After sending the Musgroves to Lyme to visit with Louisa, Anne visits Lady Russell. How different Anne has become in the months since they last met.
Lady Russell opened her inlaid walnut teapoy. The dusty herbal fragrance of tea leaves wafted up, riding on the dust motes in the afternoon sun. How long had it been since she had last shared tea with Anne?
In the absolute sense, not that long. Only a few months. But it felt far, far longer. She spooned out the tea. Anne should be down in just a moment. How much had happened in just these few months? More important, how traumatizing had it been? Anne’s letters had been cheerful enough. She wrote all the right and proper things. Everyone was in good health—or at least they had been at the start of her visit before two serious falls had taken their tolls. The weather was tolerable and the cottage was comfortable. Her hosts were as kind and thoughtful as ever they had been and her stay was pleasant.
But truly, what was one to make of such missives, when one knew the true nature of the characters involved a little too well? The Musgroves were decent enough people, but careless, and if the truth be told, a bit vulgar. The girls were barely genteel and though Charles Musgrove could pass for a gentleman if he refrained from too much conversation, their other son, the departed Dick Musgrove, had been simply dreadful. He was certainly a testament to the quality of his parents. One might only imagine what boorish conversation poor Anne might have had to endure, night after night, after of course, she played endless hours on the pianoforte to amuse the silly, flighty girls.
If that were not enough, Mary Musgrove was still an Elliot, despite leaving that name behind for marriage. She was every bit as vain, small minded and thoughtless as her eldest sister, with the added benefit of her hypochondrical tendencies. Where Elizabeth found a thousand mindless tasks for Anne, Mary preferred to see her sister as her nurse—or more appropriately nursemaid.
Tolerating such a company would surely tax a saint, but to add the Crofts and their undesirable guest—what worse circumstances could have been forced upon her young friend? And all for the sake of economizing! She pressed her temple hard. Perhaps that would force her nagging guilt away.
“You are so considerate. That is my favorite tea that I smell, is it not?” Anne stood in the door way, eyes smiling.
How well she looked, bathed in a golden sunbeam. Very well indeed. Her figure was softer, less gaunt than before. Her cheeks had filled to a pleasing roundness and all sallowness of complexion had quite disappeared.
Perhaps the benefits of time away from her father outweighed the disagreeableness of her current company. Too bad it would end soon. Poor Anne did not like Bath, despite the benefits of society that it offered.
Lady Russell bit her lip and nodded. Perhaps this second bloom would carry Anne through her stay and work to her great advantage. There were many eligible young men in Bath and introductions could be arranged. Sir Walter could be worked on easily enough if the right circumstance were to present itself. After all, having one less set of expenses could only ease his current situation.
She would definitely have to put pen to paper this evening. How pleasing it would be to see Anne well settled.
“I made sure to lay in a stock of your favorite, my dear. Do come in. How I have missed taking tea with you. It seems as though Uppercross has quite agreed with you.”
Anne sat near her, but her expression seemed far away. “I do believe the change of scenery has done me good.”
“I am very pleased to hear it.” Lady Russell placed a teacup in Anne’s hand.
“So tell me of the news in Bath.” She settled back into her chair and let the teacup rest on her lap. Her face was arranged into the very image politeness, but her eyes lacked the animation than would have marked any true interest in the subject.
“I take it Elizabeth has not written you?”
Anne dropped a lump of sugar into her tea. “Elizabeth has far more pleasing pastimes, I am sure, than writing to me.”
“But surely you have written her.”
“Indeed I have. You can hardly imagine I would not—she was so insistent that I write her regularly. I expect there is a certain comfort in being assured that one will receive mail when one is away from home. But it does not follow a correspondence is necessarily returned.”
Lady Russell forced her frown away. “I am sorry to hear it.” Not surprised at all, but certainly sorry.
“Do not be. It is as I expected it would be. Neither of us has ever known Elizabeth to be a diligent correspondent, unless there was news of society to be had, and Uppercross is not society.” Anne sipped her tea and laughed softly. “In truth, there is some correspondence one does not necessarily wish to receive. I would much rather hear your impressions of…”
“Yes, that is the house they took, is it not? What do you think of it?”
“I am sure you would have preferred something even more modest.” Lady Russell cocked her head and chuckled.
“But my father could hardly take a house not befitting a baronet.”
“The house befits his rank—”
“—and his budget?”
“I made a few discrete inquiries on that point and, yes, it is quite affordable. “ Lady Russell set her tea cup aside. “Perhaps more significantly, your father and Elizabeth have been enjoying the invitations of their new acquaintances while keeping their own entertaining—ah, restrained. Elizabeth limits herself to card parties—”
“Which fulfil her obligations without so much strain on the budget as a dinner party or ball?” Anne’s eyebrow arched in an echo of her mother’s favorite expression.
“I cannot tell you how pleased I am to hear you say that.” Anne leaned back, eyes closed and sighed.
Poor dear, how much anxiety had Elizabeth’s lack of correspondence caused her?
“Does Mrs. Clay still enjoy my father’s…favor?”
Lady Russell swallowed hard. “I am afraid so. She hangs upon Elizabeth like a lady-in-waiting, so she is utterly essential. She offers similar attentions to your father, so she is included in nearly every invitation.”
Anne pursed her lips and nodded, averting her eyes from Lady Russell’s gaze.
“I am sorry, I have tried to convince both of them that their…guest…does nothing to increase their status in the eyes of society, nor does she impress anyone with her beauty, wit or manners. Those issues would usually work upon Sir Walter, but on this matter he simply will not be moved.”
Anne closed her eyes and nodded.
“However, there is good news. At the very least, Mrs. Clay is not encouraging an increase in their spending.” It seemed the opportunistic harpy knew better the danger the Elliots were in than the Elliots themselves. At least she had the wits about her to realize if she encouraged them to ruin, she would fall with them. Some little comfort that was. “If your father maintains his current plans of economy, I am optimistic that your family will one day be able to return to Kellynch.”
“Then I shall choose to take comfort in what blessings might be found.” Anne sighed and straightened her shoulders. “In the meantime, the Crofts are excellent tenants. They are a credit to Kellynch.”
How singular and how gracious. Truly Anne must be immune to the pettiness carried by the rest of her family. “Have you seen much of the Crofts?”
“Indeed I have, they…and Captain Wentworth, have been regular guests at Uppercross.”
“I am surprised the Musgroves would make them frequent guests.”
“Indeed, why so? The Musgroves are very agreeable people as are the Crofts. It is not so odd that they would find pleasure in once another’s company.” Anne looked out the window, in the direction of Uppercross.
“I merely assumed that out of deference for you, and Mary I suppose, they should not have been in the habit of inviting them. Even you must agree, it does make for a great deal of difficult conversation topics. It surprises me that you should find such pleasure in their company.” Lady Russell leaned forward and tried to catch Anne’s gaze. “Oh my dear, my heart has been so heavy for you these months, knowing you were in such company: the ones living in your home and…and…him.” There she had said it, finally breached the unmentionable.
“I confess, it was difficult at first seeing the Crofts. But truly they are so thoughtful and kind and courteous, it is easy to forgive them for leasing Kellynch. It is a comfort to know the estate is so well manage in my family’s absence. Do you know, they even took me home in their carriage when they came upon us after a long walk? Although they truly only had room for themselves, they squashed up and gave me space to travel with them. It was very gracious indeed for they had no need to do so.” Anne’s gaze drifted up to the ceiling. “As for Captain Wentworth—I cannot lie to you. You know me far too well for that. His presence has been more difficult to bear.”
Lady Russell pressed a knuckle to her lips. A familiar tightness gripped her chest. “Even so, you seemed to have blossomed under the adversity. I have not seen you so well looking in, I cannot remember when.”
Anne’s cheeks flushed and her lips turned up. One of her cheeks dimpled just the way her mother’s had. “It is easier now, though. He seems to have formed an attachment to Louisa.”
“Indeed. Although to hear Mary and Charles talk of it, Henrietta might well have caught his attention too. But she is often in the company of her cousin Charles Hayter, the curate, and the good captain could not rightly continue paying attentions to both young ladies in the house.”
Lady Russell nodded as Anne detailed the acquaintance of Louisa Musgrove and Captain Wentworth. How forward and headstrong the girl had become in recent days. So unbecoming in a young woman! At least Anne was beyond being influenced by such company.
Clearly she had overestimated that man. The regret she had at separating Wentworth from Anne faded just a little. Surely one who might consider one of the silly, flighty Musgroves would never have done for her steady, sensible, worthy Anne.
Perhaps Anne recognized it too. Is that why so much color had returned to her cheeks and her eyes were brighter now. Had her melancholy finally lifted? Of course! Why had she not seen it sooner?
What a delightful and wholly unexpected prospect. Perhaps this trip to Bath held greater promise than any she ever hoped.
Lady Russell settled back, listening to the details of the events at Lyme but considering what invitations and connection she might make on Anne’s behalf. Perhaps finally she would see her friend in her rightful place as mistress of her own home, a last. Spending time in Wentworth’s presence might have been a very good thing after all.
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.