A Conversation with Captain Harville
Anne spent the next day with her friends at the White Hart Inn. Captain Wentworth was there too. He asked if he could write a letter. Mrs Musgrove showed him the writing table and brought him pen and paper.
Captain Harville, who was standing by the window not far away from Captain Wentworth’s table, smiled at Anne. She went and stood by him. He was holding a small painting, and he showed it to her. ‘Do you know who that is?’ he asked.
‘Certainly. It’s Captain Benwick.’
‘Yes. And he’s giving it to Miss Louisa Musgrove, but it wasn’t painted for her. He had it done for my poor sister, and now he has asked me to bring it to Bath — he wants to have it framed so that he can give it to another woman! Captain Wentworth is writing to him now to tell him when it will be ready. I’m glad that Benwick has found someone else, but poor Fanny!’ he said with strong emotion. ‘She wouldn’t have forgotten him so quickly!’
‘No,’ said Anne. ‘I don’t think any woman who has truly loved can forget. We don’t forget you as soon as you forget us. We live at home, quietly, with nothing to distract us from our feelings. You always have business of some sort to take you back into the world immediately. Your lives are filled with activity, and so it’s easier for you to forget.’
‘But Benwick has not been busy out in the world,’ said Captain Harville. ‘He’s been living very quietly with us.’
‘True,’ said Anne. ‘Well, if it isn’t the result of the differences between men’s and women’s lives, it must be the differences between their natures.’
‘No, no. I don’t think it’s more in man’s nature than in woman’s to forget about love. I believe the opposite. Our bodies are stronger than yours and so are our feelings.’
‘Your feelings may be stronger,’ said Anne, ‘but ours are more tender. I too will make a comparison between the mind and the body: man is more robust than woman, but he doesn’t live longer.’
They were interrupted by the sound of Captain Wentworth’s pen falling to the floor. Captain Harville turned to him and asked, ‘Have you finished your letter?’
‘I’ll be five minutes, then we can go,’ was the reply.
Then Captain Harville turned back to Anne and said, ‘All literature is against you, you know. Poetry and novels all talk of woman’s inconstancy, but perhaps you’ll say they were all written by men.’
‘Perhaps I will!’ said Anne with a smile. ‘It’s easier for men to tell their own story. They’re much better educated than we are. No — books prove nothing. We can only speak from our own experience.’
‘Well, in my experience men suffer a great deal in love. When a sailor goes to sea, leaving his wife and children behind, wondering if he’ll ever see them again, he suffers greatly. Then he thinks of them every day until he returns!’
‘Oh!’ cried Anne. ‘I’m sure that’s true! I didn’t mean to suggest that only women are capable of true love and loyalty. I only meant to say that men forget more easily when the object of their love has gone, but women go on loving even when there is no hope.’ She stopped speaking because she felt too much emotion to continue.
Captain Wentworth stood up and said to his friend, ‘I’ve finished. We can go now.’
Captain Harville said goodbye to Anne and went off to say goodbye to Mrs Musgrove. Captain Wentworth looked at her with strong emotion in his eyes. There were two letters in his hand. He gave her one of them quickly, so that no one else would see. Then he was gone.
Anne looked down at the letter. Her name was written on the envelope. Her heart beat fast. Her whole happiness depended on the contents of that letter. She sat down at the writing desk, opened the letter with a trembling hand, and read the following words:
I cannot listen in silence anymore. Listening to you, I feel both pain and hope. Tell me that I am not too late! I offer myself to you again. I love you even more than I did eight and a half years ago, when you broke my heart. Please do not believe that man forgets about love sooner than woman. I have loved no one else. I was angry with you, and I could not forgive you, but I was never inconstant. I came to Bath because you were here. I think about nothing but you. Have you not noticed? Do you not see that I love you? I did not tell you my feelings earlier because I was afraid you did not love me anymore. Please believe that I have always loved you and I always will. I have to go now, but I will come back as soon as possible. A word, a look from you will be enough to tell me whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.
Anne put the letter down with tears in her eyes. She had to get out of this room, out of the inn, and away from other people. She went to Mrs Musgrove and said, ‘I’m afraid I must go home now.’
‘Are you ill? You look very pale.’
Then Charles came up to Mrs Musgrove and said he had to go out. ‘I have an appointment. It won’t take long. I’ll be back in half an hour.’
‘All right,’ said Mrs Musgrove, ‘but Charles, will you please» take Anne home first? She’s feeling ill.’
‘Certainly,’ said Charles, and they left.