The young people were all wild to see Lyme. Captain Wentworth talked of going there again himself; it was only seventeen miles from Uppercross: though November, the weather was by no means bad; and, in short, Louisa, who was the most eager of the eager, having formed the resolution to go, and besides the pleasure of doing as she liked, being now armed with the idea of merit in maintaining her own way, bore down all the wishes of her father and mother for putting it off till summer; and to Lyme they were to go—Charles, Mary, Anne, Henrietta, Louisa, and Captain Wentworth. ~Persuasion, Chapter 11
“Shall we to the drawing room?” Mrs. Musgrove, all smiles and good cheer, placed her napkin on the table beside her empty plate and stood, a benevolent queen surveying her grateful subjects.
How bright and truly happy she appeared, as if she genuinely enjoyed the simple graces of hospitality. Anne sighed and fought not to roll her eyes. Yet one more unfavorable comparison between the Elliots and the Musgroves.
At Uppercross the dining room was a merry place, full of warmth and companionship, if not the most elegant dishes. No fancy French dishes or towering jellies filled with fruit graced this table. Yes, if someone’s manners slipped and they sipped from the wrong side of their soup spoon, or one of the ladies enjoyed a hearty portion of her favorite dish, no one appeared to notice, nor was it brought up in hushed conversation the days following.
Her father had dined here but once and pronounced it a beastly affair, not to be repeated. But she could not agree. No amount of fine food could substitute for pleasing companions and easy manners.
Anne followed the rest of the company out of the room. Mary looked over her shoulder from the front of the group and glowered. Yes, technically Anne should take precedence over most of the company. But among such a gathering of friends and family, was it truly necessary? Being an Elliot did not require she flaunt her rank, did it?
She turned away from Mary’s cross mien. None of those reasons would make sense to her sister. Even less the notion that walking near Wentworth, would only heighten her own ill-ease. In all likelihood, he would not favor it either.
In the drawing room, she took her place at the pianoforte. Over the last several weeks, she had taken that place so often, Henrietta and Louisa had begun calling it ‘Anne’s seat.’ In any other company, it might have been an offense. But they only meant it with affection, so Anne accepted the designation with the grace it was offered, even as Mary tried to put a stop to it all.
No one seemed interested in a dance, so Anne began to play something soft and restful, a tune she knew so well it required no thought to play, one that soothed her soul.
Wentworth sat near Louisa, caressed by the firelight as she tried to take his silhouette. How he seemed to revel in her attentions. Was it is pride—or perhaps his loneliness that she soothed?
Anne dropped her gaze to the keyboard. She should be happy for him—at least one of them might finally find some happiness.
“You mentioned your trip, sir.” Mrs. Musgrove smoothed her skirt over her lap. “But you said nothing more of it. Was a pleasant one?”
“Indeed it was.” Wentworth smiled with such warmth in his eyes that Anne nearly missed her fingering. “The sea air alone was enough to do a land-locked sailor a world of good.”
“So our country air does not suit you?” Charles’ brows twitched up.
Henrietta and Louisa tittered.
“Do not put words in my mouth, sir.” Wentworth cocked his head and raised his brows.
“Oh, do be still. I cannot take an accurate likeness if you keep bobbing about like a bird on the water.” Louisa’s lips drew up into a decided pout. How bold she had become.
“Forgive me.” Wentworth settled back and smiled at her, a bit patronizing, but pleasant nonetheless. “When you visit London, do you not find your long for the freshness of the country air?”
“Well said, sir, well said.” Charles chuckled and laid his hands over his belly. Soon, his portly stature would match his father’s. They were so alike in looks and humor.
“Then you do understand. A sailor always longs for the sea and the companionship of his shipmates.”
“So you say we are not sufficient company for you?” Mary sniffed and wrinkled her nose as if detecting a foul odor.
“Not at all.” Wentworth’s voice turned entirely patronizing and not at all pleasant.
Anne winced. He had used that tone with Mary back at Kellynch those many years ago.
“But if you were to meet Harville, you would understand in an instant. I would do nearly anything for him and him for me.”
“Sounds like an exceptional fellow. I would like to meet him very much.” Charles propped his feet on a nearby stool and crossed his ankles.
“What a wonderful thought, Charles!” Louisa clapped. “Why do we not go to visit Lyme?”
“That is a very interesting notion my dear, a very interesting one indeed.” Mrs. Musgrove clasped her hands together very tightly.
She did not like the idea, but was far too polite to say so in company. How rude of Louisa to place her mother in such an awkward situation. Anne bit her lip.
Did Wentworth notice the mischief her influence had worked? As much as he claimed to prefer a woman who knew her own mind—and he had said so in her presence often enough for his full meaning to be felt—he could not approve of what bordered on disrespect, could he? No, it was not possible that he could have changed so much.
Mr. Musgrove cleared his throat. “Travel can be a very good thing for young people, I think. There is much to be learned in seeing other places…and the sea…” He swallowed hard.
Poor man, he always choked up when reminded of his dear, departed son. Though Dick’s siblings did not share his parent’s grief as his loss, they should be more sensitive of their parent’s pain.
Wentworth’s cheeks tightened—a tiny look of disapproval he had perfected for use in the Elliot household when he must not speak his feelings about Sir Walter and his eldest daughter. The question was would he correct Louisa as freely as he praised her.
“I do believe that everyone should see the sea at least one in their lives. One cannot understand a sailor lest they have seen the sea.” Wentworth glanced at Louisa.
Apparently he would not. Probably just as well, the Musgroves were doting parents and probably would not take it well, even from a guest esteemed as Wentworth. Anne closed her eyes and bit her lip, arranging her features into something neutral if not pleasing.
The skin along the side of her neck prickled. Wentforth’s gaze had wandered to her. Why?
Mr. Musgrove cleared his throat. “I do believe a trip to Lyme might be accommodated.”
“Thank you papa!” Louisa clapped softly. “As so as may be possible, tomorrow even—” She turned and clasped Henrietta’s hands.
“No, my dear, that is not practical. I think such a trip be better made in the spring. November is a ghastly month to travel—”
Louisa slouched and huffed. “No Papa, we cannot wait until spring. That is entirely unnecessary.”
“But the weather must be considered.”
“The weather has been very mild and we have no reason to think that will change in the immediate future. Besides, that is all the more reason for us to go immediately. We can be off early in the morning and back in the same day.”
“No, I draw the line at that notion, child.” Mr. Musgrove folded his arms over his chest.
“Papa, you cannot withdraw your permission!”
“The effort would be too much on the horses. I must consider them. They cannot go both legs of the journey in a single day. On that I am firm.”
“Very well then,” Louisa frowned briefly. “I suppose we must stay the night then.”
“The night? Where will you stay? You cannot impose on the hospitality of a family we do not even know.” Mrs. Musgrove eyes widened and her mouth formed a perfectly little ‘o’.
Anne pinched her temples. When had Louisa become so headstrong and unfeeling?
“An inn, Mama. I am certain there are inns at Lyme. Are there not, Captain Wentworth?” Louisa batted her eyes at the captian.
Wentworth hesitated, his brow drawn into a tight knot. “Yes there are. I know of several respectable establishments.”
“I do not like.” Mrs. Musgrove twitched her head. “Young ladies should not make such a trip alone.”
“How can you say we will be alone in the company of Captain Wentworth?”
“You must have a chaperone and on this I will not be moved.” Mrs. Musgrove glanced at her husband who nodded.
“But Mama, if Henrietta goes, is that not—”
“No it is not. You need the guidance and protection of someone elder and more sensible than yourself. Miss Anne,” Mrs. Musgrove turned and caught Anne’s gaze, “I declare, I know no one with more good sense than yourself. Perhaps you would consider making the journey with our girls?”
“Please, Anne!” Henrietta jumped up and hurried to Anne’s side.
“Yes! That is the perfect solution! Anne, you must go with us!” Louisa beamed. “Then it is settled—”
“Settled? Settled?” Mary cried. She sprang to her feet and paced along the center of the room. “I do not see how this is settled at all. Why should this be settled? I do not understand why Anne should go. She is nothing to you. I am your sister. Who more fitting to watch over you and protect you than your sister? Truly who is Anne to you?”
Anne’s cheeks burned and she pinched her temples. If only she could hide beneath the piano until this humiliating episode was over!
“Why must I stay home? I do say, it seems when there is a gay outing to be had I am always the last to be thought of.” Mary dabbed her handkerchief to her eyes.
“There, there, Mary dear.” Mrs. Musgrove rolled her eyes. “No one intended to leave you out. Your have said so many times that you dislike the carriage, we were only thinking of sparing you a half day travel in one.”
“I should like to see Lyme.” Charles sat up and squared his shoulders. “I do not see why we cannot join the party.”
“There you have it,” Mary nodded sharply. “With Charles and I, there is no need for Anne to make the journey.”
Anne swallowed back the lump in her throat. It was flattering to have been asked, and that should have been enough. Traveling with Wentworth would have been awkward at best. Though it would have been nice—
“You may have precedence over your unmarried sister,” Charles shot a sour look toward his wife, “but that does not mean you should also exclude her. Anne has had little opportunity to travel and if the rest of us are going, then she too should have the opportunity. Will you join us to Lyme, Anne?”
Blood roared in Anne’s ears and her cheeks heated painfully as Wentworth’s gaze fixed on her. “I do not know…” Why did he look at her so? Whatever could he mean by that?
He blinked three times. “I think Miss Anne should take in the sea.”
What had he said? Words caught in her throat and he turned aside before she could muster a response.
“Then it is decided.” Charles brushed his hands together. We are all for Lyme.”
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.