The Pooles, a very good family of old friends, lived two miles from the Great House, and so it was necessary for Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove to pick up Mary in their carriage for the dinner party on the Thursday evening. Charles went on horseback as a matter of course, while his father and mother sat together, their largeness quite filling the front seat, and the three girls crowded in the back. Louisa and Henrietta thought it all great fun, and laughed the whole way, but Mary resented not being given precedence as she was the last helped into the carriage, and the being crushed against her two young sisters in law was the final indignity. She was sulky the whole evening, which in truth was not so sparkling a social occasion as to be materially uninjured by a silent and sullen guest. However, every thing went off as usual, heavy food and heavy conversation relieved by the Miss Musgroves singing and a little dance got up amongst the young people.
It was not a late evening; Charles felt some compunction about bringing his unsociable wife home, to relieve the others of her presence, and perhaps also to soften the scolding that would fall to him if he did not give her this attention. A word in his mother’s ear had the carriage brought round without delay. The Miss Musgroves continued to laugh and talk about the evening, praising their own music, the dance, and the moonlight; but Mary said nothing, and she alighted from the carriage at Uppercross Cottage with barely a civil adieu to her mother in law.
As the carriage drove away, bringing the family the quarter mile from the Cottage to the Great House, Mary was, as might only be expected, roundly abused.
“Oh! Did you ever see such behavior,” exclaimed Louisa, “I declare Mary gets worse and worse, every day.”
“All she ever thinks about is herself,” Henrietta replied. “I warrant you, she will fancy herself ill tomorrow. All because riding three in a seat is not grand enough for her.”
“Such a temper! And why must she make the whole party miserable, instead of putting up with a small amount of discomfort for half-an-hour?”
“It was not even discomfort. I was perfectly comfortable, were not you, Louisa?”
“I am afraid it was our fault,” said Mrs. Musgrove, with compunction. “We are so very large, that we really can fit no one else in with us. It was the only solution; and I am very sorry that our size makes people uncomfortable.”
“Oh! Mama!” cried Louisa and Henrietta together, and the latter added, “How can you think such a thing, my dear mother? We were so very comfortable, and I vouch for it Mary was too.”
“It is only that she is angry because Charles does not have a carriage of his own,” said Louisa. “She thinks they deserve one, with the Elliot arms emblazoned.”
“I cannot afford to give them one this year, my dears,” Mr. Musgrove remarked mildly. “I have told Charles so, and he understands very well. There have been too many calls upon my income; and Mrs. Charles will have to wait for her carriage.”
“And besides, Louisa, she could not have the Elliot arms; could she? She is a Musgrove now.”
“More’s the pity. I do get so tired of Mary, and her pride, the Elliot pride. Oh, that Charles had married Anne instead!”
“Now, Louisa, why talk about the impossible,” her mother chided. “You know Anne refused him, and that is that; we must make the best of things, and Mary is not so bad. She can be good tempered now and then. It is hard having little ones, and I believe another one is expecting, though she does not say so. And she does not keep as active as she ought. If she were up instead of lying upon the sofa all the time, I am persuaded her health would be better.”
“At least, Anne arrives tomorrow.” Louisa brightened at the thought. “Lady Russell is to drop her off on her way to town. Only think! We will have Anne for at least two months.”
“Every thing goes on better when Miss Anne is about,” Mrs. Musgrove agreed. “We may be able to put her in the way of persuading Mary to behave herself more reasonably.”
“I wouldn’t get your hopes up, Mama,” said Henrietta with something like a snort.
“We must remember one thing, while Miss Anne is here, girls. To be very careful not to speak of her father’s bankruptcy. Only think how ashamed she must be! We must be very delicate before her.”
“Sir Walter is not bankrupt, my love,” put in Mr. Musgrove, “From what I hear from my own man of business, Shepherd says it is a matter of retrenchment, and that seven years living in more modest circumstances, and renting out Kellynch, will clear the debts. It is not more than many gentlemen in like case have been forced to do.”
“It is quite a disgrace, all the same,” nodded his wife. “If it has not the name of bankruptcy, to have debts amounting to so much that you must give up your own house, and one that has been in the family for generations, is something that I have never heard of. Sure, Sir Walter must have been very extravagant.”
“You know he is quite a proverb for it, indeed, Mama. He thinks of nothing but dress, and table, and fanciful expenditures – him and Elizabeth.”
“Well, we may be glad of one thing,” said Louisa with a laugh.
“What is that, sister?”
“Why, that Charles did not marry Elizabeth!”
Both girls were unable to stifle their laughter, and Mrs. Musgrove could not conceal a smile herself, though she said, “Hush, hush. Do behave yourselves, girls. And you will promise me to behave, when you see Anne, will you not?”
Louisa was serious at once. “Of course we will, Mama. Anne is a dear girl and we should not think of hurting her feelings. It is not her fault that her father is so horrid.”
“A very foolish man,” said Mr. Musgrove calmly. “All pride and pomatum, and no sense.”
“I do hope that Miss Anne can be settled properly, in the next twelvemonth or so. She is full seven and twenty, I believe, and I have never heard of her having any prospects, other than Charles of course. It is a great shame,” said Mrs. Musgrove, whose mind ran on marriage prospects a good deal.
“I hope so, but there is no one hereabouts for her. Perhaps she will meet someone in Bath. Oh, Mama, if only we can to go to Bath this winter! Do not you think we can?”
“We may be able to manage it,” said Mr. Musgrove, “as long as you girls do not tease me about it.”
“We won’t, Papa, we promise. I wonder what sort of rooms the Elliots will take in Bath?”
“Probably better ones than they can afford. It does not speak well for Sir Walter’s reformation,” their father replied dryly.
“Another thing that does not speak well is their having taken that Mrs. Clay with them,” his wife pointed out.
“Oh! She is perfectly abominable, a little, scheming, ugly woman,” said Henrietta. “Do you remember, the last time we visited the Elliots, Elizabeth treated her just exactly as a sister?”
“She did, Henrietta – and she does not treat her real sister, Anne, as a sister at all. Oh! I am so glad we are not like that, but are good friends, as sisters ought to be!”
“To be sure we are,” returned Henrietta with a smile.
“Yes, the way things are in that family, is extremely unfortunate and disordered,” observed Mrs. Musgrove, “and so, my dears, we must all be very nice to Anne.”
“We will, Mama. I do hope that odious Mrs. Clay does not marry Sir Walter,” said Louisa. “I declare that woman has him and Elizabeth wrapped around her little finger. Oh, here we are, at home! How glad I am to be home! I would not want to be like poor Anne, for the world.”