Lady Russell and Frederick come to peace as a wedding is planned. Elizabeth, though is not nearly so pleased.
The drawing room in Camden Place was by far the properest to receive Lady Russell for tea. But the room always felt cold and dreary. It was beautifully appointed to be sure, but not a bit of it felt comfortable or welcoming, so she set tea in the parlor, a room Father declared somewhat shabby by comparison. Elizabeth was not impressed.
Anne poured tea for Elizabeth, but Lady Russell turned aside, probably doing her best to ignore Elizabeth’s curled lip and knotted brows. One might think she had been asked to take tea in the common room of a coaching inn.
“Is there something amiss with the tea?” Anne asked, setting the pot aside.
“Does it seem a bit odd to you?” Elizabeth sniffed.
“Not at all, I can assure you. I brought it myself, a little gift for Anne.” Lady Russell sipped her cup. “Perhaps you might confer with your housekeeper. I think it possible she has purchased some adulterated tea.”
Elizabeth entire person went so rigid she might shatter if a sharp breeze cut through the room. “I shall be sure to inquire with her on that point.”
It would not be polite to point out the need to actually manage the household staff.
Anne fingered the pile of fabric swatches and trims fanned out on the table before her. Muslins, linens and wools, silks and velvets, lace, ribbon and cording, so many colors and patterns, a brief glance threatened to overwhelm.
Elizabeth’s face wrinkled again. “I do not understand how it is with all your prattling on about economy that you are now contemplating purchasing such an array of wedding clothes. I would not have thought you so apt to…hypocrisy.”
Anne gasped. It was not as though Elizabeth had not said things equally unkind in the past, but not in the presence of Lady Russell who was prone to take offense on her behalf.
Lady Russell cocked her head and blinked several time. Oh, she was indeed offended.
Anne held her breath and dug her nails into her palm.
“Jealousy is a most unbecoming sentiment, but I imagine it is most vexing to be expected to offer full payment when goods are delivered when one is accustomed to credit being extended.” Lady Russell sipped her tea.
“Indeed it is. Most vexing indeed. When we extend to them the privilege of our patronage, it is only appropriate, nay it is their duty, to extend credit to a family such as ours. It is what is due the Elliot name.” Elizabeth dabbed her cheeks with her handkerchief.
Anne covered her face with her hand. Little point attempting to explain again the necessity of paying one’s bills, not once the ‘Elliot name’ was invoked.
Elizabeth folded her arms over her chest. “I am quite serious, Anne. How is it you are able to find a modiste who will permit you to order all these things you propose to need—and why precisely do you believe—”
“Elizabeth! How can you question your sister’s need for wedding clothes? She will be the wife of a well-respected and well-off naval officer, connected with Admiral Croft. She will move in some very fine circles. She must be dressed appropriately. You, of all people, certainly understand the issue.”
Elizabeth glowered. Lady Russell well knew she did not like to be reminded that Anne’s company might be highly desirable to some.
“As to why she is able to have such things…” Lady Russell raised her eyebrows and cleared her throat.
“Father has certainly not given her an allowance greater than my own.”
“Frederick has been most generous in the settlement, and the clothes are a gift from him.” Anne forced her features into a semblance of something pleasant, enough so that Elizabeth would mistake it for what it was meant to resemble. “I am taking nothing from you Elizabeth. What is more, Frederick has even offered to purchase a gown for you to stand up with me at the wedding.”
Elizabeth nearly dropped her teacup, setting it down with a painful clatter. “I am your elder sister. It is irregular, even intolerable you are to be married before I. Truly it is most unbecoming.”
“Mary married some years ago and I do not recall you objecting so strenuously then.” Surely Father could not be persuaded to change his mind about their wedding. Even if he did, they would not be dissuaded, not this time. With or without the blessings of her family, they would be married.
“She married someone of no account. No one knows or cares one whit about a Musgrove. But your hero, Wentworth, brother to an Admiral, that shall be noticed.” Elizabeth pulled out her fan and fluttered it in front of her face. “Even Lady Dalrymple has taken note. The last time we had tea with her, she spent the entire time asking after him and his family and connections. She is even planning on extending a dinner invitation to him and the Crofts! It is not to be borne. I am mortified.”
Mortified at the Crofts and Frederick, or the possibility that she and Father might have to share the attentions of their illustrious connections?
“Mortified,” Lady Russell said, her voice sharp as a violin string strained to breaking. “That is a very strong sentiment. What do you propose Anne to do?”
“Thank you, I am glad to hear you agree with me. She should wait to marry, wait until I have married first. It is a proper thing and the reason younger sisters should not be out before the older are married—”
“Or on the shelf.” Lady Russell muttered into her hand.
Elizabeth’s eyes bulged like a pug with a too-tight collar. “Are you suggesting…”
“Only repeating what has been said elsewhere.” Lady Russell’s smile was far too satisfied.
“Then if that is true, you must not marry, Anne.” Elizabeth braced her hands on the arms of the chair and half-rose. “Consider the reputation of our family, my reputation. I insist.”
“And I forbid it.” Frederick’s voice boomed from the door. He stalked in, boots ringing on the stone floor.
Elizabeth stood. “And who are you to be forbidding me anything?”
“Master and commander of my own destiny, madam. Eight years I have waited for my bride and I shall not tolerate a moment more.” He placed his hands on Anne’s shoulders and she leaned her head onto his strong arm.
Her heart thrilled. Oh, that voice! Did he know what it did to her? Should she tell him? She must not allow that smile to appear now. Elizabeth would not approve.
“I am not accustomed to being spoken to in such a manner. Anne, how can you permit this?” She looked from Anne to Lady Russell. “Will neither of you speak on my behalf?”
Anne looked to Lady Russell who only pressed her lips into a tight little not-smile and shrugged. “He is to be my husband. It would not do for me to disagree with him.” Frederick knew better, but Elizabeth did not need to.
“I am not accustomed to such treatment and will not tolerate it. Do not expect me to stand up with you, for I certainly shall not” Elizabeth swished her skirts and stormed out.
Frederick followed her as far as the door and closed it behind her, a deep laugh welling up.
What a wonderful sound that was, rich and warm, filling every corner and crevice of the room.
“I cannot say I intended it so, but I shall not foreswear good fortune when she smiles upon me. I was never pleased that she should stand up with us.” He returned to them.
Anne poured a cut of tea and handed it to him. He sat beside her, a mite closer than propriety allowed. Exactly where he should be.
Lady Russell sighed. “Pleasing though you many find the turn of events, it does present a real issue of concern. Who will stand up with Anne at the wedding?”
“You could ask Lady Dalrymple’s drab daughter. I am certain your Sir Walter would find her quite acceptable.” Frederick snickered.
“Do be serious please.” Anne sniggered into her fist. “Can you imagine Elizabeth’s face if I were to do so?”
“I fear she might have an apoplexy on the spot. It would be a most dramatic encounter in any case.” Lady Russell straightened the collar of her chemisette. “You father might be pleased with the notion though, if of course she were to say yes, which I doubt.”
Frederick placed his tea cup on the table. “I do have another suggestion and this one is entirely in earnest. What of Mrs. Smith?”
“Mrs. Smith? A widow? That is most irregular.” Lady Russell fingered the edge of her sleeve.
“Father will certainly not approve, and it would only further offend Elizabeth.” Anne caught her lower lip in her teeth. “But she is a very good friend.”
“To both of us. I can think of no one who has done us a greater favor than her.” He kept his gaze averted from Lady Russell.
Anne held her breath. Please, let not Lady Russell take offense.
“Do you think her health sufficient to be able to attend you?” Lady Russell’s voice was a bit flat and brittle, like sugar candy ready to break, but she was trying to be pleasant.
“I do not know.”
“I believe I may safely speak to that.” Frederick smiled broadly. “I spoke with her only yesterday and am pleased to report her health and spirits greatly recovered. She is not ready for a walk in the country to be sure. But, she is quite able to make a journey to the church by chair or carriage and stand up a few minutes with you.”
“You saw her? You did not tell me,” Anne said.
Frederick took her hand and raised it to his lips. “I hope to always shave some surprises for you my dear.”
Lady Russell blushed and coughed. “If she is well enough, and the offer to provide a proper gown for your bridesmaid is extended and accepted, I believe she will be acceptable to stand with you.”
“I am glad you are persuaded.” Frederick lifted an eyebrow toward her.
“As am I.” She tipped her head and sipped her tea.
Anne’s eyes burned and she swallowed back the tightness of her throat. What better gift in the world than the two people dearest to her trying so hard to be acceptable to one another. Frederick was right, she must learn to brook being happier than she deserved.
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.