Admiral and Mrs Croft have called upon Mr and Mrs Musgrove and mentioned the imminent arrival of Captain Wentworth, a name which rings a bell with Mrs Musgrove who later determines it is the very same Captain under whom their unfortunate son, Richard, served for several months before his death.
“The Musgroves, in their warm gratitude for the kindness he had shown poor Dick…were bent on introducing themselves, and seeking his acquaintance as soon as they could hear of his arrival.” Persuasion, Chapter Six
Captain Frederick Wentworth was restless. Unused to inactivity, he fidgeted in his seat, then tossed aside the morning paper. Making some stay with his sister had seemed such a sensible move on his coming ashore. What should it matter where they lived? It was eight years… eight years since he had been in the county of Somersetshire, since he had set foot in this house; years during which he had thrown himself into his profession and reaped the rewards of doing so.
Indeed, those early years did bespeak of a strong tendency towards impetuosity. He had even been careless at times though it was only with hindsight he could see it as such. His focus had been naught but activity, and a vast quantity of it, that he might channel his hurt, his anger and his damaged pride into something, anything.
Frustrated with the direction of his thoughts, Wentworth got to his feet and strode over to the window, staring out into the grounds and regretting sorely not accepting the invitation of his sister and her husband to join them on a walk around the gardens.
It was a beautiful outlook and a fine autumnal day, and he straightened his shoulders and raised his chin. He was determined to enjoy this sojourn in the country, the company of his sister, and his brief… association with one of the daughters of this house could stay where it had lain for some time, relegated to a past he had striven to forget.
Wentworth turned and headed for the door. A ride on his mount would cure any remnant of his disgruntled air, no doubt borne of his disturbed night, and would likewise serve to banish these irritating reflections from surfacing again. Before he could reach it, however, the door was rapped loudly and opened by a footman.
“Mr Musgrove for Captain Wentworth,” he intoned, before standing aside to let the gentleman enter.
“My dear Captain Wentworth!” Mr Musgrove bowed far lower than his portly frame might have suggested wise. To Wentworth’s surprise, he then grasped his hand and shook it warmly. “My dear Sir. We cannot tell you how delighted we were to learn of your being come to Somersetshire once more.”
Wentworth concealed his confusion over this effusive greeting by indicating Mr Musgrove be seated, racking his brain for when they may have met before, for surely he was claiming a prior acquaintance from him?
“Have we – we are formerly acquainted, Mr Musgrove? You must forgive me for not recollecting the occasion.”
The older gentleman nodded, his plump chins wobbling above a neck cloth with no hope of containing them. “Indeed, indeed! We met once or twice, Sir when last you were in the neighbourhood, for both my wife and I recalled it, once we had learned your name from your sister. We had been mostly in Clifton at the time, but we came down now and again. Dear me, when was it?” He frowned, then smiled widely. “Of course. It must have been around the year five or six!”
Vaguely, Wentworth recalled meeting a few of the neighbours when he had stayed with his brother at Monkford. This must be one of them, though clearly Mr Musgrove had left far less of an impression on him.
“I apologise, Sir. Your memory does you credit.” Wentworth inclined his head politely.
“Oh, do not stand on ceremony, my good Captain! There is a further claim which my dear wife and I have upon you, and I come with an invitation for you to dine with us at Uppercross at the soonest opportunity, that we may express our sincere gratitude for all you did for our poor son, for surely it is the least we can do.”
Wentworth frowned. What son? He could not recall ever meeting the father, let alone a son!
“Poor Richard,” Mr Musgrove sighed heavily. “To have made such an end when he held such promise.”
Wentworth blinked; then, as he put the names together he managed to choke back a laugh by turning it into a cough. Richard Musgrove was, in effect, thick-headed, unfeeling and indolent Midshipman Dick Musgrove – a parasite at the best of times – and the best service he did his Captain and his country was to catch a severe cold which turned to the putrid fever which carried him off.
“Yes of course, Sir. A sad loss for your family,” he replied though his mind whispered, “and a lucky release for the rest of us”.
Thankfully, before Wentworth was obliged to muster anything further, the door opened and Admiral Croft and his wife entered. Greetings were soon exchanged, along with the usual pleasantries, but as she seated herself beside him, his sister frowned.
“Frederick! Have you not called for some tea?”
“My apologies, Sophia.” He turned to their guest. “Mr Musgrove, I trust you will forgive my poor manners; they are still those of a man at war rather than a man of leisure.”
Mr Musgrove’s chins wobbled again as he shook his head vigorously. “Oh do not concern yourself, Sir. I came not for refreshment but to extend an invitation, to dine with us at the Great House at your earliest convenience.”
“That would be delightful,” said Mrs Croft with a warm smile.
“As well as my two daughters, I shall be able to introduce my eldest son to your acquaintance, Captain Wentworth. Charles is a fine shot, and we would be delighted to share the liberty of our manor during your stay. He is wed to the former Miss Mary Elliot and lives nearby; they have Miss Anne Elliot staying with them too, of course.”
“Then we shall look forward to it very much, shall we not, Frederick?” His sister’s eyes sparkled as she glanced his way, no doubt at the availability of so many single young ladies after his declaration of being ready to settle down.
“Would tomorrow evening be convenient?” Mr Musgrove looked expectantly towards Mrs Croft, and Wentworth experienced a sudden panic before releasing a breath of relief as his brother, the Admiral, spoke up.
“I am afraid we are engaged to dine with the Pargeters over at West Coker.”
“A pity, a pity,” intoned Mr Musgrove. “Perchance the day after?”
His wits restored, Wentworth shook his head, affecting regret. “I am afraid I cannot answer for being available at all this week.” He sent his sister a look that was, had he but known it, both apologetic and pleading. “I – er – I believe in the short term some pressing business commitments will take me to Bristol on more than one day henceforth.”
Clearly surprised by this, Mrs Croft nevertheless nodded calmly, then turned to their guest. “My dear Sir, do accept our apologies. Being newly restored to land, my brother has many affairs to put in order before he can be fully at ease.” She threw a lightning glance at Wentworth and raised her chin. “However, I can safely vouch we are all at leisure to accept your kind invitation to dine a week from today, if that is acceptable to you and your wife?”
Mr Musgrove seemed more than happy with this compromise and, thankful for the reprieve, though he could not fathom why the sudden desire for further time, Wentworth eased back into his seat as the Admiral turned to their guest with a sympathetic smile.
“You must miss Sir Walter, Mr Musgrove, being such a close neighbour and family.”
“Oh dear no, Sir! That is to say, we were not often in company with him. Or Miss Elliot.”
Wentworth almost grunted. He could distinctly remember both Sir Walter and his eldest daughter, and the recollection brought him no pleasure at all. Arrogant, unfeeling, vain and…
“But Miss Anne Elliot – now, she is a great favourite at Uppercross.” Mr Musgrove continued. “Things are always so fine with Miss Anne nearby. She is such a comfort to myself and especially Mrs Musgrove.”
Sophia nodded. “We had the good fortune to make the young lady’s acquaintance recently. She does indeed have the sweetest manner.”
“She is perfectly amiable,” added the Admiral.
“And so kind,” interjected Mr Musgrove. “She always has time for everyone, be it time to listen to others or time to play with my grandsons. Yes, she is a great favourite indeed, and both Louisa and Henrietta were wild to know she would be at Uppercross until Christmas, for they love to dance and Miss Anne – who is excessively talented on the pianoforte – will play for as long as they wish. I declare, she never tires of it.”
Wentworth quashed the urge to sigh heavily. Praise of Miss Anne Elliot was not something he welcomed, not in his determination to keep a rein on any remotely fond memory of her which might surface. Besides, he knew better than to think so universally well of her, did he not?
“I do wonder if she must feel terribly displaced.” Sophia said solemnly. “Not that I doubt her welcome at Uppercross, you understand, but to be so near her home when she can no longer call it such.”
“Yes, poor Miss Anne.” The Admiral shook his head. “It must have been so very hard for her to give up living at Kellynch when it has been her home her entire life. And such a beautiful place it is.”
“She did not seem as though she cared for staying back in the year six.” The thought rushed unbidden into Wentworth’s mind, but he pushed it ruthlessly aside. “Perhaps it will do her good.”
He shrugged at his sister. “To be still at home, to have only ever known one her entire life. A change can only be to her advantage, surely.” He would have been driven mad had he been forced to stay, remain in one place all these years – especially with such a family as Anne had endured. Then, aware his sympathies were being aroused, he pushed them fiercely away.
“Aye, perhaps you are right. She is a lovely young woman and, I suspect, far too little out in society.”
Mr Musgrove beamed. “Indeed, indeed. A very charming young woman.”
Wentworth had heard sufficient for one day. So much praise of Miss Anne Elliot was unpalatable. Captain Frederick Wentworth knew all about being charmed by her sweet nature, and he was quite adamant he would not be falling for it again.
“Please excuse me.” Somehow, he had risen to his feet, and three pairs of eyes turned towards him in surprise. He bowed to Mr Musgrove. “Forgive me, I have some business to attend to directly; it was a pleasure to meet you again, Sir.”
Hastily removing himself from the room and avoiding his sister’s keen eye, knowing she would question his behaviour later, he closed the door behind him and leaned against it. A heavy band gripped his chest, one which had been steadily tightening ever since he had received Sophia’s letter and seemed to intensify by the day.
To what end was he doing this, staying here at Kellynch? A momentary desire to end his visit presented itself to him. Escape was before him – he could be in the saddle and at Bristol directly, away from the insistent memories swirling round him like wisps of smoke and the constant mention of her name.
Then, Wentworth took himself to task. He was no coward and, moreover, he was long over Miss Anne Elliot, was he not? This on-rush of memories was only to be expected from returning to an area associated with those difficult times. He merely needed to push them away as he had in the year six. To be certain, it had been far more of a challenge then, when his heart was in tatters and his mind more angry. Yes, he must hold onto his resentment, not only for the way he had been treated by the Elliots but ultimately by the lady herself.
Anne Elliot had no hold on him now – he was completely and utterly indifferent to her, and when they eventually met, as most assuredly they would, there would be little difficulty in showing he was quite recovered from his foolish admiration of her in the past.
Pushing away from the door, Captain Wentworth strode rapidly along the hall, determined to silence the small voice of dissention whispering in the back of his mind.
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.