Fourteen – An Appeal to the Conscience
Wentworth and the Admiral had not long gone when the footman announced another visitor to Anne and Sophie. Both ladies had been wondering how Frederick would go about enticing Charles Musgrove to taking his wife back. They agreed it would not go smoothly, for Society did not take kindly to a woman who left her husband on her own accord. Charles had every right of banishing her from her home, taking her children away from her, and divorcing her without a single penny to her name.
Charles Musgrove hurried into the room and bowed.
“Mrs Croft, I am extremely sorry to burst into your drawing room so rudely but I have to speak with my sister-in-law at once. In private, if you please?”
“Well, I am sure …”, Frederick’s sister hesitated.
Anne laid her hand on Sophie’s arm and reassured her it was perfectly proper for her to talk to Mary’s husband without a chaperone. Sophie withdrew, and Anne bid Charles to take a seat.
He settled himself on the settee opposite hers.
“My dear Anne,” Charles began, “I take it Mary is here? With the children?”
“Yes, Charles, she is. She is resting now, and the children are being cared for by their nanny.”
Anne leaned forward and looked at Charles in a pleading manner.
“Charles, what has happened? Why is it that Mary is in such a fine state of uproar? Is something wrong with her health, or with the baby’s?”
Charles’s good-natured face clouded, and he looked away from Anne’s enquiring gaze.
“Your sister is making a mountain out of a molehill, Anne. She always does so. You know that she does!”
The last words were said with vehemence and impatience, and Anne startled. She knew Charles to be a placid, quiet man who seldom raised his voice but now he seemed in an uproar. So Anne waited for him to unburden himself.
“Anne , you must help me in this! It is that … I am afraid that … well, Mary has … blast, this is so difficult!”
“Take your time, Charles.”
“I need you to convince her to come back home, I am sure she will listen to you! You know, she … she saw …”
The drawing room door burst open, and a flushed Mary was standing on the threshold.
“I saw him kissing one of the maids, that is what! He was cheating on me, his lawfully wedded wife, the mother of his children! And me pregnant and ill!”
She stormed towards him, poking a finger into his chest and snapping at him.
“I will never forgive you for this, Charles! I want a divorce and I want …”
“Mary, Mary, calm down! Come and sit down, you are not well!”
Anne managed to get her sister into a chair whereupon Mary burst out in tears. She sat there, so forlornly, that Anne felt a stab of compassion for her unfortunate and – alas- harebrained younger sister.
When right after that Sophie entered, Anne took her aside and whispered, “Will you stay with her for a moment, Sophie? I want to speak with Charles alone.”
Frederick’s sister nodded and Anne took Charles by the arm and led him to the Admiral’s study.
“I am listening, Charles. Is it true? Are you cheating on Mary?”
“Yes .. no! That is … I did kiss Ginny but … confound it, Anne … I was … oh, I cannot explain this to you, Anne! You are still unmarried and you would not understand!”
“I do understand, Charles, but I do not approve. Mary is in no condition to grant you your dues as her husband and you … you just grew impatient. Do you realise that you have hurt her deeply, Charles? Was it so difficult for you to curb your … needs?”
Charles’s jaw dropped, just dropped! He could never have imagined that his maiden sister-in-law could see through him like she had just done. How did she know all this? Unless …
“You speak so rashly about things that you should not yet know of! How come, Anne?”
Charles eyed her in a suspicious manner and then, the expression on his face turned to very ugly, all of a sudden. Anne blanched as she realised what he meant!
“Is it true what the rumours are saying, that you have been … deflowered by the devilish Mr Elliot?”
“You will not speak such words to my future wife, sir, or you will have to answer to me!”
Frederick! Thank Heaven! Anne breathed out in relief at seeing her betrothed standing on the threshold. His handsome face was livid with rage, and he was barely keeping himself from trashing Charles Musgrove then and there.
“Wentworth! I did not mean to …”
“Sir, it would be better for you if you departed from this house this instant.”
His voice was like ice, and Anne saw he was trembling with the effort of keeping his hands to himself.
“But … my wife! I cannot go without her, Wentworth! Surely you must understand that!”
“You will go, sir! Your family is to be remain here under my care, and I will see to it that all their needs are provided for. When we have agreed upon a solution, we will inform you of it.”
“Please, Charles, do as Frederick says. It will all be resolved within a few days.”
Reluctantly Anne’s brother-in-law went out when the footman came to summon him away. Anne hastened to take Frederick’s hand in hers.
“Dearest, do not upset yourself over this matter, I beg you. My sister Mary always manages to put herself into some kind of trouble, yet always the trouble resolves itself. Unfortunately not before she has put the entire household into shambles with her whining and complaining.”
“Anne, this … this scoundrel has had dealings with a maid in front of his wife and possibly the rest of the household! It is unforgiveable. Moreover, his poor wife is pregnant and unwell. He should cherish her and care for her instead of frolicking with other women. God! To think I have been hunting with him so many a time! Had I but known!”
Wentworth took hold of her shoulders and pulled her to him. He buried his face into her lovely hair and said, “He insulted you, my love. I do not know if I can ever forgive him for that.” His voice broke with emotion, and Anne touched his face in a infinitively tender gesture.
“My sweet love, it is of no consequence. You do not think of me as he and the rest of the world do. So I am not insulted. Do not fret about it and for sure, do not break up your friendship with Charles. It is not worth it.”
“Do you even know how much I love you?”, Wentworth whispered, gazing deep into her eyes. He lowered his face to kiss her, a tender, sweet kiss at first but deepening as he tasted the nectar of her mouth, the softness of her lips, her shyly probing tongue. His longing for more made him hold her even closer, and she responded to this by pressing her slender body against the solid mass of his chest. God! How passionate she was, Wentworth thought.
A forceful, loud knock on the drawing room door made them jump apart in guilty haste!