Anne calls at Uppercross to see the Musgrove family and hear all the news from Henrietta and Louisa, the daughters of the house – from the end of Chapter 5 and the beginning of Chapter 6.
It was not long before Anne saw some improvement in Mary’s health. Given the chance to talk to a sister she knew would not judge her ill-natured comments, Mary gave vent to all the complaints and grievances she could about ‘her little lot’. And as soon as that was accomplished and Anne had the boys in tolerable order, the atmosphere began to change. Mary forgot to be ill and declaring she felt a little better soon found her appetite. After a hearty meal, she suggested they go and call on the Musgroves before taking a walk, though even then Mary managed to find fault, saying they should have called first, and shown Anne all due respect. Anne despaired, knowing that this way of criticising the other family was a perpetual bone of contention on both sides and so saying she would not expect such ceremony from people she knew so well, they made their way to the great house.
‘Miss Anne, we were just about to call on you!’ cried Louisa, the younger of the two sisters. Dressed in a blue striped muslin, she was a pretty girl with auburn curls caught up with a silk ribbon. ‘We could not wait any longer, but Mama said you might be tired after your journey.’
‘Oh no, I am not fatigued … you know, I always love coming to Uppercross.’
‘It is our delight to see you,’ said Henrietta, her dark curls framing a heart-shaped face, which was wreathed in smiles as she took Anne’s hands in her own. ‘Come, Mama is dying to talk to you … we enjoy little company worth having and it is such a treat to see you.’
‘You always have my company, whenever you wish it,’ interrupted Mary, ‘but I suppose mine is so common-place it is not considered anything of merit, at all.’
Henrietta and Louisa exchanged glances and Anne couldn’t help but notice Louisa rolling her eyes in her sister’s direction before she answered. ‘Yes, Mary, of course we love to have your company. Now Anne, do come along, we have something new to show you.’
Mr and Mrs Musgrove were seated on their comfortable sofa by the fire. The parlour, panelled in oak from a time long gone by, was furnished in a mixture of ancient and new, the antiquated favoured by the older generation, and the modern fashions, introduced by their children. Besides the grand pianoforte, the last addition on Anne’s former trip to Uppercross, a new instrument now held pride of place. A gilded harp set in a prominent position, amongst the flower-stands and little tables that added to the general confusion, was proudly displayed.
‘We will play for you, Miss Anne,’ cried Louisa. ‘Henrietta had lessons at Miss Finchcock’s Academy when we were at school in Exeter so now we both have an instrument on which to practise. We are learning duets!’
‘They have an idea to hold a dance, Miss Anne, and play for all our friends and relations in the neighbourhood,’ said Mrs Musgrove shaking her head with an indulgent smile. ‘I know not what they’ll think of next! Now tell me, how are your Papa and Miss Elizabeth? I hear they’ve gone to Bath.’
Mrs Musgrove made a slight further enquiry but the subject was soon changed, making Anne realise that they seemed only interested in Bath as it might affect them. The girls were keen to stay in a fashionable part of town later in the year, dismissing Queen Square entirely.
‘Oh, we must be placed in a situation higher up the town, Papa,’ said Henrietta, ‘Belmont might do, or a crescent up on Lansdown.’
As Mr Musgrove attempted to quieten his daughters’ enthusiasm for such a scheme, Mary grumbled about being left behind. ‘I don’t suppose Charles will have the money to take me to Bath. We are always left out of the most exciting schemes.’
‘Now, Mrs Charles, don’t fret,’ said her father-in-law, ‘I’m sure we’ll all get there, one way or the other, this winter.’
‘I have always longed to dance at the Upper Rooms,’ added Henrietta. ‘The idea of a season in Bath makes me feel quite giddy with pleasure.’
‘But would you like to be separated so long from our cousin Charles, dearest?’ Louisa commented. ‘The Hayters are not so likely to join us in Bath; I do not think they have the funds.’
Henrietta blushed. ‘Winthrop is not the centre of my world, though from the sound of it, you seem pretty keen. Yet, Mr Hayter might well feel the deprivation of our company, I am sure.’
‘And absence does make the heart grow fonder,’ Louisa added with a laugh. ‘What do you think, Miss Anne? Shall we leave the neighbourhood in tears at our departure? Will the young men mourn our loss?’
‘I am certain you will both be missed very much,’ said Anne with a smile.
‘Were you not at school in Bath?’ Henrietta seemed keen to steer the conversation from that of her cousin, but Anne was reluctant to say too much.
‘Yes, I was there for three years.’
Anne felt all the pain of her removal there as if it were yesterday. After her mother had died, her father was consumed by sorrow, which soon turned into grief of a selfish kind. He sent Anne away telling himself it was for her own good. A reminder of all her mother had been in looks and sweet disposition, he’d felt relieved once she was away at school and out of his sight, never realising how much she’d suffer, not only from losing her beloved mother but from the loss of all she knew and held dear at home. The only other time she’d been in Bath was shortly after she and Captain Wentworth had parted company. The agony of that occasion needed no re-visiting. Bath, in her mind, was not a place she associated with pleasure or happiness.
‘If only we’d been schooled at Bath,’ Louisa sighed. ‘But then, I daresay we’d have been too young for dances or to be out much in society. I’d rather be going to Bath now I am old enough to go to cotillion balls or breakfast in Sydney Gardens. And I hear the shops and warehouses are unsurpassed. Where was it that Susan Morton bought her silk flowers from, Henrietta?’
‘It was strawberries, not flowers,’ Henrietta answered, leafing through a pile of music, ‘but in any case, Isabella Fortescue said the cherries were infinitely more life-like. She said there’s a cheap shop, near Walcot Church, though I think she said it to vex me, as if I couldn’t afford the more expensive shops in Milsom Street.’
‘Oh yes,’ Louisa said with a giggle, ‘I remember you were most put out. Isabella had enough false fruit to stock a grocer’s shop, and a new straw hat with purple ribbon after her trip to Bath. Henrietta, we shall find something new … gilded plums perhaps … that will make Isabella look twice!’
Henrietta chuckled at that. ‘And then we shall have to think about new clothes. Do you think we should wait to get new muslins in Bath, Miss Anne?’ Henrietta went on, her eyes shining with excitement at the prospect of a new wardrobe of gowns.
‘You’ll wear out our guest with all this talk of fruit and frivolity,’ Mr Musgrove declared picking up the paper beside him. ‘I expect she’s really waiting to hear about what’s in my newspaper, and look, here comes Dash to greet you, Miss Anne – we’ve had some fine hunting of late.’
Her favourite cocker spaniel came bounding across the room in a blur of black and white, almost knocking her over, such was his excitement to see her.
‘Steady now,’ Mr Musgrove admonished, as he watched Anne pat her four-legged friend, ‘Miss Elliot’s going to be here some time, and you’ll get your full share of attention.’
Such was the kind welcome of the Musgrove family and the subjects of conversation. It was impossible not to help feeling caught up in the sisters’ youthful exuberance and enthusiasm and she considered them as some of the happiest people she knew. Anne envied the affection the sisters shared; something she’d never experienced with her own, and was touched by their easy manners and the warm friendship they extended to her.
They sat for a full half-hour and at the end of it Mary particularly invited the girls along to join them for their walk. Anne was not surprised. With the prospect of spending at least two months at Uppercross, Anne knew she’d soon settle into understanding the concerns, odd foibles and habits of those occupying a different neighbourhood, but still looked forward to a time where she might be once again reunited with her sympathising friend, with whom she had most in common, Lady Russell.