As soon as Charles and Mary returned from Lyme, they drove over to see Anne at Kellynch Lodge, and to give her their report. Lady Russell was out, but Anne ordered tea, and poured, and passed the buttered muffin. Charles was comparatively quiet, his attention largely fixed on putting away a good meal, but Mary talked a mile to the minute.
“I am very glad to hear that Louisa is doing so well,” Anne began, “and that it was possible for you to have a pleasant time, without alarms.”
“Oh! As to that, we did not have a pleasant time at all. I do not know how you can say so, Anne,” returned Mary crossly. “You, who have been so comfortable here at Kellynch-lodge, with every thing so nice, just as Lady Russell always arranges, and with no bad company to endure.”
“I hope you had no bad company at Lyme,” said Anne anxiously. “I was sure you liked the Harvilles as well as I do – and by all accounts, they did almost more for you than was possible, did not they?”
“They were well enough,” Mary agreed grudgingly; “I do not mean to complain of the Harvilles. They cannot help not having elegant ways. So poor as they are, and used to a rough sort of life, not in society at all, they can hardly be expected to know better.”
“Why, better than what?” Anne inquired. “I have never known people more civil, so truly good-hearted, than the Harvilles.”
“Yes, yes, as to all that; but you must know, Anne,” Mary paused impressively, “that they keep only one servant to wait at table. Imagine the dinners! Every thing merely slapped down, the meat growing cold, only two vegetables, and,” she lifted her hands in horror, “I hope you will not repeat this, for I should dislike it getting out, but I assure you that the same table-linen was in service every time we were at dinner. Yes, it is true. There was a wine-stain to the left of my plate on the first night, I remember it particularly because it was shaped like a fish, and there it remained every night following! Tell her, tell her Charles, is it not so?”
“Yes, that is all true enough,” he admitted, “but then it was my fault. I spilled the wine.”
“And laundry is expensive,” Anne reminded her sister, “I cannot conceive the Harvilles rich enough to be changing their table-linen every night. Do not forget that Mrs. Harville has been very much occupied with poor Louisa, and probably could not pay as much attention to her table as she might have wished.”
“I don’t say it isn’t so,” agreed Mary, spearing a muffin and reaching for the jam, “but that does not excuse her outright disregard of the laws of precedence, now, does it? It is just another thing to show the sort of breeding these seafaring men and their wives possess.”
“Why, what happened?” asked Anne, concerned.
“Did I not write it to you? She gave Mrs. Musgrove the precedence over me! When all the world knows I am a baronet’s daughter! I was so much affronted by the impudence and disrespect of these low people, I would have gone home at once, except that I was so very useful to Louisa, she could not bear to part with me. Indeed, it is impossible to conceive how they could have gone on without me at all.”
Charles paused in his scooping out a honey-pot, and looked up in surprise. “Well, Mary, you know they wanted you to go home, and be with your children – but you would stay on even after your mother and father left. It is not as if you were of any use, for Mrs. Harville and her nursery-maid were such very experienced nurses! They left nothing for any one to do, and in any case, Mary, you know that whenever it was but the changing of Louisa’s dressing, you became hysterical.”
“Charles! How can you say so!” cried Mary heatedly. “I know I warmed the bandage-clothes with my own hands, more than once, and prepared a gruel that was far superior to any thing that nursery-maid could manage. It quite gave Louisa her appetite back. Perhaps that is why Mrs. Harville did not give me the proper precedence. She did not realize my station.”
“I am sure she meant no discourtesy,” Anne soothed her.
“Well, she did change her ways, but only after Henrietta told her whose daughter I was. A baronet’s daughter, made to walk in to dinner after a mere Mrs. Musgrove! I could not conceive what my father would have thought of it all.”
“Fortunately he was not there to witness the indignity,” said Charles. “Really, Mary, you make too much of these things.”
“Too much of the rules of precedence, and the ordering of society! I think not! Where would we be if every one was considered equal, pray tell? That would be a nice mess. All sorts of people who were too low to address our fathers, would think themselves our equal. I have heard my father say so, many times. That is the way to ruin society.”
“Mary is not an egalitarian,” shrugged Charles, licking the honey on his spoon.
“Indeed I am. I want to mix with my equals,” said Mary indignantly. “And that was just what was wrong at Lyme. The low company. Only think, Charles Hayter would not stop visiting, and I know it was to curry favour with Henrietta, and bring her the latest news of Louisa every day. Oh! What a scheme. But I saw through him. He is determined to have Henrietta,” she nodded emphatically.
“And if he does, it will be a good thing,” burst out Charles. “Don’t let us go through all that again. Charles Hayter is like a brother to me, and he is very good company.”
“Anne, you have seen Charles Hayter. Do you think him a fit person to be allied to one of our family?”
Anne tried to throw enough warmth into her tone to leave no doubt as to the question. “Yes, I do indeed, Mary. He is a very worthy young man, has known Henrietta all her life, and I do believe she returns his affection; why, only the morning of the accident, she was wishing he might soon replace Dr. Shirley and have a living of his own, so they might marry.”
“Oh! Well, if that is what you think,” Mary sniffed, and was silent.
“Do tell more about your stay in Lyme,” Anne urged her. “I am sure you had pleasant walks – did you not go to the library, and to church, and I believe something was said of a visit to Charmouth?”
“Yes, it was a mighty delightful side-trip, I can tell you,” Charles answered eagerly, “it is a fine pebbly beach, wonderful cliffs overlooking it all, and the water quite warm enough for bathing, even in November.”
“Oh, yes, we bathed,” said Mary, “it was tolerable, but nothing out of the ordinary. You do get sand in among your feet, and it is an immodest business, with so few bathing-machines in use at this time of year. But it was well enough.”
“Why, you staid in for an hour, and could not be got out,” Charles protested.
“So there were some amusements, I collect,” said Anne with a smile. “And the library – was it a good one?”
“Not much of a selection of books, compared to Bath,” said Mary disdainfully, “Captain Benwick quite haunts the place, and has no time to give to any one. I was positively disgusted with him. Really Anne, you ought to have staid rather than us, and walked and talked about poetry with that Captain Benwick. You could have nursed Louisa.”
Anne, who had wanted to do that very thing, but been prevented by Mary’s obstinate insistence, only smiled and shook her head.
“If it were not for Captain Wentworth we could not have stood it at Lyme at all,” Mary declared. “We considered it his due, as there is such a very promising attachment between him and Louisa.”
“I am not so sure of that, Mary,” said Charles doubtfully. “I think his attachment lessening. He staid to make himself useful, for he felt so badly about his part in the accident, but I do not see much of love between them.”
“Pooh! It is just what one does not see,” exclaimed Mary. “I am sure it will all be settled as soon as her head is well again.”
Anne turned away, but much to her own vexation, found the struggle to master her feelings as painful as ever.
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.