The party at the Great House was sometimes increased by other company. The neighbourhood was not large, but the Musgroves were visited by every body, and had more dinner parties, and more callers, more visitors by invitation and by chance, than any other family. They were more completely popular. The girls were wild for dancing; and the evenings ended, occasionally, in an unpremeditated little ball. From Chapter Six.
Anne soon settled into the differing ways of the Uppercross houses, and though she managed for the most part to appease both parties, there were times when she felt she needed to draw on all her reserves of diplomacy and skills of negotiation. When the two houses came together, there were often hints of frustration and little niggles between the two parties, but with Anne to smooth ruffled nerves along the way, these small disputes were soon settled and quickly resolved.
The Musgroves at the Great House were social creatures, and were very popular in the neighbourhood, generous with invitations to friends and family alike. Anne had not been staying long when some of the Musgroves’ cousins were invited to dinner. The Hayters were a family of neighbouring farmers, unpolished and unrefined by the Musgroves’ standards, respectable but not wealthy, yet were always sure of a warm welcome at Uppercross.
The entire family, Mr and Mrs Hayter, and their six children arrived for a noisy party one evening, having walked the two miles from home. Charles, the eldest, was just beginning to look about for a wife, and seemed to have made up his mind already, Anne thought, as she noticed his preference for Henrietta’s company. He chose to follow her to the table, and though Louisa engaged him just as much with her high-spirited conversation, sitting on his other side, Anne observed his expression seemed more receptive and his gaze lingered longer when upon the countenance of his elder and prettier cousin. Henrietta had taken particular care with her hair and dress, this evening. She wore a high-waisted gown of delicate blue with a wide ribbon tied as a sash, and more silk threaded through her curls. Henry passed her a plate of oyster patties, and when she raised her slender arms to take one, Anne noticed he could hardly take his eyes from her.
‘Mr Hayter has the curacy of Winthrop now, Miss Anne,’ said Mrs Musgrove, speaking of her sister’s eldest child.
Anne looked up to see Charles Hayter looking slightly uncomfortable at being the main topic of conversation, and when his mother spoke up, she felt rather sorry for him as she launched into the sort of indulgent praise only a besotted mother can bestow.
‘My Charles has come home from university where he was an excellent scholar, Miss Elliot,’ said Mrs Hayter, ‘and now he is established as a fine clergyman and gentleman. He has not a residence of his own just yet, and must remain at home for the time being, but we have high hopes for his advancement.’
‘Congratulations, Mr Hayter,’ Anne replied. ‘I wish you much success in your chosen profession.’
Charles looked up and smiled. Anne was always very kind to him.
‘It is a pity that Dr Shirley cannot help you,’ said Mr Musgrove, raising a glass of wine, ‘though I suppose he must retire one day, and then perhaps you’ll be rector here at Uppercross!’
‘I would like that,’ Charles answered looking into Henrietta’s eyes. ‘Indeed, that would be a living I should desire very much.’
‘And then all he should need is a wife for his rectory,’ spoke up one of the younger Hayter girls, who winked at Henrietta and smirked at another sister.
‘Uppercross rectory is a handsome house,’ Louisa remarked, ‘but surely you must have greater ambition than to be the rector in a country village, cousin Charles.’ Louisa, in a gown of butter yellow, gave him a challenging look, and smiled, showing her beautiful mouth and pearly teeth.
‘Promotion depends upon so much more than just plain desire, Louisa,’ he answered, blushing rather red. ‘I might wish to be a rector in London town itself, but unless I happen to bump into the Bishop, and he sees for himself what a splendid fellow I am, then I am afraid the hope of instant riches and a curacy in the city is rather a poor one.’
‘I hope you are come to perform for us, Charles, after dinner,’ said Henrietta, changing the subject. ‘We love to hear you play upon the pianoforte.’
‘But then there will not be enough gentlemen to dance, Henrietta,’ said Louisa, quickly answering. ‘And last time you promised you would dance with me first, Charles. Perhaps Anne will play! Oh, do say you will.’
‘Yes! How we love to watch you perform, Miss Anne!’ Mrs Musgrove cried. ‘Your fingers are so nimble, and there is no one who plays so well.’
Anne, who felt some relief at not having to dance herself, said she would be very happy to play for them all, and as soon as the business of eating was over, she made her way to the instrument. Anne was a very competent performer, and used to playing at Uppercross and Kellynch for the benefit of those who loved to dance. Once upon a time she’d loved dancing, and now as upon many other occasions, the recollections of those dances, which had made her heart sing with joy, came back to her with a sense of great sadness.
Frederick Wentworth, the perfect partner, and all his handsome good looks immediately came to mind as she played The Soldier’s Adieu. At Kellynch, she’d copied out the music in her own hand, substituting the word ‘soldier’ for ‘sailor’ in every instance, but being careful to sing it when she was alone. During the summer of 1806 when they’d first danced together at the assembly rooms, that period of felicity when they’d become acquainted before falling head over heels in love, Anne had never experienced such pleasure as she had dancing with her beloved. As she played, she saw him in her mind’s eye, dressed in formal attire, black breeches encasing strong limbs, a glimpse of pale satin waistcoat as he moved, and the high collar of his coat exaggerating his height and the breadth of his shoulders. His dark hair fell in glossy curls across his brow, and with eyes sparkling in candlelight, his mouth was curved in a generous smile, as he took her tiny hand and led her down the set.
Watching the others, she tried to banish him from her thoughts and concentrate on the music. Louisa was begging Mr Hayter for a second dance, but when she saw him glance across at Henrietta, she recognised the look of admiration as one she’d witnessed herself, all that time ago. Frederick Wentworth could convey so much with a glance or a penetrating look, Anne remembered, and seeing Mr Hayter behave in a similar manner as he looked at Miss Musgrove stirred up so many memories she thought were safely buried.
‘I promised to dance with Henrietta next,’ he addressed Louisa firmly, taking the former’s arm and leading her away.
Henrietta blushed with pleasure, looking up at Charles with a smile and let him direct her to a place opposite him.
‘Louisa,’ said her brother, ‘Mary said she wanted a rest if you’d like to be my partner.’
‘I am not certain that I am ready to sit this one out,’ said Mary, standing firm. ‘I was feeling fatigued, but my spirits are quite recovered now. However, I do not want to dance if I am not wanted. If you would rather dance with your sister, then so be it.’
Charles Musgrove raised an eyebrow with so slight a movement that most people would have not registered the action or the look passing between brother and sister at that moment.
‘Oh, do not trouble yourself, Mary,’ answered Louisa. ‘You can keep your husband, and I will share our cousin as the only eligible gentleman here. It is a pity we do not know more young men in the neighbourhood. Poor cousin Charles, we shall quite wear him out between us, shall we not, Henrietta?’
One of the younger children, Henry, a boy of twelve, and tall for his age stepped forward and held out his hand. ‘I will dance with you, if you’ll have me, dearest cousin,’ he said, bowing very formally, and making the company laugh.
Louisa graciously accepted and the company lined up once more. Anne started to play another country dance, a lively tune to dispel the awkward atmosphere fast descending upon the room. The music was fast paced, the company kicking up their heels, and clapping their hands, as they hopped and twirled, swinging their partners until the candles guttered in the breeze made by their frenzied capers. Mrs Musgrove clapped along, delighted to see her family entering into the spirit of the dance. Charles and Henrietta clasped hands, gazing into one another’s eyes, Henry and Louisa danced tolerably well, and Mary collapsed into her seat before the end, leaving her husband to muddle on his own as best as he could. The rest danced as if their lives depended upon it, and Louisa flirted with her eyes, whenever she thought Mr Hayter was looking.
Anne saw Louisa watching her sister and Charles covertly. Though she’d tried to be bright and animated, and continued to tease her cousin, her expression gave everything away. There was more than a hint of disappointment in the way Louisa bit her lip, when she glanced towards the couple, and after a while she did not attempt to ask for another dance. Anne couldn’t help but wonder if Louisa’s discontent was more likely as a result of simply being passed over in favour of her sister. She did not think Louisa really liked Mr Hayter as much as Henrietta seemed to, but was naturally put out when she was not the clear choice of her cousin. Miss Musgrove danced every dance with Charles, and when they weren’t dancing they were sitting down together. There were more than a few looks passing between the elder members. Recalling a conversation she’d had with Mrs Musgrove, Anne was not entirely convinced that the parents were so keen for an alliance with the Hayters, but if Henrietta liked him, and it seemed that was the case, they would not stand in their way.
Anne considered how very different the reaction of her own family had been to the thought of an alliance with the man she loved. Their only consideration had been whether Frederick could bring money, status, and the required bloodline to the marriage. Her thoughts and feelings had never entered into it, and as for Frederick, he’d been snubbed and dismissed, and she felt the burning shame, once more, as she considered how he’d been treated by her father. Anne could not imagine how simple life must be for others who were allowed to follow their hearts and marry the man of their choice.
Despite dwelling on these melancholy events, Anne rallied as she always did, happy to see the Musgrove girls having fun, and remembering some of the joyous memories of her past with bittersweet pleasure. At the end of the evening, as the Hayters departed, Anne observed Henrietta rush out to say goodbye when she thought no one else was looking, running after Charles to whisper something in his ear. Louisa hung back, but she managed to smile at Anne who took her hand and squeezed it before leading them back inside.
I hope you enjoyed the episode!