“You will not believe the news!” cried a beaming Henrietta, rushing into her mother's rooms at the White Hart. “Where is Mama?”
Mary Musgrove turned from her station at the window overlooking the entrance to the Pump Room, where she had been eagerly engaged in watching the morning bustle of Bath, to confront her sister-in-law. “You need not be in such an excited state, Henrietta. I saw you racing down Bath Street, and I am not the only one whose attention you captured. Try to compose yourself.”
Henrietta's smile faded slightly, but the import of what she had to share negated any hesitancy she felt at proceeding, “Oh Mama! I saw Lady Russell in Molland's, and she told me the most extraordinary thing. Anne is to be married, and you will never guess to whom!”
“Anne engaged!” cried Mrs. Musgrove, clasping her hands together in delight.
Mary rose quickly and crossed the room to Henrietta, her face a picture of shocked rapture, “Oh Henrietta! Is it my cousin, Mr. Elliot, my father's heir? I know Elizabeth would have him, but the whole town is abuzz with his attentions to Anne. A more perfect match I cannot imagine! Elizabeth will be livid! Imagine both Anne and I married, and she an old maid!”
“It is not Mr. Elliot,” Henrietta revealed, gleefully bringing a halt to Mary's conjectures.
Mary's countenance fell. “Then whoever could it be?”
“You cannot be more surprised then I myself was. She is to marry our own Captain Wentworth!”
Mary fell back into a conveniently situated chair, thoroughly astonished. “Captain Wentworth?” she questioned her own ears.
Mrs. Musgrove appeared equally befuddled. “I had not the slightest notion they were attached! Surely, I have never seen them exchange more than a few words, in all our time together.”
“Nor have I,” concurred Mary.
“Lady Russell says it is an attachment of long standing. They fell in love eight years ago, when the Captain was visiting his brother at Monksford. Mama, do you not see, this is why she would not marry Charles! Her heart was not her own!” Henrietta sighed contentedly, thoroughly enrapt by the romance of her tale. Lady Russell had told the story succinctly, betraying none of the many complex emotions with which she struggled, but to a mind like Henrietta's, particularly under the influence of her own engagement, the story was pure romance.
Mary, who had recovered her senses at mention of her husband's earlier proposal to Anne, began to muddle through the facts of the case, “Eight years ago … when they had previously met … oh my! She must have rejected him!”
“Oh no, Mary,” Henrietta insisted. “Lady Russell said he was too young to marry at the time. I am sure no one would reject the Captain.”
“Gracious me, no,” concurred Mrs. Musgrove. “Yet I did wondered at how quickly he seemed to recover from Louisa's attachment to Captain Benwick.”
“Exactly!” cried Mary. “And how could he have paid her such attentions if he was already in love with Anne? Why, they barely acknowledged each other when they first met again at Uppercross Cottage! Indeed, they seemed to avoid each other. What explanation have you other than a falling out?”
“The way Lady Russell tells it, I seriously doubt he proposed previously.”
“But nothing else makes sense!” Mary insisted. “To think that they might never have come to this happy conclusion, had I not kept Anne with me this autumn! I must go to Camden Place at once!”
“Call for the carriage, Henrietta. We shall all go. After all, I owe Miss Elliot a call.”
The Musgroves were not Elizabeth's only visitors that morning. The drawing-rooms at Camden Place had rarely been more eagerly sought than now, as news of Anne's surprising engagement spread through the town. To everyone's gratification, Anne was at home and entertaining her fiancee. Elizabeth greeted each influx of cards graciously, saying all that was proper on such on occasion to those select few admitted into her company, but Mary immediately perceived the chagrin lurking behind her practiced elegance. Pleased with the accuracy of her first prediction, she eagerly sought confirmation of her other suspicions.
“I am so happy for you, my dear Anne! How I marvel that I could not see it before! All that time we spent together last year, and none of us had the least notion that you and Captain Wentworth had formed an attachment. How very secretive you both have been!”
Anne smiled at Frederick, saying only, “I can well imagine your surprise.”
Mary did not find this response terribly satisfying and looked to Henrietta for support in her interrogation, but the younger lady was so absorbed in the romance of the situation that she proved thoroughly unhelpful. Mrs. Musgrove was equally disobliging, busily engaged as she was in sharing with an apathetic Elizabeth news of the Uppercross tenants' well-being. No matter what approach Mary attempted, Anne and the Captain both continued to respond to her many questions in a vague, unrevealing manner. The more evasive they were, the more her spirits began to fail. Mary was transparent enough that both Anne and Frederick harbored no doubts as to her purpose, but neither had any desire to indulge her. Happily did they divulge the date of the wedding, determined just that morning, and they even conceded to her the fact that their time in Lyme had been instrumental in illuminating their mutual attraction, but regarding a previous attachment, they would say nothing at all.
“Tell me, Captain, were you so blinded by the high spirits of my Musgrove sisters that my sister's attractions remained unobserved by you?”
“I have always admired Anne's elegance, Mrs. Musgrove.”
“But it must have been Henrietta and Louisa's engagements that allowed you to develop affection for Anne?”
“All of your sisters are charming, Mrs. Musgrove, and I wish the Misses Musgroves great happiness. Their future husbands are fine men.”
“Yet I thought there was a decided coldness between you when you first met at Uppercross Cottage, perhaps dating back to your previous acquaintance, when you visited your brother at Monksford?”
“That was years ago, Mary. We met again as near strangers.”
“But Lady Russell told Henrietta that you had been long attached!”
“We did enjoy each other's company, Mary, but eight year may bring about unforeseen changes.”
“I was certain there must have been some sort of previous agreement between you.”
Though Captain Wentworth was able to derive some pleasure in denying the proud Mrs. Musgrove her purpose, Anne did not enjoy her sister's peevishness, regardless of the circumstances. She might endure it for the sake of protecting her own privacy, but it was against her nature to not attempt to alleviate Mary's ill-temper. With her thorough knowledge of the character she had to pacify, Anne proceeded with her usual skill in altering Mary's mood. “It is you we have to thank, Mary, for our present happiness. It was all the time spent at Uppercross that brought us to an understanding. You must take a good deal of pride in the connection, as it began under your very own roof.”
Captain Wentworth looked somewhat askance at his betrothed but said nothing in protest to this construction of events.
“Indeed I may,” concluded Mary, sitting up a bit straighter. “You must have the fondest of memories of your time at the Cottage. You must both come to stay with Charles and I again once you are married.”
“Indeed we will, Mary. Nothing could bring us greater pleasure. Do you not agree, Frederick?” she smiled at him with a sparkle in her eye.
“Certainly. Musgrove is an excellent companion.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Mrs. Clay. “Penelope! There you are,” said Elizabeth, revealing a tinge of annoyance in her tone. “I have been waiting for you an hour at least. We have had innumerable callers, and I could have used your assistance in providing refreshment for our guests.”
“Oh, Miss Elliot! Never was there such a crush! I thought I might never succeed in procuring the correct shade of silk for your screen, but eventually I prevailed. Do you not think it precisely the correct blue?” She held up a small skein for inspection.
Elizabeth took the thread and eyed it critically. “Yes. I believe this will do. Will you ring for tea?”
“Not on our account, my dear,” cried Mrs. Musgrove. “We had best be on our way.”
“Indeed, yes,” concurred Mary, eagerly abandoning her seat. “Charles should return shortly, and I cannot wait to share with him your magnificent news!”
“Perhaps Mrs. Clay spotted Mr. Musgrove during the course of her errands,” suggested Anne. “ I believe you said he and Captain Harville had business in Milsom Street, did you not, Mary?”
“Yes, at least that is where I think they were bound,” replied Mary, not at all pleased with the notion that Mrs. Clay might have beat her to the honor of conveying to her husband the story of Anne's engagement
“I am afraid I did not see him,” replied Mrs. Clay. Mary's smiles were restored.
“Did you run into anyone else of our acquaintance, Penelope? I expected Mr. Elliot to call, but he has not made an appearance.”
“Yes, actually. I did see Mr. Elliot, though only briefly. He says he has business in London and must quit Bath soon, but he will certainly visit Camden Place before his departure to bid his farewells to Sir Walter and his cousins.”
“Business in London? But surely he will not remain away long? I thought he was to spend the rest of the season in Bath!” Elizabeth exclaimed, no longer endeavoring to disguise her chagrin.
“He did not reveal the nature of his errand to me, but I am sure he will explain the situation most thoroughly to Sir Walter.”
“To be sure he will. He is never deficient in his deference to my father,” insisted Elizabeth, though unwanted memories of a time when he was not so attentive were beginning to plague her.
Mr. Elliot did indeed call that evening, in the familiar way he had become accustomed to since his arrival in Bath. He offered his congratulations to his cousin Anne with an appearance of sincere joy he could not possibly have truly felt, and expressed the sad necessity that took him from Bath at this critical time.
“Nothing could keep me from your nuptials, my dear cousin, but the utmost necessity. My business cannot be delayed. Indeed, I am afraid I have been remiss by putting it off for as long as I have.”
“We will miss your presence at the wedding, Elliot. Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret will be in attendance, you know,” boasted Sir Walter.
“So I have been told. It is sure to be a most memorable occasion.”
“Will you not return to Bath upon completion of your business?” questioned Elizabeth.
“I cannot say how long I need remain in London, Miss Elliot. I assure you, it pains me to part with such dear friends as I have found at Camden Place.”
“Yes, of course it does. Let me know when you plan to return, and I will have Shepard see to securing you the best of lodgings.”
“You are all kindness, Sir Walter.”
The departure of Mr. Elliot left a disparate variety of sensations in the inhabitants at Camden Place. Sir Walter felt most complacent. Though Mr. Elliot was a very agreeable and appropriate companion, he could not help but acknowledge that Captain Wentworth's fine appearance more than made up for the loss of his loss of his heir's presence in his drawing-rooms. After all, he had always maintained that Mr. Elliot was sadly under-hung. Anne saw her cousin go with much gratification. Their society could only be improved by not being subjected to such an underhanded character, and as she had every intention of introducing Captain Wentworth to Mrs. Smith on the morrow, the absence of Mr. Elliot would alleviate any awkwardness Frederick might feel in having to endure the dishonorable man's company in future gatherings. Elizabeth's feelings, on the other hand, were quite opposite to her family's. She saw her cousin's withdraw as an insult: the second one he had leveled at her through the course of their acquaintance. To be twice abandoned by the most eligible applicant to her hand was mortifying in the extreme, but her pride would allow her to reveal none of what she suffered. Perhaps only Mrs. Clay, as her confidant, had any true notion of what Elizabeth endured, but her own gratification in the situation trumped any desire she might have to provide condolence. Fortunately for her, Elizabeth was far too dignified to seek it.
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