Anne could not feel angry with Charles or Mrs Musgrove — they were both so kind — but she felt frustrated. She wanted to be alone. She wanted, above all, to find Captain Wentworth and talk to him. When they were walking up Union Street, Captain Wentworth saw them and crossed the street to walk with them. He looked at Anne nervously. She blushed and looked at him with an expression she hoped would show her true feelings.
‘Ah! Captain Wentworth!’ said Charles. ‘Are you going towards Anne’s house? She’s not feeling well and must go home. I have an appointment in five minutes, could you please walk her home?’
‘Of course,’ said Captain Wentworth. Charles said goodbye and left them. Anne and Frederick walked on together slowly. They were surrounded by people on the busy street, but they did not notice them. Soon they had expressed again all those feelings of love which, eight and a half years earlier, had made their future seem so secure. Now they were older, wiser and stronger than they had been then, and their love was based on a fuller knowledge of each other’s character.
‘I never loved Louisa Musgrove,’ he said. ‘I tried to like her, and was thinking of marrying her, because I wanted to marry. I wanted to have children and a home, and I was too angry and proud to ask you again. I had thought for years that you were too weak — too easily persuaded by other people. But in Lyme I saw the dangers of the opposite — a character that would not be persuaded at all. I began to realise your true excellence when Louisa had her accident. You were so strong, so capable, so fine! I realised then that your character is the perfect balance of strength and gentleness. But, by that point, people thought that Louisa and I would get married. Perhaps even she thought so. I felt that the only honourable thing to do would be to marry her, if she wanted me. In the hope that she would forget me, I went to stay with my brother in Shropshire, feeling lost and depressed. Then Harville wrote to me and told me that Louisa was engaged to Benwick! I came immediately to Bath to find you, but then I saw you with Mr Elliot. Everyone in Bath was sure that you would marry him, and I was afraid that Lady Russell would persuade you to do so.’
They had reached her house. They said goodbye, and Anne ran up to her room, feeling happier than she had ever felt before.
The evening came and the guests arrived. Anne’s happiness made her cheeks pink and her eyes bright. She looked lovely as she moved through the rooms, talking to the guests. Lady Dalrymple and Mr Elliot were there, but she did not care — no one could affect her happiness. She did not mind the snobbish, irritating things her father and Elizabeth said. She did not mind Mrs Clay standing by her father’s side. She talked to Mrs Musgrove and the Crofts and Captain Harville. She tried to talk to Lady Russell but found it impossible. Sometimes Captain Wentworth came and talked to her. Sometimes she saw him across the room talking to someone else but looking at her. At one point, they stood side by side, pretending to admire the plants.
‘I’ve been thinking about the past,’ said Anne, ‘and trying to decide if I was right or wrong to follow my friend’s advice. I think I was right. I don’t mean that I think her advice was good: she was too prudent, and I would never give such advice to a young person now. But I think I was right to do as she advised. She said that, if we married, we would be poor and we would both be miserable. If I had married you then, I would have felt guilty — I would have felt that I was the cause of any financial worries you might have in the years ahead. Now I have nothing to feel guilty about. I hope one day you will be able to forgive Lady Russell and to like her more than you do now.’
Captain Wentworth looked across the room at Lady Russell. ‘Maybe, one day,’ he said. ‘I too have been thinking, and I’ve decided that one person was more my enemy than Lady Russell — and that person was myself. Tell me, if I had come to you two years later, in 1808, with a few thousand pounds, would you have married me then?’
‘Good God!’ he cried. ‘I was such a fool! I wanted to do it, but I was too proud to ask you again. I didn’t understand you. I shut my eyes and refused to understand you. I ought to forgive everyone before I forgive myself. This realisation is a new pain for me. I’ve always thought of myself as a man who works hard and gets what he deserves. Now I’ll have to get used to being happier than I deserve to be.’
Who can be in doubt about what followed? If two young people decide to marry, they’ll probably do so, even if they have no money, have no common sense, and are completely incompatible. This may be a bad moral with which to end my story, but I believe it to be true. And, if couples like that succeed, can you doubt that Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot — with the advantages of maturity, intelligence, and twenty-five thousand pounds — succeeded too? Sir Walter and Elizabeth were not enthusiastic, but they did not oppose the marriage. Now that Captain Wentworth was at the top of his profession and had earned a fine fortune in the war, Sir Walter could not say that he was nobody. He was now good enough to marry the daughter of a foolish, spendthrift baronet.
Anne’s only real worry was for Lady Russell. She had told her friend everything that Mrs Smith had told her about Mr Elliot’s true character. Anne knew that Lady Russell must be suffering from the knowledge that she had been wrong about both Mr Elliot and Captain Wentworth. She had mistaken manners for character in both cases. Anne, though so much younger than Lady Russell, was a much better judge of character. But Lady Russell was a good woman, and her greatest concern was Anne’s happiness. Very soon she began to feel affection for the man who had made Anne happy.
Mary was very pleased about the marriage. Captain Wentworth was much richer and better looking than either Charles Hayter or Captain Benwick, so she felt that her own sister had done better than her husband’s sisters, and this gave her great pleasure.
Soon after Anne and Frederick announced their engagement, Mr Elliot left Bath. Elizabeth had always believed that he was there for her, so she felt humiliated by his departure.
Mr Elliot was shocked and upset by the news of Anne’s engagement. He had hoped to marry her, so that he could watch Sir Walter more closely and make sure he did not marry again. But, since that plan had not worked, he made a new plan for his own comfort and pleasure. He left Bath and Mrs Clay left soon afterwards. She moved into a house in London and Mr Elliot paid the rent. He was often seen at her house, and people said that, though he had stopped Mrs Clay from becoming the wife of Sir Walter, she might one day convince him to make her the wife of Sir William.
When Frederick heard Mrs Smith’s story and how she had helped Anne to understand what kind of man Mr Elliot really was, he felt very friendly and grateful towards her. He became as good a friend to her as Anne was. She was their first guest when they were settled in their new home. Frederick wrote letters to the West Indies and worked hard to help Mrs Smith to get her West Indian property back, so that Mrs Smith finally had enough money to live a quiet, contented life.
Anne and Frederick were very happy together. Anne’s only worry was that a future war might take him away from her, but she was very proud to be a sailor’s wife: she felt that the men of the Navy were the finest men in England.