Anne had taken advantage of a lull in the ball for a comfortable coze with Lady Russell.
“I’m glad to see Mary in such high spirits,” she said, nodding towards the window where Mary was entertaining Charles Musgrove with some hilarity. “She has been sadly neglected by Father and Elizabeth.”
“That will be a match,” Lady Russell observed.
“Mary and Charles?” Anne looked at them again. Mary could be lively and personable when attention was paid, and she was in a merry mood tonight.
“He could do better,” Lady Russell said pointedly.
Anne smiled at her and did not reply.
“Not Mary!” cried Louisa. “How could you? She thinks far too highly of herself. Compared to Anne—”
“I’ll thank you to remember that I already asked Anne. You know her answer. Mary’s a fine girl.”
“I agree that she’s better than Elizabeth Elliot,” Louisa said archly.
“She’s a fine girl,” Charles repeated. “Who else would you have me choose, Louisa? Father is a country squire. There’ll be no London seasons for you and Henrietta. We can’t look so far afield.”
“She’s only nineteen. Doubtless she’ll improve with time. I think we will deal with each other quite well.”
“Charles Musgrove has asked for permission to make Mary an offer,” Sir Walter said, returning to the drawing-room.
“Not Anne?” Elizabeth asked, her eyebrows raised in polite interest.
“No, it was most certainly Mary,” confirmed her father.
“I suppose we shall always be stuck with Anne.” Elizabeth sighed. “I never thought to see Mary settle so well. She can be quite wearisome.”
“Yes, the Musgroves are a good country family, but nothing to rival the Elliot name, of course,” agreed Sir Walter. “A less equal match. Though it is very kind of young Musgrove to take her off our hands.”
Mary may have had the Elliot pride, but she was also fully cognizant that there was a dearth of eligible bachelors within the Kellynch circle. Elizabeth was practically on the shelf, with no titled prospects on the horizon. Lady Russell clearly deemed no one acceptable for her beloved Anne. Charles Musgrove would not have been her first choice—and he obviously wasn’t Anne’s choice—but he came from a respectable family and stood to inherit a large estate. As the plainest Elliot, Mary had become quite accustomed to “good enough.” Besides, to marry before Elizabeth and Anne was triumph indeed.