A Wedding at Uppercross

Chapter Two

The Musgrove family traveled the six miles between Uppercross and Oaklands in good time, arriving at the Wentworth estate promptly at seven. Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove and Elizabeth disembarked from the carriage as the brothers climbed down from Walter's curricle.

Sir Frederick had purchased the estate shortly after his promotion to admiral. As a captain in the Royal Navy, he had taken many rich prizes and was well able to afford a permanent home for his growing family. The house was modern and pleasing to the eye, well-situated in a picturesque park. The Wentworth and Musgrove families had done much visiting back and forth over the years, and the Musgrove children knew Oaklands as well as their own home.

A footman admitted them and led the way to the drawing room, where the lady and gentleman of the house stood to greet them. Mr. Musgrove swept into a low, exaggerated bow. "Admiral Sir Frederick and Lady Wentworth," he said, trying in vain to stifle a smirk. "We thank you for inviting your humble relations to bask in your presence."

Sir Frederick grinned down at his old friend, but Lady Wentworth looked embarrassed. "Oh, Charles," she protested, "do stop this ridiculous behaviour." Mr. Musgrove had not yet risen from his bow, and he peeked up at her, his eyes twinkling. "You must get used to this sort of thing, Anne," he said. "After all, you're a knight's lady now."

"That's what I keep telling her, Charles," said Sir Frederick. "I fear my wife has not yet learnt to enjoy the deference that is now her due."

Mr. Musgrove straightened up, not without some difficulty. "Well, don't expect any more from me, Anne, me old back can't stand the strain." Sir Frederick laughed and shook hands with his brother-in-law.

Lady Wentworth noticed that her sister seemed reluctant to come forward and moved to greet her. She took Mrs. Musgrove's hands in her own and kissed her on the cheek. "I'm so glad you were able to come tonight, Mary," she said. "I felt sure that you needed some relief from the wedding preparations."

"Oh, Anne," cried Mrs. Musgrove. "I am so ill and distracted. You know I cannot stand disruption, and the entire house has been turned topsy-turvy." Lady Wentworth tucked her sister's hand into her arm and led her to a corner, making sympathetic noises.

Sir Frederick turned his attention to the younger Musgroves. "Good evening, Elizabeth," he greeted his niece. "And how is the bride holding up?"

"Very well, Uncle, I thank you," responded Elizabeth. "But I was hoping to see my bridesmaids tonight."

"I daresay the girls will be down shortly," said Sir Frederick. "Charles, and Walter, you young scamp, it is good to see you both."

Charles shook his uncle's hand. "Congratulations on your elevation to the knighthood, Uncle," he said. "Her Majesty could not have chosen a more deserving subject."

Sir Frederick's smile widened and he put his arm around Charles' shoulders. "Thank you, my boy," he said quietly.

The Misses Wentworth entered the room, and Charles turned to greet his cousins. Miss Wentworth, a petite, dark-haired young lady, approached him and curtseyed. Charles bowed in return. "Hello, Anne," he said. "I hope you are well." Charles prided himself on being a well-spoken young man, but he frequently found himself rather tongue-tied around his pretty cousin.

Anne Wentworth smiled at him. "I am very well, thank you, Charles," she said. "Walter, it is good to see you."

Walter bowed deeply and kissed Miss Wentworth's hand. "It never fails to amaze me that the little cousin and sister that Charles and I used to push into mud puddles have grown into such fine young ladies."

"What about me, Walter?" asked Miss Sophie Wentworth, who was standing behind her sister. At seventeen, Miss Sophie was only recently "out" and was determined to be a social success, unlike her more retiring sister. Consequently she had developed what Charles considered an unattractive tendency to put herself forward. No wonder my aunt and uncle rushed back from town, he thought. Sophie's blooming good looks and obvious youth would make her a target for every blackguard and bounder still hanging around London, sniffing about for just such a tidbit.

"Well, it has been a little dry lately," Walter teased her, "but if you will fetch me a bucket of water, I shall make a mud puddle and push you right in it."

Sophie stamped her foot and protested, "Wal-terrr!"

"You are as lovely as always, my dear cousin," cried Walter gallantly, bowing over her hand and preventing any further pouting.

"I am glad that you both are here," said Sophie. "There seems to be an unfortunate shortage of young men tonight. Mamma hoped that Edward would arrive home by now, but Papa is not sure if his ship puts into Portsmouth today or tomorrow."

"I am delighted that Edward will be here for the wedding," said Walter. "I suppose it is convenient to have a father who is an admiral, not to mention newly-knighted, when you are seeking a furlough."

"Indeed," said Sophie. "Did Mamma tell you that Edward has been recently made lieutenant?"

"No," said Charles. "That is fine news." Charles was fond of his cousin Edward Wentworth, who had entered the Naval Academy at fourteen and been much away from home since. They had kept up a correspondence, in the utilitarian way of young men, and Charles looked forward to their meeting.

Elizabeth joined their group. "I will not allow you two to monopolize my bridesmaids," she said, and led the two girls away so they could discuss wedding-clothes, flowers, and all things matrimonial.

Walter took a glass of wine from a footman circulating with a tray. "Always enjoy a family party, eh, Charles?" he said, and took a sip of wine. His eyes widened over the top of his glass as he gazed at a point behind his brother. Charles turned just in time to see the footman lead in Sir George Leigh and his family. Charles knew that his brother was not fascinated by the sight of the baronet and his lady, nor even by Elizabeth's intended, Mr. James Leigh; he was transfixed by the baronet's daughter, Miss Catherine Leigh.

Miss Leigh was certainly beautiful enough to gain the attention of any young man, even notwithstanding her elegant silk dress and expensive jewellery. She wore her fine apparel easily, without affecting a haughty air as did so many young ladies of fortune. "Excuse me, brother," said Walter, putting down his wine-glass and moving toward the Leighs. He held out his hand to Mr. Leigh. "James, it is good to see you!"

Mr. James Leigh had been at Winchester and Cambridge with Charles and Walter; the young men had renewed their acquaintance in London a year earlier, and Mr. Leigh's subsequent introduction to Miss Musgrove had only increased his affection for her brothers, who would soon be his brothers as well. "You two are looking well," Mr. Leigh said to his friends. "Mother, Father," he added, turning to Sir George and Lady Leigh. "You remember Charles and Walter Musgrove."

The brothers bowed to the baronet and his lady, and they kindly inclined their heads in return. Mr. Leigh turned to his sister. "Catherine, you have not met Elizabeth's brothers. Miss Catherine Leigh, may I present Mr. Walter Musgrove and Mr. Charles Musgrove."

Miss Leigh curtseyed gracefully, and Walter moved forward to take her hand. "It is always a pleasure to meet a friend's sister, especially one so lovely," he said, smiling at her. Miss Leigh blushed prettily and looked at the floor.

Sir Frederick and Lady Wentworth approached to greet their guests, and the young men stepped aside. Charles took his brother's arm and whispered in his ear, "Remember, Walter, she is James' sister. Do not take liberties."

"Me? Take liberties with a young lady?" laughed Walter. "Of course I will be respectful to our friend's sister, Charles. But you must agree that she is remarkably beautiful."

"Beautiful or not, James will not scruple to have you horsewhipped if you trifle with her, and I suspect neither will Sir George. For that matter, neither will I."

"You may rest easy," said Walter. "I will treat her as if she were my own sister. There need be no talk of whipping and other unpleasantness." A footman announced dinner, and the company paired off to go into the dining-room. Sir George escorted Lady Wentworth, and Sir Frederick took his sister-in-law's arm, much to her delight. Mr. Musgrove led in Lady Leigh, Mr. Leigh naturally paired with his intended, and Walter hastened to secure the arm of Miss Leigh. Charles found himself with one of his cousins on each arm.

Sophie prattled on about neighbourhood gossip as they walked into the dining-room, but Miss Wentworth was silent, her eyes fastened demurely on the carpet. Charles was acutely aware of Anne's presence beside him, of her hand resting lightly on his arm. He paid scant attention to Sophie's chatter, grateful that she did not seem to expect him to respond, as he did not trust himself to make a rational answer.

~ Continued in next chapter