the village, which was a smattering of houses and shops. “I will take a short walk. Stretch my legs,” he told the driver as he started away toward the village.
The driver called to his retreating form, “We willnot wait!”
Frederick did not turn his head in response. He just raised his hand to let the man know he had heard the warning. Uppercross, a moderate-sized village, was designed in the old English style. He passed a gate, which led to a house, substantial and unmodernized, of superior appearance, especially when compared to those of the yeomen and laborers. With its high walls, great gates, and old trees, Frederick envisioned a veranda, French windows, and other prettiness, quite likely to catch the traveler’s eye.
Strolling along the wooden walkways, he paused only to look in some of the shop windows. Seeing a fan on display, which he knew Sophia would love, he smiled. On impulse, he entered the shop; he would purchase the fan as a surprise for his sister. He would leave it with Edward to mail to her for her birthday. It would surprise the highly critical Sophia to know her seafarer brother had planned for her birthday long before the actual event.
Frederick chose the item and then, having paid for it, turned to leave; but he could not depart, for the shop’s door swung open suddenly, and two ladies swept into the room. The first, a very handsome woman, dominated the space. A strong French perfume wafted over him as he allowed his eyes to assay her beauty. Her hair was nearly black, her eyes were brown, and her long nose had a distinctly aristocratic slant. Belatedly, Frederick offered her a polite bow as she brushed past him, barely acknowledging his presence. “Miss Elliot!” he heard the shopkeeper say, his voice suddenly very alert.
Frederick had seen the type before. Usually, he preferred to avoid women of high Society, finding most of them too consumed with their petty interests to be worth his time. Let them spend their days gossiping and shopping; he preferred a woman with an elegance of mind, a woman with a sweetness of character.
He stepped away from the domineering Miss Elliot and turned toward the door; his carriage would be leaving soon. The second woman remained by the entry, and he started to move around her; but she raised her eyes to his. Frederick froze. Her delicate features and mild dark eyes mesmerized him in an instant. For some reason, she did not look away, and neither did he. Instead, he stood before her, gazing down into her doe like eyes, watching them darken and sparkle and wondering if she could feel the fire burning in him. She flushed and raised her slim, slightly square jaw a bit; her ramrod-straight back made her appear taller than she was. In fact, she barely reached his shoulder. She said nothing, simply continued to look deeply into his eyes. Frederick found himself unexpectedly amused by the situation, and one eyebrow shot up.
“Come, Anne,” the other woman demanded, and Frederick saw a flash of embarrassment played across the stranger’s cheeks. She ducked her head, allowing her bonnet to shadow her features once again.
“Pardon me,” he said, choking out the words his throatsuddenly very dry. He desperately wanted to say more to her, but she had slipped away to her companion, who was perusing the latest fashion plates.
Frederick opened the door to depart, but he could not resist the urge to look upon the woman one more time. His heart skipped a beat as she raised her head. She presented him with a quick smile before turning her attention to folds of fabric. Frederick paused; the faint smell of lavender surrounded him. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Closing the shop’s door and returning to the walkway, he murmured, “Beautiful.” It was a singular moment, one he would not soon forget.