The Musgroves came back to receive their happy boys and girls from school, bringing with them Mrs. Harville’s little children to improve the noise of Uppercross, and lessen that of Lyme. Henrietta remained with Louis but all the rest of the family were again in their usual quarters
Lady Russell and Anne paid their compliments to them at once, when Anne could not but feel Uppercross was already quite alive again.
The carriage rolled to a stop in front of the great house at Uppercross. The driver handed Anne and Lady Russell down, the noise from the house clear even from the distance.
Lady Russell sucked in a sharp breath as she pursed her lips. All that was polite and elegant, she would say no more than this, but it was enough to speak her discomfiture. Children were not her chiefest pleasure.
They were loud, to be sure, but the sounds were happy ones, full of life and spirit rarely heard at Kellynch. The contrast alone made them most welcome. Even more welcome, perhaps, was the certitude that the expanded company at Uppercross would not include a certain person whose presence threatened to discompose her most. He was off to visit his brother at Shropshire.
Mrs. Musgrove met them at the door, mobcap slightly askew. “Come in, come in. My gracious it is good to see you.” She led them in.
In the far corner, well away from the fire, three little girls sat giggling and cutting paper into decorative shapes. Louisa would have been among them no doubt, had she been there.
Lady Russell took a seat near the fire as befit her station. Anne hesitated a moment, giving precedence to Mrs. Musgrove. Mary would have been quite put out, but it gave Mrs. Musgrove such a glow of pleasure, the little, unnecessary politeness was worth risking Mary’s wrath.
“You cook has been very busy, I see,” Lady Russell nodded toward the tables laden with cold pies, brawn, biscuits and cake.
“Indeed she has and we have called in extra girls to help her. Christmastide dinners are no small task, you know. It would not do to be found short at the table with so many in the house this holiday.”
“How many of the Harville children did you bring to stay at Uppercross?” Lady Russell looked over her shoulder, probably trying to count children as they dashed to and fro.
“Just four of them, the older two are useful to Mrs. Harville, so they stayed behind. But they shall come to join us when the Harvilles bring Louisa back.”
“Louisa is strong enough to return?” Anne sat a little straighter and leaned in. Mrs. Musgrove was difficult to hear above the noise of the children and the crackling fire.
“Not yet, but it will be soon, Miss Anne, very soon I am told, certainly before my younger ones return to school. They are so concerned for her you know, quite distraught at her absence.”
That she would have to take on faith alone, based on the high spirits of the children. “How lovely to hear her strength and health are returning. I cannot think of better news to receive for the Christmastide season.”
“I completely agree, Miss Anne. We are very blessed to be sure, but I am certain a bit of quiet cheerfulness will do her no end of good.”
“Quiet cheerfulness?” Surely she could not mean—
“Yes, indeed. Can you think of anything better than being here, among good spirits and quiet, that would be better for convalescing?”
Quiet cheerfulness? That was not be the way Anne would choose to describe the scene before her. A domestic hurricane might be more accurate. But that was not to say this was not a warm and pleasing scene. Such busyness was preferable to the cold propriety to be found at Kellynch.
Two young Harvilles ran up to Mrs. Musgrove and took refuge in the shelter of her arms.
“There, there dears.” She turned to Mary’s two boys who had stopped just short of their grandmother, eyes on the younger boys. “Do stop chasing. I do not like to see any of you running in the house.”
“Then let us play snapdragon! Please, please!” Little Charles pleaded, his arm still in a sling, a reminder of his earlier injury.
Mrs. Musgrove’s eyes widened so much they bulged. “I think not. I do not think it a good game for children.”
Mr. Musgrove scooped up Mary’s boys from behind and held them off the floor. “You are far too young to play in the flames. Perhaps another year. Now off with you.” He bounced them twice before returning them to their feet, then dropped down onto a footstool near Lady Russell.
Anne winced. That bouncing could not be good for little Charles’ injury, but the boy did not seem to complain.
“Miss Anne, do come and take a turn about the room with me.” Mrs. Musgrove rose and held out her hand.
Ann rose; what was on Mrs. Musgrove’s mind? She wore the look she always wore when she wanted to talk about something significant.
“The fire is so loud, I can barely hear my own thoughts. Conversation is quite nearly impossible.”
She did have a point. Mr. Musgove’s voice veritably boomed as he strove to be heard to Lady Russell.
They stepped into the drawing room and Mrs. Musgrove closed the door behind them. “I declare, if I do not shut the door tight behind me, the children will follow me in barely a heartbeat. None of them have any respect for my fine room. I quite understand it from the Harvilles, you know, I quite doubt they have much experience with a drawing room at all. But from Mary’s children, they are quite out of control. I do not know how to curb them.”
Anne forced a smile, the properest response to the request that was sure to follow, that she should ask Mary to—
“But, dear Anne, that was not why I brought you in to talk.”
Anne blinked twice and bit her tongue.
“I just had to take a moment to thank you so very much for all you did for Louisa in Lyme.”
Oh! “It was really very little—”
“That is not how Captain Wentworth described it. He waxed on and one about how calm and sensible you were, how it was you who knew to send Captain Benwick for a surgeon, how you marshalled them all and told them what to do. You managed everything for my dear girl. For that I cannot thank you enough.”
“You are very welcome, but I fear you are making too much of it.”
“I am sure I am not. You are far too modest Miss Anne. I fear you cannot see your own worth. If only you had heard Captain Wentworth speak! He certainly is convinced of it. You must accept at least a little of our thanks.”
Anne opened her mouth, but her words lagged behind several seconds. “I am just pleased that Louisa has made such a good recovery. That makes any effort on my part entirely my pleasure.”
Mrs. Musgrove continued on and one in her appreciation, but the words faded into the background. Captain Wentworth had spoken well of her? And done so freely? Her heart fluttered and the room wavered around her. But he was attached to Louisa, was he not? All but engaged, in fact? Surely it could not mean anything, could it?
Mrs. Musgrove stopped speaking and smiled. Hopefully Anne’s smiles and nods had been at the right moments, for she had no idea of what had been actually said. They walked back into the great room and joined Lady Russell once again.
Merry conversation swirled around her, but none of it made any impact. To have Fredrick’s praise…indeed that he thought well of her…this was the most remarkable news, even though it sent her feelings about Louisa into a dither. What did it mean? What could it mean in light of the expectations everyone else of Frederick toward Louisa?
Still though, the indifference she had seen in his eyes was no long the only thing he felt for her. That alone might sustain her. At least a little.
Lady Russell rose; a movement she only caught from the corner of her eye. Anne jumped up to follow. They gathered their wraps and made their good byes.
“Anne, are you well? You do seem out of sorts.” Lady Russell touched her arm lightly as the driver handed them into the carriage.
“I am well, just a little overwarm I think.” Anne settled into the well-worn seat. The intelligence she had gain today was certainly not a thing to be shared.
“It is no wonder, with that fire and sitting so close! I cannot agree with the wisdom of having such a very large fire on a day which is not so very cold. And so much noise! I had no idea. I hope I shall remember in the future not to call at Uppercross during the Christmas holidays.” Lady Russell fanned herself with her handkerchief. “It is far too discomposing.”
Anne nodded and blinked. Indeed it was.
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.