A Wedding at Uppercross

Chapter One

Uppercross was in an uproar. In two days' time the young lady of the house, Miss Elizabeth Musgrove, would be joined in marriage to Mr. James Leigh, the son of Sir George Leigh of Ashleigh Hall in Hampshire.

Miss Musgrove's eldest brother, Charles, surveyed the chaos bemusedly. Servants scurried to and fro, frantically scrubbing and polishing. The table in the sitting-room was covered with lengths of fabric and ribbons unspooled from their bobbins, the detritus of his sister's frenetic last-minute touches to her wedding-clothes. His mother had taken to her sopha, as expected, and rather than making herself useful by supervising her daughter's exertions, she divided her time between advertising her indisposition and congratulating herself on marrying her daughter to the son of a baronet.

"Just think!" she exclaimed to Charles as he entered his mother's sitting-room. "Your sister will one day be Lady Leigh! It sounds very well, does it not? And it is only fitting that she marry the son of a baronet, as she is the granddaughter of a baronet." Charles debated the propriety of pointing out to his mother that her late father, Sir Walter Elliot, had distressed his estate to such an extent that his heir, Sir William, was fortunate to have inherited a considerable fortune from his first wife. However, discretion as well as his natural good humour kept Charles silent.

His mother remembered that she was ill and lay back upon her sopha, tucking a shawl under her chin. "Charles, where is your father?" she asked fretfully.

"He and Walter are out shooting," Charles replied.

"It is too unkind of him to go out and leave me in the middle of all this confusion, when he knows I am ill," grumbled Mrs. Musgrove. "I am run distracted preparing this house and getting your sister's clothes ready. She would have a large wedding. A small family ceremony was good enough for your father and me, but you young people will have your way." Charles smiled to himself; he knew perfectly well that his mother, despite her complaining, would never have given up the opportunity to parade her son-in-law and his titled relatives before all the neighbourhood. Mrs. Musgrove looked over at her son. "What about you, Charles? You are eight-and-twenty years old. It is high time that you found a bride and brought her home to Uppercross. It is your responsibility to produce an heir."

It was a conversation in which Charles and his mother had engaged many times. "I have no aversion to marrying, Mamma," said Charles amiably, "but first I must find a willing young lady." Then by way of changing the subject, he offered to read to her from a novel by Sir Walter Scott, to which entertainment his mother readily agreed.

They were thus companionably engaged when Mr. Musgrove and Charles' younger brother, Walter, came in from shooting. "We bagged a dozen birds," bragged Walter. "Have no fears about the wedding feast, Mamma. Father and I will provide." Mr. Musgrove laughed and clapped his younger son on the back, and Mrs. Musgrove smiled as Walter helped himself to a glass of wine.

Charles Musgrove had inherited his father's sturdy build and easygoing nature. Walter, however, was his mother's favourite. She fancied that she saw the Elliot countenance in his handsome features, and she had petted and spoiled him; as a result, Walter, whom nature had already endowed with an aptitude for mischief, had become a rather heedless and irresponsible young man. His family had always intended him to take orders, but Walter continued to put off this event, as it would prevent him from engaging in his true vocation of being a popular sportsman and bachelor-about-town. Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove continued to indulge their younger son, although his father had confided to Charles that he was glad that Walter was not to inherit Uppercross, as he had no head for farming. Charles was astute enough to understand the implicit compliment, and true fraternal affection prevented him from harbouring any ill will toward Walter.

Miss Musgrove ran into the sitting-room, carrying an armful of muslin. "Mamma, I cannot get this seam right!" she cried.

"Oh, Elizabeth, you are being so tiresome about those clothes," said her mother impatiently. "They came from the dressmaker's exactly as you ordered them. If you start ripping them apart, you have only yourself to blame if they are not right. Get Simmons to help you. I am much too ill for sewing."

At this moment, a servant brought in a note for Mrs. Musgrove. "Well," she said after reading it quickly, "Sir Frederick and Lady Wentworth are returned from London and have invited us to dine tonight at Oaklands."

"Oh, I am so glad that my aunt and uncle have returned in time for my wedding!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "And I hope they will tell us all about my uncle's elevation. It is so exciting! They have met the young Queen!"

"I suppose my sister will take on all sorts of airs now she is Lady Wentworth," grumbled Mrs. Musgrove.

Walter laughed. "Mamma, you could elevate Aunt Anne to Queen and she wouldn't take on airs!"

"There's no danger of such an elevation," snapped his mother. "Well, I suppose we cannot decline the invitation."

Walter leaned close to Charles and whispered, "As if she'd refuse." He winked at Elizabeth, who buried her head in her sewing to stifle her giggles, and said aloud, "But Mamma, will not your indisposition prevent your attending?"

Mrs. Musgrove started, sat up, and said, "Oh--well, we must attend, for the Wentworths are family, after all. Your cousins Anne and Sophie are to be Elizabeth's bridesmaids. I must put aside my own feelings on such an occasion. I will send my sister a note immediately."

With an effort, Charles kept a straight face and gallantly offered his hand to assist his mother in rising from her sopha. "Thank you, Charles," she said, leaning on his arm briefly. "You do take good care of your old Mamma."

Charles kissed his mother on the cheek and turned her over to the kind ministrations of her maid. Mr. Musgrove, fatigued by so much exposure to his family, also left the sitting-room in quest of the solitude of his chamber.

"I wonder if my aunt invited Mr. Leigh and his family to dine as well," Elizabeth said suddenly. "They are staying so close, at the inn in the village. It would not surprise me if my aunt included them." She sat for a moment, the sewing in her lap forgotten. "I must dress!" She jumped up and ran out of the room, muslin trailing behind her.

The brothers grinned at each other. "So, Charles," said Walter, "what think you of all this marrying? Do you think you'll catch that particular fever?"

Charles laughed. "You sound like Mother."

"Well, now," said Walter, we can't have that, can we?" He drained his glass of wine and clapped his brother on the shoulder. "Stay a bachelor as long as you like, Charles," he exclaimed. "When you marry, Mother and Father will start teasing me to follow suit, and that thought is not one I wish to contemplate." He strolled lazily out of the sitting-room, whistling tunelessly.

Charles gazed after his brother and sighed. Most of the time he found Walter's free-spirited nature charming, but their conversation had raised a feeling of foreboding. He laughed, shook his head and said to himself, "Take care, Musgrove, all this marrying is making you positively old-womanish." The clock struck five, and Charles went to his own chamber to dress for dinner at Oaklands.

~ Continued in next chapter