It is Michaelmas and Anne’s thoughts turn toward Kellynch and the Crofts who have now taken residence there.
“Would you care for some blackberry jam?” Charles Hayter asked, lifting the dish in her direction.
Oh bother, she must stop daydreaming before someone at the dinner took notice or worse, offense! Anne smiled, “Thank you, yes. I think I shall miss picking them.”
“It is a shame there are still so many on the bushes and now Michaelmas has come, we cannot pick them anymore.” Henrietta batted her eyes at Charles.
Their recent berry picking expedition had ended with Henrietta returning with her dress stained as bright as her cheeks.
He tipped the spoon of jam almost into Anne’s lap. “Pray forgive me! I did not mean to be so clumsy!”
“Never fear, only a small bit missed the plate.” Anne schooled her features into anything but the laugh that bubbled up. The young curate was a gentle soul who would not relish being the source of a good natured joke.
“I cannot agree, Miss Henrietta,” Mrs. Hayter dabbed her lips with her napkin and folded her blue-veined hands on the edge of the table. “The true shame is that we had to send young Henry off to school and we are all deprived of his company.”
“But Mother,” Charles Hayter leaned across the table, “you can hardly despair him pursuing an education. It was the making of me, you say all the time. Consider, you might find yourself with a solicitor in the family.”
“Yes, yes, that is quite agreeable and I would be pleased to see him make something grand of himself, but you cannot discount the tender feelings of a mother’s heart.”
“I quite understand, dear,” Mrs. Musgrove patted Mrs. Hayter’s hand, “it was a very sad day when our dear Richard left home.”
Charles Musgrove exchanged a tight-lipped look with his father, then glanced at Anne. Did they expect her to divert the conversation from such an awkward topic? Why did they not step in to talk of their hunt or fishing or even the coming harvest? Were they not the men of the family and able to control so small a thing as a conversation? Hardly.
She swallowed back her sigh. It was, after all, to her advantage to turn this conversation. “It is a beautiful bunch of Michaelmas daisies you brought to grace the table, Louisa. I did not see any in the garden. Where did you find them?”
Louisa launched into an animated description of exactly the spot in the wood where she found them and everything she saw along the way. Though sometimes a bit fanciful, Louisa could be counted on to have her share of the conversation, and more if she were permtted.
Anne leaned back into her chair. Louisa would occupy them for some minutes and perhaps she might gather her composure now. Michaelmas had always been an awkward day at Kellynch and this year was even more so.
Bad enough facing the affected merriment of the tenants who resented presenting her father with a goose fattened on hay stubble only to hear that he would to raise rents yet again. How the resentment and anger in their eyes pierced her soul. There would be no feasting or pretended gaiety at Kellynch this year, at least none she would be made aware of. The tenants might well celebrate the departure of Sir Walter, even if he was still their landlord.
The Crofts were still far too new to the neighborhood to be part of any Michaelmas celebration this year. They had only just taken possession of the house a few days past, they could hardly be prepared to host a feast themselves.
Oh, but had they been ready, what kind of feast would they have held? Certainly they would have included all the tenants, something Father never did—allow people of that quality to sup within the walls of Kellynch manor? Bad enough that they should be permitted to live within the shades of Kellynch, but Mr. Shepard insisted none of the farms or houses should be left empty. But Admiral Croft seemed the kind of man who would share the jovial proceedings with as many as might be included and Mrs. Croft, with her gentle eyes and kindly smile, she would be the kind of hostess Anne’s mother had been.
Anne swallowed hard. She had not seen much of the Crofts when they visited Kellynch, but what she had was enough to convince her they were very decent people and, had she the opportunity, she would have liked them very much, indeed.
“Miss Anne, are you well?” Mrs. Musgrove asked, cocking her head and peering at Anne in her motherly-but-almost-intrusive sort of way.
Anne blinked rapidly and stretched her lips into something that should look like a smile. “Very well, thank you.”
“She is just sulking again.” Mary sniffed and curled her lip, almost affecting the signature Elliot sneer.
“Mary!” Charles hissed.
“What? I merely noted Anne’s tendency to sulkiness. Surely I am not the only one who has noticed.” She pulled her head back and twitched like a hen about to peck. “She has always had the propensity, ask Father or Elizabeth.”
Anne’s face burned, but to speak in her defense would only prolong the discomfort.
“She has been sulking all week about the new tenants coming to Kellynch.” Mary tossed her head, with the air of superiority that Louisa often complained about.
Of course her refusal to capitulate to every one of Mary’s whims would come back to haunt her, but was it necessary to cause a scene in so very a public a setting?
“I think it is very understandable, Mary,” Mrs. Musgrove laid her silverware on her plate with a louder than necessary clank, “I would be very melancholy to see another family take possession of Uppercross.”
Anne stifled a gasp. While it was very dear of Mrs. Musgrove to speak on her behalf, Mary was quite likely to—
“Pray excuse me!” Mary slapped the table.
Anne, Henrietta and Louisa winced and cringed. Mary’s tantrums, while familiar, were uncomfortable and embarrassing on the best of days, without the additional audience of the Hayters.
“Indeed, indeed,” Mr. Musgrove laced his fingers in front of his chest and lifted an eyebrow toward Charles. “Consider how you would like it, Mary, to see another in your place.”
Why did he have to mention that? Mary was all too aware that the Musgroves would have preferred Anne be Charles’ wife and was none too happy about it. No doubt Mary would now take to her sickbed for several days to come, expecting Anne to wait on her the entire time. Such was Anne’s penance for being the more agreeable sister.
“Do you not think it agreeable to have new company in the neighborhood?” Mrs. Hayter asked, her voice a little high and thin.
“I certainly do,” Mrs. Musgrove nodded too vigorously, “One cannot have enough agreeable company and I believe Miss Anne recommended them as agreeable indeed.”
“I know them only a very little, but they did seem well mannered and pleasing.” Anne shrugged.
“Then we must certainly invite them to sup with us as the first possible moment.” Mr. Musgove crossed his arms over his chest.
Decision made, clusters of smaller conversations broke out across the room, none of which included Anne.
Of course, it was only right that the Crofts should be entertained at Uppercross. Basic hospitality demanded at least that much. Oh, but how could she bear it? To be so close to them, and all the memories they invoked.
Mrs. Croft, her eyes, they were so like her brother’s. Anne could not look at her without being transported back to those few lovely days… Admiral Croft would surely regale them with tales of the Navy, the kind of tales Frederick might have told her of his own exploits. Tales she would not likely ever hear.
Could one’s very soul ache? Surely it could, for the emptiness that welled within her wrenched at the core of her being. How could she endure keeping company with the Crofts, no matter how lovely and agreeable their society? Not that she would have much choice. Choice was not her lot in life. Hers was to endure. And somehow she would.
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.