Anne knows she must give Charles her answer to his proposal of marriage, but has she been persuaded to accept it by her friend and adviser, Lady Russell?
Anne went to bed that night with a heavy heart and woke next morning feeling as if the whole world weighed heavily upon her shoulders. However she considered Lady Russell’s advice, the dawn of a new day left her feeling even more determined to listen to the voice inside her, which said that to accept Charles Musgrove would be calamitous for them both. She’d witnessed the dire effects of an unsuitable marriage first-hand. Her mother, a beauty in the portrait above the drawing room mantlepiece, captured in oils on her wedding day, exuded life, vivacity, and intelligence. Anne knew the girl who smiled into a splendid future with such hope in her eyes had been reduced, changed and altered to a faded copy of her former self, worn down by the years of living without love or even respect from her husband. For Anne, to marry simply to secure her comforts in life was not enough motive to marry. Having discovered what it was to love with a passion that still burned, there could be no compromises.
The weather matched her mood. A summer storm was building, grey clouds rolled over the cornflower sky, darkening the scene through the window, causing Anne to shiver and reach for her shawl. At least if it rained Charles might delay his visit, though Anne was anxious for the dreaded interview to be over.
A knock at the door revealed her sister Elizabeth standing on the threshold with her usual expression, a look which succeeded in being both impatient and petulant at the same time.
‘Lady Russell requires your company immediately, and will brook no refusal … at least, that is my reading of this note,’ Elizabeth said waving the missive under Anne’s nose.
Anne ignored her sister’s provoking behaviour, merely thanking her as she took the letter addressed to her alone.
‘The carriage is waiting for you, so hurry up,’ Elizabeth continued. ‘I must admit, I am grateful she did not extend the invitation to me … her lectures on her favourite poets are more than I can bear. Please take back that dreadful book she lent me and tell her I enjoyed every sonnet. It is, without doubt, a work to bore the most learned student. And, you need not tell her so, but the hat she is sporting in every house in Uppercross this week is hideous. I was quite embarrassed to be seen conversing with her yesterday morning … of course, do send my fondest love.’
Anne preferred to walk. It gave her time to think and even when the heavens opened and she put up her umbrella she enjoyed the comforting sound of the water drumming on the fabric above her head. What could Lady Russell possibly want her for now? Surely she would not attempt to further cajole her into accepting Charles’s proposal. It was impossible to refuse any invitation from Lady Russell, yet Anne could not help feeling that she was likely to be worked on and that filled her with dread.
Rain fell steadily as Anne hurried up the steps and inside the house. Brushing raindrops from her pelisse she did not notice immediately that her friend was not alone in the drawing room. Miss Elliot felt the colour rise and burn in her countenance when she realised exactly why Lady Russell had summoned her so quickly.
‘Miss Elliot, how lovely to see you,’ Lady Russell said standing to greet her. ‘Look who has called upon me this morning – such a delightful surprise, is it not?’
Charles Musgrove and his mother were seated on the sofa, beaming from ear to ear at Anne’s entrance.
‘Miss Elliot, what a pleasure to meet you again,’ said Mrs Musgrove. ‘I was just saying to Lady Russell how much we enjoyed watching you dance at the Monkford Assembly last month. Charles is not a dancing fellow, but with you as his partner, he looked as if he were born to it!’
Anne smiled, but could not meet the eyes of any of the party, least of all Charles’s, which she felt staring at her intently.
‘I do hope we will see you at the next ball … Charles is counting the days, Miss Elliot.’
Anne felt compelled to speak and looked up to politely answer. ‘I shall be attending the ball, Mrs Musgrove … ‘
‘It is so long since we saw you at the Great House, Miss Anne,’ continued Mrs Musgrove. ‘You and your family must dine with us very soon. It is a pity the girls are not home though they soon will be. How they delight in your company … quite like a sister, they always say about you. Yes, you must all come for dinner – we’ll find something to celebrate, I daresay!’
Not knowing what to say in reply, Anne could only wish that it would not be long before Mrs Musgrove and her son took their leave. Her feelings rushed upon her. It was clear Mrs Musgrove was there to help further her son’s courtship. Oh, that she could vanish into thin air! All her usual ways of making others feel at ease left her as she struggled to think of anything sensible to say. But her head pounded with the words which kept running round her head, that it would be wrong to marry without love when her heart was so attached to another.
‘Well, Mrs Musgrove,’ interrupted Lady Russell as the conversation halted, ‘I have that receipt for elderflower cordial I was telling you about, and a basket of freshly picked flowers gleaned from the trees this morning. I asked cook to put them to one side. Do come along to the kitchen and we can collect them.’
No sooner was that said than they were alone. Anne could no longer leave Mr Musgrove wondering his fate. She could not bear to have him speak of love to her or go down on one knee again. For both their sakes she spoke before he did. ‘I am sorry, Mr Musgrove, but I cannot give you the answer you wish to hear. I would like to thank you very much for the great honour you have bestowed upon me, but the truth is … ‘
‘You cannot marry me because you are in love with someone else,’ he said before she could finish her sentence. ‘You might deny it, Miss Elliot, as you have once before, but the truth is in your eyes. No, you do not need to say his name … all I know he is a lucky fellow though why he hasn’t made his claim is a mystery to me. If only I could persuade you, I could give you a comfortable life … but I will torture neither one of us any longer. If you cannot love me I must look elsewhere for a wife.’
Anne’s eyes filled with tears. ‘Thank you for your understanding … you are a kind man, Mr Musgrove.’
‘You will always have my friendship, Miss Anne, be assured of that, and I’m prepared to wait a while just in case you change your mind. But now I think you must make haste before the ladies return – I see you are upset, and I do not wish to prolong your suffering. Besides, the rain has stopped … I am certain Lady Russell will understand the necessity for leaving in a dry spell. And you must have many errands.’
‘Yes, I thank you,’ Anne replied, ‘I will go before the weather sets in again. Please be so good as to give my regards to your mother and Lady Russell. Do apologise … I am so sorry, but it is impossible for me to stay.’
Fighting her tears, she set off along the muddy lanes on the short journey home, overcome with emotion but glad to be outside in the fresh air to mull over her thoughts. She was thankful that Mr Musgrove had made it easy for her to refuse him but the ending of this unfortunate episode only brought back the memory of her attachment to Commander Wentworth. Recalling every moment spent together, never had she felt more in love than at that moment. Knowing he was gone forever and that her refusal of his most precious proposal, the cause, was a fact she would have to learn to live with.