The next day, Anne and Henrietta go for an early morning walk. They amiably discuss the local affairs and the health benefits of the seaside. They run into Captain Wentworth and Louisa, who are also taking a stroll. As they head back for breakfast, they pass a gentleman who gives Anne a clearly admiring look; Captain Wentworth notices and seems struck himself with how the fine wind has animated her complexion.
For the first time, the reader and Captain Wentworth see Anne anew, not as the woman who has lost her bloom but a pretty woman; struck by the stranger’s admiration, he observes something of his first love in Anne at Lyme.
At the inn, Anne discovers that the admiring gentleman is also staying at their inn. Captain Wentworth inquires as to his identity, and it turns out that he is none other than Mr. Elliot—their rich cousin and Sir Walter’s heir, whose first wife has passed away. Mary laments missing the opportunity for an introduction, although Anne quietly reminds her that such a meeting could be awkward as their father has not been on good terms with Mr. Elliot for years.
The intrigue around the admiring stranger thickens, as his identity and blood relation become clear; the fact that he is Anne’s cousin, her father’s heir, wealthy, and newly single, renders him a remarkably eligible match by societal standards. Nonetheless, Anne is quicker than Mary to perceive the complexity of their family’s relationship to Mr. Elliot.
The entire company goes for an afternoon stroll along the seaside. Captain Benwick converses with Anne; Captain Harville later praises her for her help in rejuvenating his widower friend. Louisa is determined to leap from a set of stairs into Captain Wentworth’s arms. Despite his concern about the hardness of the pavement, she insists on doing so again; she does so a moment before he is ready and falls, knocking herself unconscious. Everyone is frantic; Anne alone remains calm and comforts the others, directs Captain Benwick for a doctor and Captain Wentworth to carry Louisa back.
Louisa’s unwavering and headstrong personality—the very “firmness of will” that Captain Wentworth so extolled as the ultimate virtue—proves to have disastrous consequences. Her insistence on having her way demonstrates no underlying steadfastness to principle, but rather the stubborn folly of clinging to her first impulse. Anne’s level-headed reaction poses a striking contrast of her composure and capability.
The Harvilles take Louisa into their home. The doctor informs them that she has had a severe head injury. It is decided that Louisa will stay with the Harvilles to recover under the care of Anne, and Captain Wentworth, Henrietta, and Mary will report the accident to the Musgroves. However, Mary objects that she is closer to Louisa than Anne and just as capable, and Anne reluctantly submits to switching places.
Everything that follows after Louisa’s accident further highlights the contrast and complicates the consequences of Louisa’s “firmness of will” and Anne’s flexibility of mind in favor of duty. Anne’s combination of constant compassion and adaptability enables her to respond quickly and confidently to the accident.
Captain Wentworth is deeply grieved and blames himself for giving way to Louisa’s foolish determination. Anne wonders if he now reconsiders the virtue of unwavering resolution, if he might realize that possessing a persuadable temper might also have its advantages and wisdom. Captain Wentworth consults her opinion on how to break the news to the Musgroves, and Anne is touched at this appeal to her good judgment. He informs the Musgroves of the accident, drops off Anne and Henrietta, and returns to Lyme himself.
Captain Wentworth’s regrets ultimately lead him to recognize the dire consequences of an unwavering and self-assured will, as well as his responsibility in failing to save Louisa. The accident leads him to a full appreciation of his own errors and Anne’s merits, which he comes to esteem as infinitely superior to Louisa’s.