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music hath charms

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Liquid notes poured through the townhouse, echoing in its elegant rooms, spilling out of tall windows open onto a beautiful, classic view of the Sea of Saere. Lady Russell paused halfway up the stairs, where the broad receiving flight became a slightly narrower winding staircase all the way up to the top of the house, and looked about her, admiring the clean golden sandstone of the walls and the sea-blue tile of the floor. The place did look so sadly empty, she thought, with many of the Elliot family's belongings removed to Aunden Springs. But the house itself was still classically lovely, still the seat of the Elliot family for time out of mind. It had a peerless situation, high on one of Belisaere's hills, within sight of the palace, but not too close, still surrounded by the gardens that others had sold off at a high price, so that lesser houses might be built on their grounds... 

 

Sir Walter, Lady Russell thought, would never sell anything of the kind, hence the present unfortunate situation, and the tenants who would be arriving tomorrow. An Admiral, at least, was a respectable gentleman, though his connection to the Wentworth on the Bridge was to be deplored; suppose Anne should be forced into that man’s company? He had been of the Spring Watch, too, if Lady Russell remembered correctly, though she had tried to remember as little of Frederick Wentworth as possible. It was now nearly autumn. He would have come south.

 

Lady Russell entered into all Sir Walter's feelings regarding the primary importance of his estate, and could only regret that Sir Walter's understanding of the value of his patrimony wasn't matched by an equally clear understanding of the value of his middle daughter. Elizabeth's willingness to leave Anne with their married sister on the Fields of Saere, where the Musgroves held a respectable portion of the valuable farmland, while taking the impertinent and designing Mistress Clay to set up their home in Aunden Springs... It lacerated every proper feeling.

 

Anne was still playing. She had always had such lovely musicality; in that, as in many of her traits and qualities, she resembled her dear mother so closely that if she were properly veiled to leave the house Lady Russell sometimes struggled to remind herself that Bess had been dead for more than ten years, and had in any case dressed as a matron rather than a maiden for more than ten years before that.

 

Time marched on. Lady Russell, a practical woman, gathered the skirts of her fine silken tunics with a practised gesture, and made her way up the stairs to Anne's music room.

 

Anne had not finished the sonata by the time she arrived. Lady Russell seated herself by the open window and watched Anne play. Autumn was beginning to bite; the sea breeze tugged at the silk net veil that hung down from Lady Russell’s still-mostly-chestnut curls, half dressed high on the back of her head and the rest falling elegantly to her shoulders, according to the style set by the Duchess of Sindle, the highest-ranking lady in the land now that Princess Tathiel had disappeared and most of the other royal ladies took no interest in fashion. She was saddened to see that Anne had dressed her hair in a very plain and practical way, braided into a low bun at her neck that did not suit her, and had declined all cosmetics save for a faint darkening of her eyelids and a tiny hint of rouge on her cheeks. Even her dress was almost painfully plain, with only a single filmy tunic over the gown, and that made of muslin rather than the silk Anne's rank entitled her to, without the slightest train. No doubt it was all very sensible for travelling, and certainly the Musgroves would not think any the less of her for dressing practically, but none of it was at all flattering. It all declared Anne a woman who considered herself past her prime at twenty-seven, and had no intentions or expectations of securing a husband.

 

In technical terms, Lady Russell was only sponsor to the oldest of the Elliot girls; she had held Elizabeth while the proud parents declared the name for the Charter baptism. But she had taken a kindly interest in all three, and to see Anne, the sweetest, cleverest, and most patient, reduced to a spinster because of a heartbreak at nineteen and Sir Walter's regrettable inability to understand that she would benefit from a greater exposure to society... Here in Belisaere there were few opportunities, of course, as the world of fashion shifted away from the Court - though Lady Russell, in recent years, would not have turned up her nose at a well-set-up young man who promised to be head of one of the more gentlemanly Guilds. At Aunden Springs, though, or even High Bridge, Anne would have met more young men and women of her own station, developed friendships, had the opportunity to form other tendresses and forget Frederick Wentworth.

 

But Sir Walter did not see why he should take Anne to High Bridge for the Season, or to Aunden Springs to take the waters that flowed from the wellsprings on Mount Aunden, when Anne herself declared that she was perfectly happy to stay and care for Kellynch, or to visit Mary and her increasing brood. He would not make a push. And Anne would not make a corresponding push, either, dressing like a lady past any thought of marriage, refusing any cosmetic and many of the entertainments where she might have met someone eligible, and declining even to cover her Charter mark. Lady Russell had tried repeatedly to explain how ill-bred that could be considered, but somehow the arguments disintegrated before they got anywhere. Anne had stopped using Charter magic in front of her, too, but Lady Russell wasn’t enough of a fool to think she’d stopped entirely. So... workmanlike.

 

But here at least, Lady Russell thought, leaning back in her chair and watching Anne bring the soaring sonata to its end, Anne seemed happy. With the sea breeze blowing bright there was a little colour in those pale thin cheeks, and absorbed in the music she seemed to have some of the lightness of Anne at nineteen. 

 

Damn Frederick Wentworth, Lady Russell thought, startling herself with her own vehemence. Why had the Bridgemaster permitted him to take leave, anyway? If only he had stayed at the Greenwash and minded his wretched business, Anne might be a happily married woman today, with children and joys of her own.

 

The sonata concluded. Lady Russell applauded. 

 

“You do play so beautifully, my dear,” she said. “Will your instrument be sent to Aunden Springs after you?”

 

“No,” Anne said, rising from the seat, and in an instant the fine veil of sadness that always made Lady Russell's heart sink dropped over her face. “In the end, I could not justify the expense.”