“And I will tell you our reason,” she added, “and all about it. I am come on to give you notice that Papa and Mamma are out of spirits this evening, especially Mamma. She is thinking so much of poor Richard! And we agreed it would be best to have the harp, for it seems to amuse her more than the pianoforte. I will tell you why she is out of spirits. When the Crofts called this morning, they happened to say that her brother, Captain Wentworth, is just returned to England—or paid off, or something—and is coming to see them almost directly. And most unluckily it came into Mamma’s head when they were gone that Wentworth, or something very like it, was the name of poor Richard’s captain at one time. I do not know when or where, but a great while before he died, poor fellow! And upon looking over his letters and things, she found it was so, and is perfectly sure that this must be the very man, and her head is quite full of it, and of poor Richard! So we must all be as merry as we can, that she may not be dwelling upon such gloomy things.”
— Louisa Musgrove, Persuasion, Chapter 6
October, 1814 – Uppercross Hall, Somersetshire
“There, there, Mamma. You must not take on so,” begged Charles Musgrove for the third time, patting the good lady’s hand.
“Oh, but I am well, I declare I am,” sobbed Mrs. Musgrove. “I cannot help myself, thinking of your poor, lost brother! Oh, Richard!” The mistress of the Great House at Uppercross could say no more.
The entirety of the Musgrove family, save the younger Mrs. Musgrove, had gathered in the parlor at the request of Mrs. Musgrove—the elder Mrs. Musgrove, it should be made clear. Mrs. Mary Musgrove was invited to the assemblage, but she begged off, her visiting sister, Miss Anne Elliot, being the principal excuse. Besides, the Musgroves were to dine at Uppercross Cottage that evening and, in any case, Mary’s ailments had returned to a small extent.
Mary Musgrove was not missed.
The elder Mrs. Musgrove held station at one end of the settee, her youngest daughter, Louisa, sat next to her, holding her hand, while her son, Charles, knelt at her feet to attend his mother. The eldest daughter, Henrietta, prepared tea for the family.
“I have it here, my dear!”
Mrs. Musgrove tore herself away from her children’s loving attentions.
“Oh! What a precious burden you carry, my dear! Pray give it to me this instant.”
No sooner was the request made than it was accomplished, and the family gathered about the chest containing the last few memories of the late Richard Musgrove, midshipman of the Royal Navy.
Reverently, Mrs. Musgrove opened the box. In it was a miniature of a young man of middling age, looks, and deportment, his naval uniform doing little to improve his appearance. With trembling hands did she raise the icon to her lips.
Charles scrutinized the painting. “A charitable likeness, to be sure. Dickie never was in good looks.”
“Charles!” cried his mother. “How can you say such a thing?”
“What? Do I say aught but the truth? Dickie could not be called handsome—not with those beady eyes and that weak chin.” He gave the miniature to Henrietta.
“For shame, son.” His father’s scold was mild. “Speak no ill of your brother.”
Louisa gazed at the miniature in Henrietta’s hands. “His uniform fits him ill. Of that there is no doubt.” Noticing the looks of censure from her parents, she quickly added, “I am sure he filled it out admirably as he grew!”
“He was very young when he left us,” observed Henrietta.
“He was indeed, and young still when he fell!” Mrs. Musgrove retrieved the miniature and held it to her chest.
Mr. Musgrove laid a hand on his spouse’s shoulder. “We must be consoled that he gave his life for the king, my dear.”
“He died of a cold,” mumbled Charles.
“What was that, dear?”
She gingerly returned the portrait to the cask, withdrawing from it an insignificant stack of letters, tied with a navy blue bow.
“Here are his letters—our last words from dear, dear Richard.” She placed the treasured collection the table, undid the bow, and looked through the stack. “I know they are here. Ah! Here are Richard’s letters from his time on the Laconia! Read them aloud, my love.”
Mr. Musgrove took two thin letters from his wife’s hand. He opened the first and adjusted his spectacles.
“‘June, 1812, off Gibraltar. Dear Mother & Father. I have had the very great fortune of securing a berth on HMS Laconia, a very fine 36-gun frigate, commanded by Captain Wentworth, renowned for his action off—’”
“There, Captain Wentworth!” injected Mrs. Musgrove. “I should have recognized that name from the first instant! The famous Captain Wentworth. Richard served under no better captain than he.”
“Indeed, you are right, my dear,” replied her husband. “Now where was I? “Ah! ‘Wentworth is known as “Fighting Freddie” in the fleet and has had very good luck in finding and capturing prizes.’ Fighting Freddie? That is a strange name, upon my word. ‘I know I shall make my fortune at last! Therefore, I ask that you send only a few pounds—ten, if you can—by return post.’”
“Would not it have been fine if poor Richard had remained with Captain Wentworth? I am sure he would have been promoted and made rich with prize money!”
“It would have been good thing indeed, Mamma. It would have saved Papa a considerable amount of money.”
“Take care with Richard’s letters, Charles.”
“Letters! I would not call these demands for my father’s money letters.”
“Now, Charles,” said Mr. Musgrove, “a midshipman’s pay is very little. A man needs something to live on.”
Charles huffed. “I do not doubt you, but I observe it would have been better had Dickie peppered his petitions with a few inquiries about his family.”
“A sailor’s lot is a hard one,” Mr. Musgrove defended his late son. “I am sure Richard had little time for writing.”
Charles pointedly turned to the stack of thin missives, raised his eyebrows, and said nothing.
Mr. Musgrove held out the other letter. “You see, he asks most kindly about our health in his second letter from the Laconia.”
“Poor Richard,” lamented Mrs. Musgrove. “He always was a kindhearted boy!”
“Kindhearted?” stammered Charles. “I believe your memories are clouded by sentiment. I would not call Dickie kindhearted.”
“Remember when he took my dolly?” piped up Henrietta. “It was ages before we found where he had hidden her.”
“He used to pull my hair,” added Louisa.
“Now, now, girls,” replied Mr. Musgrove, “we must make allowances for his young age. The boy always had high spirits!”
“High spirits, indeed!” cried Charles. “Was it high spirits that caused him to ruin my first fowling piece by shooting rocks out of it? The barrel was never right again.”
Mrs. Musgrove’s crying reached new levels. “Oh, my poor, poor Richard!”
Mr. Musgrove scowled at his eldest. “Now look what you did!”
Charles colored and attempted to make amends. “Mamma, please be easy. We all miss poor Richard exceedingly. Do we not, Sisters?”
Henrietta and Louisa instantly agreed and tenderly consoled their mother. After a few moments, the good lady was able to manage, “We must always remember what a good, loving boy he was. How sad he was buried at sea! Why could the navy not send him home? He could have rested here at Uppercross, and we could visit his grave on Sundays.”
“Mamma,” said Charles, “the navy does not ship home lost sailors. Besides, there is a certain romance to being buried at sea.”
“They do, they do, Charles! What of Lord Nelson? The navy brought him back to England!” she pointed out.
Charles gaped. “Mamma, that was Nelson!”
“I see no difference between him and any other mother’s son.”
Charles circumspectly rolled his eyes. “It is rather a bother to do so in any case, Mamma. They must place the body in a barrel filled with spirits of wine.”
Mrs. Musgrove howled in revulsion.
“Of course, they have to eviscerate it first.”
“Charles!” cried his father.
“Did I say something amiss, Papa?”
Mr. Musgrove hugged his nearly inconsolable wife while glaring at Charles. “That is quite enough of that! Apologize to your mother!”
Charles, while not the keenest wit in the room, was a good son who loved his mother. He professed his most sincere regrets over his unthinking words. Henrietta and Louisa copied their mother, lamenting the loss of “poor Richard,” and Mr. Musgrove took away the scarred case of remembrance to better soothe the family’s feelings. Soon afterwards, Charles took his leave, expressing pleasant anticipation of seeing them all at the Cottage that evening.
His sisters later conducted a tête-à-tête.
“Mamma is so low over this unhappy business of poor Richard,” observed Louisa.
Henrietta agreed. “Papa hides it better, but he is sadly affected, too.”
A small scowl marred the usual, bubbly expression of the youngest Musgrove sister. “You know how Mary is! She can be disagreeable at the best of times. This melancholy will surely trigger one of her spells!”
“If only there was something we could do!” Henrietta thought for a moment. “I know! Music always makes Mamma feel better. I will bring my harp with us to the Cottage!”
“What an excellent idea!” cried Louisa. “Mamma enjoys music so! Perhaps Miss Anne will join you on the pianoforte in a duet!” The pretty young girl frowned again. “Oh, if only Brother had married Anne instead of Mary!”
“Let us not dwell on that! I have just realized a difficulty to our plan. Should we carry my harp to the Cottage, there will not be enough room for all of us in the coach!”
“Oh, I had not thought of that! You are right.”
Henrietta sighed. “I must leave my harp here.”
“Nonsense!” exclaimed Louisa. “I will go ahead on foot, announcing our intentions. Mary dislikes surprises unless they are for her own benefit.”
“Such a distance! Oh, kind sister, I cannot ask it of you!”
“It is but a step or two. I have walked there many a time without damage, and I shall do it again. Say nothing more of it; I am determined! Besides, Mamma loves your instrument above all things. It is sure to banish all her gloomy thoughts.”
“Then we are agreed!” The sisters exchanged a kiss on the cheek. “Let us inform Papa of our plans and retire upstairs to dress.”
“Yes, of course!” Louisa grew gloomy again. “Alas, poor Richard—and poor Charles, too! Our brothers have had a sad lot, indeed.”
It would make me sad if you didn’t leave a comment. Just sayin’.
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.