On most Sundays, with the Elliot pew comfortably sitting only four, that is, Sir Walter, Elizabeth, Mary Musgrove, and Lady Russell, Anne found herself relegated to a pew toward the rear of the church, one she usually shared with Charles Musgrove and the two Musgrove sons. Lady Russell, the only one who recognized that the arrangement was an affront to Anne’s position within the family, often looked over her shoulder to see how her friend fared. Anne would smile to indicate that all was well, and it really was. She was truly fond of her brother-in-law and was equally fond of his children. If asked, she would make no changes, but then she was never asked.
On this particular Sunday, Anne found the sole occupant of her pew to be Mary. Her sister explained that the boys remained at home with their nurse, and with a jerk of her head, indicated that Charles was sitting in the Elliot pew, bracketed by Sir Walter and Elizabeth and being ignored by both. As Mary never did anything that wasn’t to her particular benefit, Anne understood that she would be asked to provide some service to her younger sibling.
“As you have never liked Bath, you should not go. Because you are an unmarried woman, you are not compelled to do things as I am,” Mary began. “Instead of going to Bath, you must come to Uppercross Cottage and stay with me.”
“I am afraid Elizabeth would object,” Anne whispered.
“Oh no! To the contrary. I have already spoken to Elizabeth, and she said that nobody will want you as Mrs. Clay is to go to Bath as Elizabeth’s companion. You would only be in the way.”
Neither Mary’s tactless statement nor her request came as a surprise to Anne. During the course of the previous week, her sister had written thrice, each time demanding that Anne come to Uppercross, the last epistle taking a most strident tone:
Why have you not come? I begin to think I should never see you. I am so ill that I can barely write; my hand shakes so. I am so weak that drawing breath pains me. My appetite is completely gone! You must come to Uppercross. Is it not better for you to be of some use to someone?
Anne, who disliked Bath, had already decided to go to Uppercross, but she did not suffer any illusions as to the reason why the offer had been made. There was nothing wrong with Mary; she was as healthy as an ox and ate like one. There was no medical reason for her tremblings or difficulty in breathing. Mary’s disease was easily diagnosed: pure laziness—no medical treatise or physician need be consulted.
In exchange for listening to Mary’s complaints, Anne would not have to go to Bath nor would she have to endure the indignities served up each day at Kellynch. All things considered, it was not a bad bargain.
While Anne pondered, Mary talked. In hushed tones, the youngest Elliot daughter complained of her treatment by her in-laws, the demands of marriage, her children, and the surliness of the servants. It was only after the pastor had climbed down from the pulpit that Mary took time to breathe.
“Thank goodness!” Mary said with a sigh. “He has finally stopped preaching. I like the reverend well enough, but how that man does go on!”
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