Anne listened to Lady Russell’s counsel three years ago, turning down Captain Wentworth’s offer of marriage. Now a second man has proposed. What will Lady Russell’s advice to her be this time, and will Anne take it? (referenced in chapter 4 of Persuasion)
“Charles Musgrove proposed?” asked Lady Russell eagerly, leaning forward now with heightened interest in a conversation that had at first promised nothing out of the ordinary.
“Yes, he did,” confirmed Anne with far less enthusiasm. “Twice, in fact.”
“Twice? How is that possible?”
“I managed to head him off when he came on Tuesday. Although his intentions were perfectly clear, I stopped him before he could declare himself in form. But then he came again on Wednesday and asked me to reconsider.”
The uncomfortable scene sprang unbidden to Anne’s mind.
She had been entirely unprepared to find Charles at her door a second time, and she could not help saying, “Why, Mr. Musgrove, what do you do here? I had not expected to see you again so soon.” Remembering her manners, she added, “Forgive me. Would you like to come it?”
Young Mr. Musgrove replied, “No, not really. Could we walk instead?”
Out of sheer politeness, Anne had agreed, though she hardly looked forward to the prospect of another private audience with the man whose proposal of marriage she had rejected only the day before.
When they were a little way from the house, Charles gave his companion a sheepish sidelong look. “I know I called on you yesterday, Miss Anne. But, after I returned to Uppercross, I could not help feeling dissatisfied with the outcome. The more I thought about our conversation, the more I began to doubt that you had rightly understood me.”
“Oh, I am quite certain that I did, Mr. Musgrove.”
He went on as if he had not heard her. “I felt sure that if you had, you would not have been so hasty. You, as a thinking woman, would have taken enough time to consider properly. No doubt the fault was mine. I may not have been clear enough in my question, or perhaps I misunderstood what I took to be your answer. So I am determined to start again.” Here, to the lady’s dismay, the gentleman had stopped and dropped to one knee on the gravel walk. “Miss Elliot, will you do me the honor of consenting to be my wife?” he had asked, hopefully.
There had been no mistaking the question this time, no room for equivocation.
Lady Russell broke in upon these reflections.
“And what did you tell him,” she inquired, trying to appear calmer than she truly was.
Although she admitted (but only to herself) feeling somewhat responsible that her young friend was still unmarried at the age of two-and-twenty, with no other prospects in view, she could not go so far as believing she had been wrong in advising the girl to reject that undeserving sailor. What she did regret was that no eligible second attachment had come along to make Anne forget the first. So Lady Russell could not help hoping this new proposal would be accepted. It would not be a brilliant match, to be sure. But, however sanguinely she might have held out for something better – a baronet or at least a newly made knight – for her protegee a few years before, now she was less confident. Now she would rejoice in seeing Anne respectably settled with a plain, undistinguished Charles Musgrove.
“I hope you will answer him in the affirmative,” Lady Russell ventured to say.
Anne had to smile to herself as she considered this reaction. Her proud friend approving the altogether ordinary Charles Musgrove? What had happened to Lady Russell’s lofty expectations? Perhaps she, Anne’s surrogate mother, no longer thought Anne deserved a man with a title. Had her bloom gone altogether, then?
“You think I should accept him?” she asked.
“If you want my advice, then, yes, I think you should, my dear. Charles Musgrove may not be exactly dashing, but he is unquestionably a man of good character. And his admiration for you is obviously very sincere, being willing as he was to ask you even a second time. You should also consider that, as soon as he inherits his lands, the young man will be inferior only to your own father in this country as to property and general importance.”
“You know I don’t care about artificial importance.”
“Well then, do you care about this neighborhood? Who but Charles Musgrove can enable you to stay always near Kellynch and your friends? Or perhaps I am alone in thinking this an advantage of the situation. Am I? Anne, do you hear me?”
Although Anne had listened out of courtesy – and a little curiosity – there was nothing left for advice to do in this case. Her mind was already made up. She had decided immediately upon Charles’s first attempt and had only delayed in giving her definitive answer the second time in order to convince him that she had thought the matter through. Perhaps if she had never known a thoroughly more worthy man, if she had never experienced a Captain Wentworth… But there was no use considering that impossible scenario. She had known Captain Wentworth and, ever since, it was against him that every other man of her acquaintance had been measured and found wanting. Not all ofLady Russell’s arguments could convince Anne otherwise.