Captain Wentworth had not been above four or five times in the Miss Musgroves’ company, and Charles Hayter had but just reappeared, when Anne had to listen to the opinions of her brother and sister, as to which was the one liked best. Charles gave it for Louisa, Mary for Henrietta, but quite agreeing that to have him marry either would be extremely delightful.
Anne had a headache. She was only too conscious of the many circumstances which might have had occasioned this, though her companions in the after-dinner chat at Uppercross Cottage were not in the least aware of them. Her sister Mary did not think of Anne’s health at all, so occupied was she with her own; and Charles Musgrove, though he did notice Anne looking somewhat wan, imputed it to her care for their injured child.
Charles and Mary were both in great good humour, coming in from a dinner at the Great House which had given both much food for thought as well as for body. Anne had declined the invitation, knowing Captain Wentworth was at Uppercross, and sitting every morning with the Musgrove girls; she hoped to avoid pain at the sight, but instead her imaginings had been worse than the reality, and her agitation had resulted in the headache which now had her lain on the couch that was usually Mary’s own possession in the evenings.
But Mary this evening had something to think about, and talk of. During the whole course of the dinner, a handsome feast laid out in great style, she had opportunity to observe the handsome Captain’s behavior toward her two sisters-in-law, and she was decided in which one had the preference. Henrietta, she was sure, had put her unworthy cousin Charles Hayter out of her head and was entirely in love with Captain Wentworth, who was certainly falling in love with her too, as rapidly as possible. She told Anne this in exulting tones, and was so excited at the prospect of Captain Wentworth for Henrietta, that she did not notice the entire lack of enthusiasm in Anne’s quiet answer.
Charles walked from the window, out of which he had been staring, in exasperation. “Mary, do not say what is not so,” he told his wife. “I have told you again and again, the whole time we were walking back, that Captain Wentworth’s object is Louisa, without question.”
“Yes, you did say that,” Mary exclaimed, “and I wish your parents had thought it fit to send us back in the carriage, for then I would not have had to listen to so much foolishness. But that is always the way. No one has any consideration for my comfort, or my feelings. I was a great deal too sick to make the walk, Anne, and to have Charles telling me the whole way that Louisa is to marry Captain Wentworth, was a little too much.”
Anne could not answer her on this subject, but turned her face away.
“Mary, do look a moment,” said Charles, “I do believe Anne is not quite well. Does she not appear pale?”
“Oh, Anne is always pale. I suppose that is why she would not go out to dinner, but I must say, Anne, I do think it would have done you good. The food was excellent – whatever you may say about the Musgroves, they have a fine cook, and there were several pair of ducks, all done to a turn.”
“Captain Wentworth and I had a very good day’s shooting, yesterday,” Charles observed, “the ducks were first-rate, though they took Wentworth away from the young ladies for a whole morning.”
“The young ladies, indeed! Why, you know he only has eyes for Henrietta. Did he not sit beside her, and help her to the beet-root? I saw him, I am sure I did. And it will be much the best thing, than for her to marry a poor curate like that Charles Hayter.”
“You forget, Mary, that he had Louisa on his other side, and he served her the ragout with unexceptionable politeness, I thought.”
“Politeness! Oh, aye. He was polite to her enough; but he never took his eyes from Henrietta. And even you will admit that, if Louisa is the livelier, Henrietta is much the prettier. Do not you think so, Anne? Do take my side, Charles is so unreasonable. He declares that Captain Wentworth will have Louisa.”
Anne, lying on the sofa with her head pounding like a drum, could not bear even to contemplate the choice, much less to answer. She said nothing, and Charles looked at her with some compunction.
“Mary, I am worried about Anne. I really do think she has worn herself out with looking after our little boy. It was too bad of us to leave him with her, indeed it was. You see she is quite tired out.”
Anne smiled at him for his concern. “Thank you, Charles, I will do very well. Little Charles went to sleep almost at once, and he was no encumbrance, I assure you.”
“You put a good face upon it,” Charles cried, “but it really is too bad. How ill you do seem, upon my word!”
“Well, but Anne insisted on staying,” Mary defended herself, “don’t you remember, and I am sure I cannot be at home every minute myself. I need refreshment and entertainment, like other people, even though I am the child’s mother.”
Anne assured her that she had not minded in the least, though Charles still looked unconvinced.
“I will agree with you however, Charles, on one point,” said Mary, “Anne does look pale, and the confinement in the house has been the worst thing for her. I know it always is for me. Only consider how much better Anne would feel, if she had the amusement of watching Captain Wentworth with your two sisters! It is so diverting to see him flirt with one, and then the other, and to try to discern which of them he likes best, and will marry. Charles and I never had a better time, and we are only sorry you should have missed it. It was so entertaining!”
“I am sure,” Charles pronounced, “that Louisa is the one. She will be Mrs. Captain Wentworth.”
“And only think, if he is made a baronet, she will be Lady Wentworth, and take precedence over me! But I forgot, it will not be Louisa, but Henrietta.”
“A baronet! Only if there is another war, my dear Mary. Still, I believe Captain Wentworth has already won quite a pretty fortune. It will be a very fine thing for Louisa, and they will visit Kellynch very often.”
“Louisa, indeed! You try my nerves, Charles. Any one could see that he has quite put Charles Hayter out of Henrietta’s head. I do not know who Louisa will marry now, but only that it is a pity he can not marry both of them.”
The argument continued, Anne did not believe it would possibly cease until bed-time, and she also did not think she could bear it that long.
Either sister to marry Captain Wentworth, be it Louisa or Henrietta, what was the difference to Anne? In either case, she would be obliged to look on in silence at his married happiness or the lack of it, knowing that if she was not his wife, she had only her own persuadable nature to blame. What folly not to seize happiness while it was hers; what rack, what torture, to watch him with another, hers no longer.
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.