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December 27, 2014
“You wished to speak with me, Captain Wentworth?”
It took all of the ingrained inscrutability of nine years in command to maintain his composure. “Indeed I do, Sir Walter. I have something of great importance to lay before you.”
“Yes. Anne suggested you might call today. You do understand that I am escorting my cousin, Lady Dalrymple, and Miss Elliot to a card party this evening and have only limited time to spare before I must attend to my preparations. However, as Anne was insistent, I made sure to lay aside a quarter of an hour for you.” The impecunious baronet’s smile was intended to convey the full honor of such condescension, but Frederick only perceived its absurdity.
“Then you know my reasons for requesting an audience?”
“I do, and let me assure you that I feel quite confident bestowing my youngest daughter’s hand on you. When we last discussed such an arrangement, it was, of course, out of the question, but I am not blind to how you have distinguished yourself. Why, Lady Dalrymple herself commented on your fine appearance.” It was of some chagrin to Sir Walter that the younger man seemed totally insensible to the magnitude of such a compliment, but as he supposed him already overwhelmed by the honor of marrying an Elliot of Somersetshire, he overlooked the offense. “Of course, you do understand that current circumstances might render it inconvenient for the estate to part with the entirety of Anne’s portion, ten thousand pounds, at this time. I will write to my lawyer, Mr. Shepherd, and he will advise me as to what can be done.”
With that, Sir Walter felt he had covered the salient points of interests, and all while behaving exceedingly handsomely throughout the interview. It was unfortunate his future son-in-law did not share this opinion. Frederick Wentworth felt all that remained unsaid. What did it matter if Sir Walter Elliot no longer deemed him beneath his notice? With five-and-twenty thousand pounds, and as high in his profession as merit and activity could place him, should he be thankful that he was now deemed quite worthy to address the daughter of a foolish, spendthrift baronet, who had not had principle or sense enough to maintain himself in the situation in which Providence had placed him? He felt nothing but scorn for the pompous man before him, but love for his daughter, a woman of such perfections that her paternity was astonishing, held his tongue. He bowed so curtly that Sir Walter was left in wonder, bemused by the odd manner in which some men respond to good fortune, and exited the room, pausing just long enough to bow in response to Elizabeth’s acknowledgment when he encountered her in the passageway before departing Camden-place.
“Captain Wentworth left rather abruptly, Father,” she commented upon entered the smaller drawing room, gracing a particularly elegant chair with her equally elegant self.
“Poor man! He was overwhelmed by my generosity, no doubt, and quite wisely removed himself from my presence. Few things are more diminishing to a man’s person than an excessive display of emotion, and the morning light is particularly unfavorable. I had wondered that Anne should not have thought to arrange for me to speak with Captain Wentworth one evening when we are at home, but now that I have seen him in broad daylight, I find his complexion perhaps the most impressive I have encountered amongst our naval man. As Bath has given me ample opportunity to observe the race, I feel I speak with some claim to expertise in the matter.”
“The concern must be for what the future will bring. Having already been so exposed to the elements, and very likely to be so again, I think I can do no better service for him than to recommend the constant use of Gowland. I shall do so when we next meet.”
“I am sure he will receive your advice just as he ought. Captain Wentworth has an unusual degree of countenance for a man of his station. His presence will be an asset to my drawing rooms.”
“I agree. A very acceptable match for Anne, considering. A captain is certainly better than a mere mister, and I do believe there might be some connection to the Strafford family after all, though it be distant and possibly unknown. It would not do for Captain Wentworth to pursue the acquaintance, of course, but the name sounds rather well, do you not think? Anne Wentworth. Married Captain Wentworth. It will do for the Baronetage.”
Elizabeth could not summon her father’s enthusiasm, the notion of being Miss Elliot not because she was the eldest but the only unmarried sister was far from felicitous, but she found some consolation in believing Anne’s ineligibility would restore Mr. Elliot’s attentions to their proper quarter.
Lady Russell sat in her drawing room blinking.
“Ma’am? Are you alright?” asked a concerned Anne.
“Yes. Excuse me, my dear, but I think I did not hear you right. Who is it that has proposed?”
“Not, Mr. Elliot?”
Anne smiled. “Not Mr. Elliot.”
“Oh dear!” Lady Russell exclaimed, suddenly feeling more embarrassed than she had since her school days.
Anne rose and took a chair closer to her godmother, clasping her hand warmly. “I could not marry Mr. Elliot, even if he had asked me. There are things you do not know about his character. We could not be happy together. I will tell you all.”
And so she did. Anne revealed the entirety of Mrs. Smith’s disclosures regarding Mr. Elliot to Lady Russell. His ill-usage of those who had been true friends and irreverence for the Elliot name predictably shocked the upright lady, but nothing was more unsettling than the knowledge of intimacy shared with a man of such improper feeling and insincerity. To have been so blinded by pleasing manners and desirable connections! Lady Russell was shaken to her core.
She recalled her own bad advice to Anne on the subject: “A most suitable connection everybody must consider it – but I think it might be a very happy one” Now she said a silent prayer of thanks it was ignored. Here sat Anne beside her, sparkling and glowing with a healthy radiance presumed long lost to age and sorrow, and the man who inspired her dear girl’s happy countenance was the very same man she had once advised her against! How very wrong she had been in all her efforts on behalf of Anne!
They sat for several moments in silence, Lady Russell contemplating her many blunders, while Anne continued to caress her hand affectionately. Finally, the elder lady spoke, containing her feelings as much as possible: “I know not how you can ever forgive my interference all those years ago.”
“I do not blame you, no more than I blame myself for being guided by you. You have stood in place of a mother to me, for which I am immeasurably grateful. I know you only acted as you thought best.”
“But what of Captain Wentworth? He has no ties of affection to me, nothing but you to help secure my forgiveness. He must resent me terribly.”
Anne worded her response carefully. “I believe he did, but recent events help negate the past. It will take time, but I have great hopes that you will be friends before long.”
“I could not bear to lose your company, Anne.”
“There is no fear of that. Soon you will learn to love him, I am sure. We shall have wonderful times together at Kellynch.”
Lady Russell managed a weak smile. It would be awkward, but she would humble herself. She would do anything for Anne.
Captain Wentworth restlessly paced the stairs leading up to the gravel-walk as he waited for Anne, his temper still disordered from his meeting with Sir Walter. Valiantly did he struggle to bring himself to order before Anne arrived, but all was in vain. His mind would not be quieted.
“How dare the pompous fool, blessed with ready-made reputation, which he did nothing to earn, condescend to me? Captain of the Laconia! Had his parents sent him to sea, I would have cleansed the self-satisfaction from Sir Walter Elliot’s soul, if I had to scrub it myself! How am I do bear him? I swore to myself eight years ago that I would never allow him to treat me like an inferior again, but the man knows no other means of proceeding! If I hadn’t seen him kowtow to his great cousins with my own eyes, I would think he ranked himself royalty.”
So his mind raved on, his thoughts only interrupted when a gentle, “Ahem,” caught his ear, followed by a musical laugh that drove the severe countenance from his mien, revealing the sentimental smile that was only for Anne. Without a word he took her hand and, placing it securely upon his arm, led his betrothed back to the gravel-walk, where they had enjoyed their first moments of true understanding.
“You were quite intent upon your musings. May I presume their subject was your meeting with my father?”
He grimaced, “Sir Walter Elliot, forgive me my dear, is an insufferable fool. I will never say so again, so you need not reprimand me for expressing such sentiments towards the man I must thank for your existence, but I must expunge the bile this once, while I still do not call him Father.”
“You shall hear no censure from my lips. He has given you his blessing?”
“He has expressed gratification in our engagement, yes. It seems I have Lady Dalrymple to thank; she was so good as to declare me handsome, thereby negating my many other shortcomings.”
“Oh dear,” Anne sighed. “At least we face no opposition. I would not have enjoyed marrying against his will.”
“But you would if necessary?”
“I am no longer a girl and may marry where I choose.”
“And Lady Russell?”
“Is ready to make amends for the wrongs of the past. She was surprised by the news, but after laying Mr. Elliot’s sorry history before her, she had little choice but to admit that she had been completely wrong in her previous opinions. She has taken up a new set of hopes, and they are entirely focused on you, my dearest.”
“I love to hear your call me that.”
They dined with the Crofts that evening, with whom they might sincerely rejoice in their betrothal. Mrs. Croft was in transports over her brother’s engagement, and her effusions charmed all.
“I have so longed for Frederick to find the right lady with whom to settle down, and quite despaired the day would ever come.” Her brother chuckled. “Oh I had no doubt that you would marry someone, my dear, but I had almost given up hope that she would be the right lady. Louisa Musgrove is a fine girl, no doubt, but I do not think she would have made you happy, Frederick. Your minds are too unequal, and you do not want a silly wife, which is what she would have become had you married her.”
“Nonsense, Sophy! Either of those Musgroves would have done fine for Frederick. They are admirable and charming ladies, but I too prefer Miss Elliot here, as I think you know very well.”
“But you are quite mistaken, my dear Admiral! I have seen it all too often. A man of Frederick’s parts weds a pretty and amiable young wife, a few years removes the novelty of their acquaintance, and the pert ways that once charmed begin to frustrate. The man grows to despise his wife, and her personality suffers in turn, exasperating a situation that has no end but in misery. Marry a woman like Anne – you do not mind me calling you by your given name, do you my dear? –
and she shall be the making of you! I could not be more pleased!”
“Nor could I,” grinned the Captain. “I knew a woman eight years ago who I thought none would ever equal, and it is my undeserved good fortune to have been proven wrong. She has surpassed even herself.”
Anne blushed. How much his words regarding the alteration the years had enacted upon her person, so kindly conveyed to her by her sister Mary, still tormented was Anne’s private concern. Now was not the occasion to quibble. “My dear Captain Wentworth, only a man blinded by love could say such a thing, but I dare not begrudge you your besotted state, for it is far too charming!”
“Well said, Miss Elliot! Very clever, isn’t she?”
“If we must begin our life together in a haze of fantasy, I do hope I at least know well enough to make the most of it, Admiral!”
“I suppose you will now change your tune about allowing women aboard your ship, Frederick,” said Mrs. Croft.
“Yes, we shall see him do as you and I, should we be lucky enough to have another war. Worry the entire fleet with transport requests for his wife, no doubt.”
“I must say I hope that we find ourselves rather unlucky than otherwise, if good luck means war,” put forth Anne.
“Exactly how you should feel,” confirmed Admiral Croft, with a knowing twinkle in his eye. “One cannot expect a young lady, with no previous naval ties, to appreciate the problems peace brings to sailors. You will learn to think of it otherwise. You will stand by his side, will you not, Miss Anne, if the opportunity should arise? I think you would make a fine sailor. You have the look of one.”
“No matter what life may bring, I plan to face it with Captain Wentworth,” she smiled consciously. “I only hope, should I be tested, that my legs prove seaworthy.”
“I’m sure they will, but do you all really believe my prejudices so easily overcome?” questioned the Captain. “They are not, let me assure you! It will take more than the acquisition of a wife to change my mind about allowing ladies aboard. I never took issue with a singular lady, you may recall, and only one will be tolerated on my ship.” He smiled at Anne meaningfully.
“Delightful! That will suit perfectly, until your children are born,” Mrs. Croft announced triumphantly.
“You see, Miss Elliot, that what Sophia really wants is not a wife for her brother, but a mother for her nieces and nephews.”
“Please do not expect me to defend you from your sister, Captain,” replied Anne teasingly, “for her cause has my entire sympathy.” They all laughed, and in a similar, playful vein did the conversation continue. The future was looked forward to with great anticipation, with all its potential blessings discussed in turn. It was quite late when Captain Wentworth and Mrs. Croft accompanied Anne home to Camden Place, where she was surprised to find her sister and father still in the drawing room, discussing the evening’s events.
“There you are, Anne,” her father greeted with spirit. “You will be quite gratified to know that Lady Dalrymple is decidedly pleased with the addition of Captain Wentworth to our family circle. Which reminds me, you must ascertain if he has any Irish descent. Our cousin is most convinced he must, though I continue to suspect there might be some connection to the Strafford family after all. Something rather like Sir Robert about him. Both are fine, well-looking men, would you not say so, Elizabeth?”
“Both are tall and well-formed, undoubtedly, but Sir Robert is rather fairer than the Captain.”
“Perhaps. It may be so. Nevertheless, some investigation is in order. Now Anne, have you decided upon a wedding date? It would be most convenient if it took place rather sooner than later, so that Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret may attend. Would six weeks be sufficient time for your preparations?”
“I hardly know, Father. We have yet to discuss the matter in detail, though neither of us want to wait for much longer.” For we have had quite enough of that, she silently added. “Frederick will go to the Cathedral tomorrow to speak with the bishop. “
“Very well. I’ve written to Shepherd regarding your settlement. I see no reason why you cannot be married quickly, perhaps even within the month.”
“It might take a bit longer than that to provide a wardrobe and carriage, Father,” said Elizabeth, without looking up from the needlework she was assiduously pursuing.
“Not much longer, I am sure!” he replied optimistically. “I am for bed. Goodnight, Elizabeth. Anne.”
Seeing her sister persist in her work, Anne similarly chose to delay retiring, quite curious to learn how Mr. Elliot reacted to the news of her engagement, as Sir Walter’s discourse indicated he surely had. Gently she broached the subject with her sister, “Mrs. Clay has retired as well?”
“Yes. Penelope was quite fatigued upon our return and went immediately to her room.”
“Was it a pleasant party?”
“No. I am afraid it was not. The rooms were hot, and the company lacked elegance.”
“How did you find Lady Dalrymple and her daughter?”
“Miss Carteret is ill, Anne, as you would surely know if you paid the slightest attention,” Elizabeth sighed impatiently, “and Lady Dalrymple is in perfect health, as always.”
“And Mr. Elliot?”
Elizabeth finally looked up at her sister, her eyes flashing. “He seemed not his usual self. Nor did Lady Russell, for that matter. The two barely spoke a word. He spent nearly the entire time in converse with Colonel Wallis, except when he partnered Mrs. Clay in a rubber.”
“Was it his conversation that was so stimulating as to so exhaust Mrs. Clay?”
The sisters’ eyes caught, each perceiving the other’s discomfort with this turn of events, though for entirely different reasons. Anne had not yet learned to trust Mrs. Clay, and while Mr. Elliot had been blunt in his disapprobation for the lady, this public display of companionship upon the heels of what had every appearance of being a clandestine meeting in Bath Street made her suspicious. Elizabeth, while she would never dream her friend could be so presumptuous as to form a tendre for Mr. Elliot, was nevertheless angered by his attention to Mrs. Clay. However, as the sisters were not close, and neither had any wish to make the other a confidant, the subject was pursued no further. Formal good evenings comprised their only parting words.
“You will not believe what has happened!” cried a beaming Henrietta, rushing into her mother’s rooms at the White Hart. “Where is Mama?”
Mary Musgrove turned from her station at the window overlooking the entrance to the Pump Room, where she had been eagerly engaged in watching the morning bustle of Bath, to confront her sister-in-law. “You need not be in such an excited state, Henrietta. I saw you racing down Bath Street, and I am not the only one whose attention you captured. Try to compose yourself.”
Henrietta’s smile faded slightly, but the import of what she had to share negated any hesitancy she felt in ignoring Mary’s admonition, “Oh Mama!” she exclaimed as that good lady entered the room. “I saw Lady Russell in Molland’s, and she told me the most extraordinary thing. Anne is to be married, and you will never guess to whom!”
“Anne engaged!” cried Mrs. Musgrove, clasping her hands together in delight.
Mary rose quickly and crossed the room to Henrietta, her face a picture of shocked rapture, “Oh Henrietta! Is it my cousin, Mr. Elliot, my father’s heir? I know Elizabeth would have him, but the whole town is abuzz with his attentions to Anne. A more perfect match I cannot imagine! Elizabeth will be livid! Just think: both Anne and I married, and she an old maid!”
“It is not Mr. Elliot,” Henrietta excitedly revealed, gleefully bringing a halt to Mary’s conjectures.
Mary’s countenance fell. “Then whomever could it be?”
“You cannot be more surprised then myself, for she is to marry our own Captain Wentworth!”
Mary fell back into a conveniently situated chair, thoroughly astonished. “Captain Wentworth?” she questioned her own ears.
Mrs. Musgrove appeared equally befuddled. “I had not the slightest notion they were attached! Surely, I have never seen them exchange more than a few words, in all our time together.”
“Nor have I,” concurred Mary.
“Lady Russell says it is an attachment of long standing. They fell in love eight years ago, when the Captain was visiting his brother at Monksford. Mama, do you not see, this is why she would not marry Charles! Her heart was not her own!” Henrietta sighed contentedly, thoroughly enrapt by such a tale. Lady Russell had told the story succinctly, betraying none of the complexities of her own emotions, but to a mind like Henrietta’s, particularly under the influence of her engagement, it was irresistibly romantic.
Mary, having recovered her senses at mention of her husband’s earlier proposal to Anne, began to muddle through the facts of the case, “Eight years ago … when they had previously met … oh my! She must have rejected him!”
“Oh no, Mary,” Henrietta insisted. “Lady Russell said he was too young to marry at the time. I am sure no one would reject the Captain.”
“Gracious me, no,” concurred Mrs. Musgrove. “Yet I did wonder at how quickly he seemed to recover from Louisa’s attachment to Captain Benwick.”
“Precisely!” cried Mary. “And how could he have paid her such attentions if he was already in love with Anne? Why, they barely acknowledged each other when they first met again at Uppercross Cottage! Indeed, they seemed to avoid each other. What explanation have you other than a falling out?”
“The way Lady Russell tells it, I seriously doubt he proposed previously.”
“But nothing else makes sense!” Mary insisted. “To think that they might never have come to this happy conclusion, had I not kept Anne with me this autumn! I must go to Camden Place at once!”
“Call for the carriage, Henrietta. We shall all go. Miss Elliot’s call must be repaid.”
The Musgroves were not Elizabeth’s only visitors that morning. The drawing rooms at Camden Place had rarely been more eagerly sought than now, as news of Anne’s surprising engagement spread through the town. To everyone’s gratification, Anne was at home and entertaining her fiancée. Elizabeth greeted each influx of cards graciously, saying all that was proper on such an occasion to those select few admitted into her company, but Mary immediately perceived the chagrin lurking behind her practiced elegance. Pleased with the accuracy of her first suspicion, she eagerly sought confirmation of her others.
“I am so happy for you, my dear Anne! How I marvel that I could not see it before! All that time we spent together last year, and none of us had the least notion that you and Captain Wentworth had formed an attachment. How very secretive you both have been!”
Anne smiled at Frederick, saying only, “I can well imagine your surprise.”
Mary did not find this response terribly satisfying and looked to Henrietta for support in her interrogation, but the younger lady, absorbed in romance, proved thoroughly unhelpful. Mrs. Musgrove was equally disobliging, busily engaged as she was in sharing with an apathetic Elizabeth news of the Uppercross tenants. No matter what approach Mary attempted, Anne and the Captain both continued to respond to her many questions in a vague, unrevealing manner.
“Tell me, Captain, was it the high spirits of my Musgrove sisters that added to Anne’s attractions, or was your admiration solidified when you first met?”
“I have always admired Anne’s elegance, Mrs. Musgrove.”
“Yet I thought there was a decided coldness between you when you first met at Uppercross Cottage, perhaps dating back to your previous acquaintance, when you visited your brother at Monksford?”
“That was years ago, Mary. We met again as near strangers.”
“But Lady Russell told Henrietta that you had been long attached!”
“We did enjoy each other’s company, Mary, but eight years brings unforeseen changes.”
“I was certain there must have been some sort of previous agreement between you.”
Though Captain Wentworth was able to derive some pleasure in denying the proud Mrs. Musgrove her purpose, Anne could not enjoy her sister’s persistance. She tried to endure it for the sake of protecting her own privacy, but it was against her nature to permit Mary’s bad temper unchecked reign. With her thorough knowledge of the character she had to pacify, Anne proceeded with her usual skill in altering Mary’s mood. “It is you we have to thank, Mary, for our present happiness. It was all the time spent at Uppercross that brought us to an understanding. You must take a good deal of pride in the connection, as it began under your very own roof.”
Captain Wentworth looked somewhat askance at his betrothed but said nothing in protest to this construction of events.
“Indeed I may,” concluded Mary, sitting up a bit straighter. “I said so much to Mrs. Musgrove this morning. As you are sure to have the fondest of memories of your time at the Cottage, you must both come to stay with Charles and I again once you are married.”
“Indeed we will, Mary. Nothing could bring us greater pleasure. Do you not agree, Frederick?” she smiled at him with a sparkle in her eye.
“Certainly. Musgrove is an excellent companion.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Mrs. Clay. “Penelope! There you are,” said Elizabeth, revealing a tinge of annoyance in her tone. “I have been waiting for you an hour at least. We have had innumerable callers, and I might have used your assistance in providing refreshment for our guests.”
“Oh, Miss Elliot! Never was there such a crush! I thought I would never succeed in procuring the correct shade of silk for your screen, but eventually I prevailed. Do you not think it precisely the right blue?” She held up a small skein for inspection.
Elizabeth took the thread and eyed it critically. “Yes. I believe this will do. Will you ring for tea?”
“Not on our account, my dear,” cried Mrs. Musgrove. “We had best be on our way.”
“Indeed, yes,” concurred Mary, eagerly abandoning her seat. “Charles should return shortly, and I must tell him all about your news.”
“Perhaps Mrs. Clay spotted Mr. Musgrove during the course of her errands,” suggested Anne. “I believe you said he and Captain Harville had business in Milsom Street, did you not, Mary?”
“Yes, at least that is where I think they were bound,” replied Mary, not at all pleased with the notion that Mrs. Clay might have beat her to the honor of conveying to Charles the story of Anne’s engagement.
“I am afraid I did not see him,” replied Mrs. Clay. Mary’s smiles were restored.
“Did you run into anyone else of our acquaintance, Penelope? I expected Mr. Elliot to call, but he has not made an appearance.”
“Yes, actually I did see Mr. Elliot, though only briefly. He says he has business in London and must quit Bath soon, but he will certainly visit Camden Place before his departure to bid his farewells to Sir Walter and his cousins.”
“Business in London? But surely he will not remain away long? I thought he was to spend the rest of the season in Bath!” Elizabeth exclaimed, no longer endeavoring to disguise her chagrin.
“He did not reveal the nature of his errand to me, but I am sure he will explain the situation most thoroughly to Sir Walter.”
“To be sure he will. He is never deficient in his deference to my father,” insisted Elizabeth, though unwanted memories of a time when he was not so attentive were beginning to plague her.
Mr. Elliot called that very evening, in the familiar way to which he had become accustomed since his arrival in Bath. He offered his congratulations to his cousin Anne with an appearance of joy he could not possibly have felt, and expressed the sad circumstances that took him from Bath at this critical time.
“Nothing could keep me from your nuptials, my dear cousin, but the utmost necessity. My business cannot be delayed. Indeed, I am afraid I have been remiss in putting it off for as long as I already have.”
“We will miss your presence at the wedding, Elliot. Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret will be in attendance, you know,” boasted Sir Walter.
“So I have been told. It is sure to be a most memorable occasion.”
“Will you not return to Bath upon completion of your business?” questioned Elizabeth.
“I cannot say how long I need remain in London, Miss Elliot. It pains me to part with such dear friends as I have found at Camden Place.”
“Yes, of course it does. Let me know when you plan to return, and I will have Shepard see to securing you the best lodgings.”
“You are all kindness, Sir Walter,” he replied and bowed his way out.
The departure of Mr. Elliot left a disparate variety of sensations in the inhabitants at Camden Place. Sir Walter felt most complacent. Though Mr. Elliot was a very agreeable and appropriate companion, he could not help but acknowledge that Captain Wentworth’s fine appearance more than made up for the loss of his heir’s presence. After all, he had always maintained that Mr. Elliot was sadly under-hung, while Wentworth possessed no such defect. Anne saw her cousin go with much gratification. Their society could only be improved by not being subjected to such a hypocrite, and as she had every intention of introducing Captain Wentworth to Mrs. Smith on the morrow, the absence of Mr. Elliot could not come too soon. Elizabeth’s feelings, on the other hand, were quite opposite to those of her relations. She saw her cousin’s withdrawal as an insult: the second one he had leveled at her through the course of their acquaintance. To be twice abandoned by the most eligible applicant to her hand was mortifying in the extreme, but her pride would allow her to reveal none of what she suffered. Perhaps only Mrs. Clay, as her confidant, had any true notion of Elizabeth emotions, but her own gratification in the situation trumped any desire she might have to provide condolence. Fortunately for both, Elizabeth was far too dignified to seek it.
All the Elliots were at home when Captain Wentworth arrived the following morning, bearing a letter of congratulations from his brother, Edward, in Plymouth. His impulse was to share the contents with Anne, but as the letter was not of the sort to please Sir Walter and Elizabeth’s vanity, the Captain contented himself with summarizing thusly:
“Edward and his wife send their utmost felicitations and insist we visit them not long after our nuptials. With your permission, Miss Anne, I will engage us to journey there upon quitting Bath, assuming the Admiralty doesn’t interfere with our plans.”
“Indeed, please do! I look forward to becoming reacquainted with Mr. Wentworth and meeting his wife.”
“I will do so this moment, if you would be so good as to supply me with paper and ink. I will ask Sophy and the Admiral to accompany us, that we might enjoy a proper family reunion.”
Anne smiled in anticipation of the happy family circle she was soon to join, hastening to situate Captain Wentworth comfortably at the writing desk. He had just taken up a pen when Sir Walter, who had been mulling over the exchange, felt it incumbent upon himself to voice his opinion on the subject. “As curate at Monkford, Wentworth, your brother and I did not have many occasions to meet socially, but as Anne’s future relation, I do wish the man well. You may express my regards in your letter.”
Captain Wentworth nodded in acknowledgment, but allowed his true sentiments regarding Sir Walter’s condescension to be revealed in his composition.
You will be gratified to learn that my future father-in-law finds it becomes him to send you his regards. How shall you contain your joy?
But Sir Walter was not yet done. “I do think, however, that a parsonage cannot possibly house both you and my tenant, Admiral Croft, comfortably. Surely he will wish to return to Kellynch once he removes from Bath.”
“Quite true,” concurred Elizabeth.
“Thank you for your concern, Sir Walter, but I assure you, having been there myself, that my brother’s home is quite commodious. We shall all be made perfectly comfortable.”
“That may be so, but perhaps you had better invite Mr. Wentworth to Kellynch instead. Surely that would be much more the thing, and Anne would prefer to visit her ancestral home than some unknown town in Plymouth.”
“And you might call on the tenants, Anne,” contributed Elizabeth. “They would be comforted to see an Elliot in neighborhood again.”
Anne tactfully changed the subject. “Where is Mrs. Clay this morning? I have not seen her since breakfast.”
“She had a variety of errands to attend. I told her she might enlist a servant on her behalf, but she insisted the exercise would do her good. Why she must walk to the post office, I certainly do not comprehend, but I thought it best to indulge her whim, as she was quite determined on the matter.”
“Mrs. Clay has been too often in the streets during the day. Such needless exposure will undo all the good affects that Gowlands has had upon her complexion. Speaking of Gowlands …”
“I see you are finished your letter, Frederick,” Anne hastily interposed. “We had best be off if we are to arrive at Mrs. Smith’s in good time. She is expecting us.”
“It is good of you to indulge my daughter in these altruistic whims she insists upon, Wentworth. No persuasion of mine has succeeded in convincing her that a sick room is no place for a Miss Anne Elliot, of Camden Place and Kellynch Hall. I hope neither of you may suffer any ill-effects from such a visit.”
“It is my pleasure to escort your daughter, Sir Walter, as it pleases me to know she is firm where she feels herself to be in the right.” They said their goodbyes and made a hasty departure for Westgate Buildings.
“Well they certainly make a fitting pair. There is no understanding the pleasures of either,” commented Sir Walter.
“Do not concern yourself with the matter, Father. Unnecessary worry will only crease your brow.”
“Quite true, my dear,” he replied, examining his surprisingly smooth forehead in the nearest mirror. “Soon Anne shall be the Captain’s concern. Let him puzzle over her eccentric inclinations.”
Elizabeth and Sir Walter spent the next hour complacently discussing the town gossip: the loss of Mr. Elliot to their family party, the acquisition of a man of Captain Wentworth’s appearance to their drawing rooms, and the honor of Lady Dalyrymple’s desire to attend the upcoming wedding. The Abby had been secured for the occasion, on a day most convenient to all, and both felt themselves generously reconciled to the arrangements. If Elizabeth’s chagrin at being the only remaining, unmarried sister continued to fester, she was now could take consolation in the prospect of no longer having to bear Anne’s company, which she had ever found tedious. She much preferred Mrs. Clay, whose flattering attentions were more to her taste than a sister’s censorious eye.
But Elizabeth’s feelings were shortly to suffer a further disappointment. Mrs. Clay returned somewhat flustered and overheated, causing Sir Walter to reaffirm his disapprobation for needless dalliance in the sunlight, but a few minutes revealed that it was not exertion that rendered their companion unsettled, but the reception of a most inconvenient letter.
“It is to my great sorrow that I am afraid I must depart from you, my dearest friends. My sister is quite distressed, and asks that I come to London at once. It appears that her household has been afflicted by the measles, and all three children are terribly ill.”
“Measles!” cried Sir Walter in horror. “No, my dear, you must not go to London, however much in need your sister may be. Surely she can hire an additional nurse to assist her at such a time. You must not endanger your health! The measles are a most disfiguring ailment!”
“Absolutely not, Penelope. Besides, how can I possibly spare you?”
Touched by this show of concern, Mrs. Clay assured her benefactors that she had already suffered from the disease as a child, that it therefore posed no risk to herself, and that she would return to Bath as soon as she possibly could.
“But you must not go at all. For if you do, you understand that we cannot have you return to us here. No Elliot has ever suffered from such a disreputable disease, and we cannot risk becoming infected ourselves.”
Mrs. Clay’s hopes fell. Had Sir Walter shown true concern for her, she might have abandoned her current scheme, but this display of self-absorption, though not unexpected, confirmed what she had long been coming to accept. Camden Place held no future for her other than that of companion. Desperation steeled her determination.
“Then I am afraid, Sir Walter, Miss Elliot, that I will have to part from you for an unknown period of time.” Her eyes welled in a touching display of sorrow.
“It cannot be, Penelope. First Mr. Elliot, now you, and soon even Anne will be gone. Surely you understand that this is a most disagreeable turn of events!”
“My dear Miss Elliot, you must know that I would never cause you undue distress. Indeed, it is your own example of sisterly affection that assures me of my course. I cannot have spent so much time in superior company without learning my duty on such an occasion.”
Elizabeth held no illusions regarding her attachment to her sisters, but pride prevented her from disputing this assertion. Mrs. Clay must go. “Of course. I understand perfectly,” she said coldly. “After Anne’s marriage, I will find myself more frequently called upon to accompany Lady Russell about town, and with Miss Cateret’s desire for my company, I will have little enough time as it is.”
“It’s all settled then. When do you depart?” inquired Sir Walter.
“I shall leave on tomorrow’s mail,” she replied with wounded dignity. “My brother is sending a servant to accompany me.”
“Very good. I am glad he has such forethought, for surely we cannot spare a servant to attend you,” Elizabeth retorted.
“I shall go pack my things at once. Excuse me.” Mrs. Clay held her head up as she quickly left the room, bracing herself with the knowledge that the high and mighty Elliots would soon experience their own share of mortification. She did not pause to think what impact her decision would have on her father’s relationship with his most important client, nor the consequences to herself in the future. Instead her mind was consumed with the knowledge that she would not be traveling by the lowly mail, but in a very handsome equipage bearing the Elliot crest. She would have what Elizabeth most wanted, and that knowledge was a source of supreme gratification.
Anne had previously revealed something of Mrs. Smith’s predicament to Captain Wentworth – that she was widowed, in reduced circumstances, and sickly – but she did not provide any information regarding her prior acquaintance with Mr. Elliot. If Mrs. Smith chose to confide in Frederick, as Anne hoped, it would be at her own discretion. The presence, upon being ushered into the room, of the familiar box containing Mr. Smith’s correspondence, raised Anne’s hopes for the outcome of the visit.
Introductions were easily made. Anne was reminded of meeting the Harvilles at Lyme, and the instant sense of camaraderie that pervaded their humble but welcoming home. Being able to provide Frederick with at least one friend whom he could value was a source of great comfort to Anne, being keenly aware of her own inferiority, having no family of her own to receive and estimate him properly. Mrs. Smith regaled the Captain with a few choice anecdotes from the ladies’ school days, much to his amusement, before Anne decided it was time to introduce the subject of Mr. Elliot.
“Surely your informant, Mrs. Rooke, has already made you aware of my cousin’s departure for London?”
“Indeed she has. His greatest hope dashed, he has fled the field of battle, much like the man he is. But do not think he has left the fray, for as long as he perceives a danger to his own inheritance, you may be assured he continues to conspire and maneuver. He was never one to give up so easily.”
“You know Mr. Elliot of old?” asked Captain Wentworth, and the entire story of his false dealings unfolded.
The Captain took in every detail with rapt attention. Many of the same papers Anne had previously seen were produced, though not those pertaining to Mr. Elliot’s former disregard for his patrimony. Frederick examined each one in turn, a stony expression settling onto his face as the man’s true nature was revealed. “And you knew of this, Anne?” he asked in astonishment, once Mrs. Smith completed her account.
“Only since the day following the concert. Like you, Mrs. Smith believed the reports of attachment between Mr. Elliot and myself, but upon assuring her I had no such inclinations, she made his character known to me.”
“I thank you for disabusing Miss Elliot from her cousin’s false façade, but this is outrageous! It would take so little for him to rectify the situation. His lawyer could handle the business in a trice! To act so falsely towards those who had proven themselves true friends is a most dishonorable deed, and I assure you, Mrs. Smith, my career has put me in the way of more than one scoundrel. I am astounded by the man!”
“It is my hope, Captain Wentworth, that you might be able to advise Mrs. Smith as to the best way of proceeding. Is there not some way in which she can force Mr. Elliot’s hand?”
“There most certainly is! I shall do it. It will mean following the rogue to London and demanding action.”
“But I do not wish to separate you from Miss Elliot! No engaged couple should be parted so soon.”
“He will be missed,” Anne admitted, “but I will happily endure the sacrifice for your sake.”
“It will not be very difficult, I assure you. Less than a week will see the matter settled. Mr. Elliot knows that you have legal recourse to make him act, but he has taken advantage of your circumstances and remained idle. I will write to my lawyer this very day. He and I shall confront Mr. Elliot, giving him little option but to act on his role as executor or appoint the task to another. I will volunteer for the duty myself. It is not so very onerous. Indeed, it will take some time to fully reveal the state of affairs in the West Indies, but I know of many who make the trip regularly and will ask one to explore the matter on sight, thereby hastening the procedure.”
Mrs. Smith was overcome with emotion at the Captain’s readiness to engage himself on her behalf, and her gratitude revealed itself fully in both words and the sincerity of her countenance. He dismissed her declarations of obligation as unnecessary – it was, after all, what any true gentleman would do – but upon leaving Westgate Buildings, he made his true feelings known.
“I understand he is your cousin, Anne, so please forgive my violence, but it will take every bit of self-control I posses not to thrash the man when I see him. To leave a sick woman, the wife of his friend, in squalor while he lives in luxury, a lady for whom he is legally responsible moreover, is an act of such base monstrosity it sickens me, and I once had the misfortune of captaining Dick Musgrove! If Mr. Elliot were a member of my crew, I would have him flogged within an inch of his life.”
Anne did not doubt his words, and though she could not say so about a member of her family, she privately agreed it would be very little less than he deserved. Any mortification she might have felt at the actions of her relation were completely overcome by pride in the man whom she would soon have the honor of calling husband.
Whatever Captain Wentworth expected to discover at Mr. Elliot’s elegant, West End townhouse, it was certainly not Mrs. Clay presiding over the drawing room. So taken aback was he at the sight, that the confident Captain was momentarily rendered completely dumb, a symptom only worsened by the conscious blush, obscuring any and all freckles ever attributable to the lady, that confirmed his worse suspicions. Mr. Elliot, on the other hand, seemed quite unmoved by the awkwardness of the situation, and greeted Captain Wentworth and his man of business with a degree of composure that quickly restored the former’s tongue, outrage overcoming his shock. Looking away from his future sister’s former companion, he said tersely, “Elliot, I have business to discuss with you of a nature quite unfit for the lady’s ears. Let us remove to your own room.”
All graciousness, Mr. Elliot escorted the men into a lavish office, the condition of its interior attesting to the owner’s sense of his own consequence, while showing little sign of being used on any regular basis. “To what do I owe this unexpected surprise, gentlemen? If I were engaged to a woman as fine as my cousin, Wentworth, I certainly would not be so quick to leave her unattended.”
At such provocation, the Captain’s umbrage got the better of him. “What is the meaning of this, sir? Why is that I find Mrs. Clay here, when all reports have her attending a sick sister’s children?”
A sardonic smile spread across his mien. “Surely a man of the world, such as yourself, does not require an explanation. Mrs. Clay and I have an arrangement. It is unfortunate that you came upon her here, but she shall soon be installed in her own lodgings. You need not concern yourself with her welfare.”
“I am astounded that you could undermine the hospitality shown to you at Camden Place in such a manner,” was the determined retort.
“Come now, Wentworth. You cannot rate the attractions of Camden Place so high! Other than Miss Anne, there is not a member of the family deserving of such consideration. I assure you, I have rescued Mrs. Clay from a most untenable situation.”
“Do not insinuate that this is an act of gallantry. You have ruined the woman’s respectability!”
“And saved us both from the indignity of Sir Walter making a most unequal marriage. Come now, Captain, surely this is not why you honored me with your presence this morning. I do have engagements to attend, so perhaps you had best present your business.”
Though his indignation was great, Mr. Elliot’s words reminded the Captain of the pressing needs of a far more deserving lady, and he forced himself to focus on his purpose. “I come to represent the interests of Mrs. Smith, another lady whom you have unconscionably wronged.”
For the first time, Mr. Elliot displayed signs of chagrin. “And may I ask what business it is of yours?”
“She is the friend of my future wife and has empowered me to act upon her behalf.”
Mr. Elliot, who had grown rather white at these words, rose from his chair in obvious agitation. He did not know that Anne was still in contact with her old school friend, whom he was well aware resided, at present, in Bath, and he instantly wondered if it was not this outside force that decided his cousin against him. As he mulled over this development, anger at his current situation built. If Smith’s widow had indeed turned Anne from him, it was her fault that this other man, an interloper, was now in possession of her affections, while he was straddled with an unwanted mistress for whom he felt little affection. While mere disinterest had prevented him from assisting Mrs. Smith in the past, he now felt a malicious desire to revenge himself upon her, but the Captain’s next words checked such malicious inclinations.
“Mr. Johnson has advised me that if you are unwilling to act in the role of executor, you may consign the responsibility to another party. I volunteer myself. He already has the necessary papers in order. All you need do is sign your consent and relinquish the will, as well as any accompanying documents, and you will be free from the burden. However, if you do not agree to sign and continue to refuse to act on Mrs. Smtih’s behalf, she has legal recourse to remove the task from your hands. I have offered to fund the proceedings, should such an undertaking prove necessary.”
Mr. Elliot cast upon the Captain a look of such animosity that Frederick was mightily tempted to insure it’s permanent removal with his fist. He rose to his feet and confronted the man, who was several inches shorter than himself.
Though Mr. Elliot was trained in the art of fisticuffs, discretion told him that he was no match for the battle-hardened sailor. Resuming his smile and his seat, he said simply, “Where do I sign?”
At this, Mr. Johnson took control of the proceedings, delving into an explanation of the relevant documents with relish, blatantly relieved that the encounter had not turned violent. Captain Wentworth, on the other hand, remained standing, glaring down at the heir of Kellynch with all the silent disgust he could muster. Though Mr. Elliot felt his censure, he never again met his eye until their departure, when the Captain said, “I do not look forward to having to explain Mrs. Clay’s situation to your family.”
For the first time, Mr. Elliot looked somewhat ashamed of himself. He too did not savor the knowledge that Anne’s opinion of him would sink so low. His feelings for her were very real, and the only emotions of the sort he had ever entertained. However, habit and breeding got the better of him, and he said with a good deal of his usual ease, “Perhaps you will not be obliged to. Bath is hotbed of gossip. The news may precede you.”
Mr. Elliot proved correct, though the mechanism which brought word of Mrs. Clay’s deception to Camden Place was not through the questionable attentions of the Elliots’ acquaintances, but the arrival of Mr. Shepherd, while Captain Wentworth continued in London, in order to make arrangements for Anne’s settlement.
“Let me congratulate you on Miss Anne’s fortuitous match, Sir Walter. The marriage of a daughter to an eligible gentleman is always a cause for celebration.”
“Yes, Shepherd, and Captain Wentworth is a very well-looking man, especially for a sailor. He has not been forthcoming on the matter, but I would like you to look into a possible connection with the Strafford family. Though at present unknown, if a connection can be found, it is I who will be instrumental in making the proper introductions. The issue is rather pressing, as it would greatly raise the consequence of Anne’s engagement, and I would like to verify the situation as soon as possible.”
“Of course, Sir Walter. I will see to it immediately,” said Mr. Shepherd with a smile, privately allotting the task to the bottom of his priority list. “Now, if I may presume to embark on the subject of the settlement …”
“Yes, yes. Of course it is most inconvenient timing. Anne is to have ten thousand, but such a sum cannot possibly be parted with at present, as I have already instructed the Captain.”
“Indeed, I am very pleased to learn that you have addressed the matter, as, of course, a man of your forethought most certainly would. The question is precisely how much can be spared. The removal to Bath has gone some way to improving your finances – which reminds me, by the by, to mention how very fortuitous it is that this marriage puts Kellynch back in the hands of the family, so to speak – but there is still much to be done. I fear that any sum over two thousand will be nearly impossible to raise at this time.”
“Then two thousand it will have to be, Shepherd, and the Captain will be very well pleased to get it, I am sure. He is, after all, marrying an Elliot, and whatever his connections may or may not prove to be, it is a great deal more than he could possibly have anticipated. My influence with my tenant, the Admiral, will further advance his career. At the rate the Crown bestows titles these days, I would not be surprised if Wentworth should not one day be a baronet himself. Though I am no supporter of these new creations, if they must be made, they should at least go to those with the proper connections, and you will go a long way before you see a man with Wentworth’s natural bearing.”
It was at this moment that Mr. Shepherd first spared a thought for his daughter, for it was on such occasions that he had come to depend on her talent for flattering his client, though he did not now question her absence. Instead, he provided the awkward assurances required, claiming he enjoyed the rare distinction of being in the presence of such a man quite often himself, before hastily returning the subject to the business at hand. Two thousand pounds was agreed upon, with that same amount to be provided every two years until Anne’s settlement was paid in full. Furthermore, Shepherd volunteered to take upon himself the explanation of the arrangement to Captain Wentworth, freeing Sir Walter from the awkwardness of the business, while providing the opportunity to ingratiate himself with a potentially valuable new client.
Their business concluded, Elizabeth called for tea, and Lady Russell, who was spending the day at Camden Place, asked innocently, “How is your daughter, Mr. Shepherd? We hope her family is mending from its indisposition.”
Mr. Shepherd looked confused, replying, “The children were perfectly well when I departed for Bath. In fact, I was just about to inquire into Penelope’s whereabouts myself, as I bring letters for her from home.”
“You not know!” Anne exclaimed. “Mrs. Clay departed several days ago for London, in order to attend her sister’s children, who are apparently quite struck down by a bout of the measles. I am sorry to be the bearer of such distressing news,” she concluded, eyeing the lawyer with concern.
Mr. Shepherd had turned quite white, and, forgetting his carefully honed deference, lowered himself into a seat without first being invited.
Lady Russell, believing him to be ill, took command of the situation by calling for a restorative. Sir Walter, affronted by this unaccustomed behavior, demanded, “What is all this, Shepherd? What ails you?”
Somewhat recollecting himself, and a bit revived by Lady Russell’s administrations, Mr. Shepherd was able to respond, “Excuse me, Sir Walter, but I know not what to think. Are you certain of your information, Miss Anne? My daughter has departed for London?”
“Indeed she has,” Elizabeth intervened. “She insisted her sister’s children were quite ill, and, despite of the inconvenience to us, departed for town the next morning.”
“But this is impossible,” declared the distraught father, all concern for his standing with his most important clients forgotten, “for I have no daughter in London. Helen lives in Essex!”
That evening, following the awkward departure of Mr. Shepherd (who, upon Anne’s advice, directly followed his daughter to London in hopes of tracing her whereabouts), the Elliots gathered around their dinning table, accompanied by only a somewhat smug Lady Russell. After the blow to her understanding delivered by knowledge of Mr. Elliot’s perfidy, the correctness of her instincts regarding Mrs. Clay provided a somewhat understandable source of gratification. “I never did trust that woman,” she confided to Elizabeth. “In the future, I hope you will choose friends from more acceptable quarters.”
Elizabeth, properly indignant at the disgrace attendant upon Mrs. Clay’s defection, nevertheless resented the implications of Lady Russell’s speech. “That’s all very well, ma’am, and I happily acknowledge that I was misled regarding Mrs. Clay’s character, but such censure coming from the lady who encourages my sister’s visits to Westgate Buildings is rather odd, do you not think?”
“Mrs. Smith’s circumstances are not of her own construction, and I have great hope that Captain Wentworth will return with news of her improving fortunes. Poverty is not a reflection of character, and it is precisely Mrs. Clay’s character that has always been subject to question,” retorted Anne, though how much of this sentiment was heeded by Elizabeth, consumed as she was with her own displeasure, and furthermore in the habit of dismissing her sister’s comments, is highly questionable. Sir Walter, it is certain, heard not a word, as made evident by his contribution to the conversation.
“If one thing is certain, it is the lesson to be derived from this shocking episode. A clear countenance is a sure reflection of a proper mind. Blemishes, such as freckles, should be held as a warning of deeper impurity,” he said with great satisfaction, eying his own remarkable features in a large mirror, conveniently hung directly across from his seat. “I must say it bodes well for your captain, Anne. Lady Dalrymple continues to remark on his very favorable aspect, but of course we Elliots have always been known for our impeccable taste. When do you expect his return? It would be convenient if he could join us for the concert this week. Since Mr. Elliot’s departure, our party includes far too many women. It is unfortunate that Colonel Wallis feels unable to leave his wife, but such devotion is to be expected when one is married to a beautiful woman. Perhaps she will be well enough to attend the wedding ceremony.”
“Have you thought to invite the Crofts, Father? I think they would make a most welcome addition to our group.”
“My tenant, the Admiral? I had not thought of it, but yes, I suppose, under present circumstances, it would be appropriate to extend an invitation. I shall consult Lady Dalrymple.”
“I do so enjoy Mrs. Croft’s company, Sir Walter,” said Lady Russell. “Such a practical, good-natured lady is not what one often meets. I shall be very pleased to spend the evening in her company.”
“It is unfortunate her time at seas has wrecked such havoc on her complexion,” he lamented.
“I am sure, regardless of their current plans, that they will appreciate the overture.”
“Of course they will, Anne!” exclaimed an exasperated Elizabeth. “Will you not allow that my Father knows the ways of the world far better than you? The Crofts will be delighted to join us. How can they not be?”
Anne exchanged a skeptical look with Lady Russell, but said no more.
It was not a cheerful party that adjourned to the drawing room while Sir Walter enjoyed his after dinner drink. Elizabeth, neither of the other ladies’ preferred companion in the best of times, was very nearly surly in her behavior on this evening. A knock on the door was a welcome distraction from the stilted conversation Lady Russell was taking extraordinary pains to maintain, and it was with great excitement, much surprise, and a good deal of relief that Anne heard Captain Wentworth announced. She stepped forward to greet him with a girlishly enthusiastic step, quite unlike her usual, sedate self, but was quickly checked by the disturbed look in his eyes. He bade the company hello with all due propriety, but his manner was distracted and lacking in the rigid formality he typically adopted when interacting with people for whom he harbored mixed emotions, into which category both Lady Russell and Elizabeth firmly fell. As soon as the formalities were complete, Anne ushered him into a private corner of the room and asked with urgency, “What has happened Frederick? Was Mr. Elliot unwilling to cooperate?”
“No, Anne. You may rest assured that my mission was successful. I am now empowered to act upon Mrs. Smith’s behalf and have already begun inquiries into the reclamation of her property.”
Anne felt somewhat appeased by this information, but she could not be easy when a serious matter so clearly weighed upon the Captain. “Then what is it that troubles you? You have not been summoned to duty?”
Frederick managed a small chuckle at this, “No, my dear Anne, you will not see me wear such a troubled expression when mobilized by my superiors, even if such an event should happen so close to our nuptials. Nothing would please me more than to return to sea, assuming you will stay by my side.”
“I have told you I will.”
He smiled, “Then we have nothing to fear from the Admiralty.”
“But clearly something is amiss. Will you not confide in me?”
“I rather think I ought to speak with your father first. It is a matter of some delicacy.”
“You had much better rely on me, or Lady Russell, if you will trust her.”
He shook his heard. “On this particular matter, I think propriety can only be served by my speaking with Sir Walter before relaying my shocking tale to you.”
Anne turned pale. “Shocking? Oh, Frederick, what on Earth could have happened? If you feel so strongly that my father be the first informed, it must be horrible indeed. I have no doubt whom it concerns. My cousin’s behavior can never be … ” she paused mid sentence, her skin loosing even more of its color as several memories intruded, bearing the truth to her mind. “Mrs. Clay!” she declared, looking to Frederick for confirmation. His abashed countenance confirmed her suspicion, and she said no more. They sat in silence, each contemplating how this revelation would be born by the remaining inhabitants of Camden Place, and each watching the clock in hopes of Sir Walter’s speedy arrival.
They did not have to wait long. Sound of a visitor hastened Sir Walter appearance in the drawing room, and pleased he was to discover Captain Wentworth, though his obviously travel worn condition caused something of a jolt to the fastidious man’s sensibilities.
“Captain Wentworth! You haven’t just returned to Bath? Well, I have heard of the impetuosity of lovers, but never before did I imagine to see such evidence of it in my very own drawing room!”
“Sir Walter, I came directly to Camden Place from London. Forgive my appearance, but I have a matter of some urgency to discuss with you. Might we adjourn to a more private location?”
“By all means, Wentworth! I have just been enjoying a spectacular brandy, quite old and rare. Will you join me in a glass?”
“That would be most welcome, Sir Walter. Thank you.”
The gentleman departed, and Lady Russell looked to her goddaughter with concern. “Anne, is something amiss?”
“I am afraid so, Lady Russell. It appears we are to learn of Mrs. Clay’s whereabouts much sooner than expected.”
“Whatever could the Captain know of Penelope?” exclaimed Elizabeth. “He saw her in town, I suppose?”
“I believe so,” replied Anne, tentatively. “We shall have to wait for the full story in order to understand the matter, but I fear her situation is far worse than what we expected.”
“Oh, Anne!” exclaimed Lady Russell. “She has not done something completely untoward, I hope?”
Even Elizabeth showed signs of great discomposure, and Anne wondered if her purpose in providing such hints, intended to brace her companions for the revelation to come, was not mistaken. “I do not know the details, only what I have surmised. For the moment, we must be patient.”
All three ladies settled down to their needlework, though not one set a single stitch.
Captain Wentworth anticipated Sir Walter’s reaction: that he would be less concerned with Mrs. Clay, the lady whom he had interacted with daily for the better part of a year, and who had formed a member of his household, than with the disrespect Mr. Elliot’s actions displayed towards himself. Mrs. Clay had formed her own fate, and the baronet happily relegated the lady to it, but that his heir, whom he had openly accepted after long estrangement, and after having so publicly, once again, taken him by the hand – even introducing him to the Dalrymples! – should deliver such a blow to his consequence was unforgivable. The man raged quite openly, and while his tirade only confirmed Frederick opinion of his vanity, he felt more sympathy for his future father-in-law at this moment than he had ever in the past, even taking it upon himself to refill the older man’s glass when he finally collapsed in his chair, such an unaccustomed display of emotion having completely drained him of energy.
“Thank you, Wentworth. I do now understand your haste in making an appearance here this evening. But what is to be done? He will parade her quite openly in London, and soon all of our acquaintances will know of the ill use we have suffered at both of their hands. There is no way to stem the tide of gossip.”
The Captain nodded his agreement. “The best that can be done is for you to display a face of unconcern to the world.”
“True. I am Sir Walter Elliot, and what such disreputable relations do cannot diminish my position. Nevertheless, it is a blow, and I feel it, I do assure you, as will Elizabeth. But we will hold our heads high, as we Elliots always have. I will consult with Lady Dalrymple tomorrow. She will know how to proceed.”
“We must tell the ladies, Sir Walter. It will not do for them to learn of these events from an outside source.”
“Yes, yes. You are right,” agreed the weary baronet, showing his age far more than usual. “I do appreciate the service you have rendered, Wentworth. You are a most welcome addition to the family, and I must say that the timing of your wedding could not be better, as it will give the gossips something else to think of.”
This was as high praise as the Captain had ever expected to hear from Sir Walter, and while he could not help but censure the man’s principals, it was still a source of satisfaction to be sincerely embraced by Anne’s father.
After making some adjustments to his appearance and steadying himself to putting the best front on the situation he possibly could, Sir Walter led Captain Wentworth back to the drawing room, where three uneasy ladies rose expectantly at their entrance. Elizabeth came forward, “What has happened, Father? Anne believes the Captain has learned of Mrs. Clay’s location.”
“Yes, indeed he has, my dear. Do sit down. I have some unpleasant news to share. We have been most ill used, but we must remember who we are and not let it discompose us. The duplicity of others is not our concern.”
“Certainly, Sir Walter,” concurred Lady Russell. “If you have been mistaken in Mrs. Clay’s character, the fault lies entirely with she who worked so hard to insinuate herself into your good graces. Do not let it trouble you a moment longer.”
“I am afraid this goes beyond Mrs. Clay,” replied Sir Walter. “Wentworth, will you tell your tale?”
The Captain nodded his head and preceded bluntly, in much the same manner that he delivered reports to his commanders, “While in London I called upon Mr. Elliot. It was in his home that I found Mrs. Clay ensconced. She is under his protection, and soon to be settled in quarters of her own, which he will provide.”
“No!” cried Elizabeth, expressing the shock of the entire room. Captain Wentworth had been most unhappy in being the bearer of such tidings, but he gratified to learn that in discomposing the arrogant Elliots, he found them to be far more human than he had ever before.
“I am afraid it is true, Elizabeth. She was your friend, and ought to have been grateful for your patronage,” consoled Sir Walter, rather missing the point. “One of your refined sensibilities will feel it most acutely.”
Anne rose and went to her sister, saying quietly. “Do not give him the satisfaction of learning of your hurt, Elizabeth. He is beneath your contempt. Do not allow his actions trouble you.”
These were the words with which to work upon Elizabeth Elliot, and she began to compose herself. “Indeed,” she agreed, moving to her father’s side, “they are both undeserving of our concern.”
“Very true,” agreed Lady Russell. “We will not give them another thought, though someone ought to write to Mr. Shepherd and tell him what we have learned.”
“It will be taken care of, Lady Russell. Though it leaves us in something of a predicament. Shepherd has handled my affairs for decades, and it would be a sad loss to have to replace his services with that of another.”
“As long as he renounces that dreadful daughter of his, Sir Walter, I see no reason why you cannot maintain the relationship,” was Lady Russell’s retort.
“Quite true. I will write to him in the morning.”
Though Captain Wentworth had long bemoaned the Elliot pride, on this evening it was impressed upon him how useful such self-consequence could be, when needed. The family would stand together, an impenetrable wall guarding their humiliation from the eyes of the world. As he said good evening to Anne, he reflected aloud, “You know, though they would object to the effects on their complexions, your relatives would make excellent sailors.”
Anne was happy to smile after the tumultuous events of that day, “And what makes you say so?”
“They rise to the occasion. I may not agree with their values, but one cannot deny that your sister, in particular, displayed great strength of character this evening.”
Rather than comment, she hugged his words close to her heart, and said, “Shall we visit Mrs. Smith in the morning and share our good news?”
“I shall collect you after breakfast. Look for your new landaulet, which should have been delivered to the Croft’s today.”
“Oh Frederick!” she cried in happy surprise. “There was no need for you to do that!”
“Tell your father and sister. It is a very handsome equipage, if I may say so myself, and will be sure to provide a pleasant distraction to their woes.”
It was a very pretty landaulet that promptly made its appearance in Camden Place the following morning, arousing more than passing interest in the residents of the house. Sir Walter abandoned his effort to write to Mr. Shepherd with the delicate news of Mrs. Clay’s downfall – which was far more focused on the baronet’s magnanimous condescension in maintaining the business relationship than on offering condolences to a longtime acquaintance – in order to survey the equipage and express his approbation. Elizabeth, following a polite acknowledgment of the vehicle’s charms, hurried to compose her own letter to the doubtlessly jealous Mary, containing far more details than her very cursory inspection of the conveyance would be expected to provide, and offering sympathy for her youngest sister’s continued dependence on the old fashioned coach of her in-laws. Once Sir Walter had tired of his inquisition into the make and model, Anne and Wentworth were finally free to depart for Westgate Buildings, having to endure only one passing comment on the surprise the inhabitants of that domicile were sure to express upon spotting such a fashionable carriage at their door.
The now familiar face of Nurse Rooke ushered the couple into Mrs. Smith’s noisy parlor, where they were greeted with gratitude, joy, and a shocking lack of concern for the engaged couple’s means of conveyance. A note from Anne had prepared the widow for both the visit and news of her good fortune, and it was clear that all of her limited resources had been utilized in providing her guests with as sumptuous an offering of refreshments as could be mustered. Yet despite the celebratory nature of the meeting, Mrs. Smith seemed to pay an undue amount of attention to Anne’s comfort, a solicitousness that could not proceed unremarked for long. Upon Nurse Rooke looking in upon them for a third time, and Mrs. Smith inquiring once again into the satisfaction of Anne’s chair, that perplexed lady was finally driven to inquire, “My dear friend, we are here to plan your own improved prospects. I myself, being perfectly healthy and secure, require no solace. So why trouble yourself so, when the subject of relocating you to the more comfortable lodgings available in Charles Street is far more pertinent?”
Mrs. Smith cast an uncomfortable glance towards Nurse Rooke, still lurking in the doorway, who, in turn, quickly made herself scarce. “But I am quite comfortable where I am. I do not pretend that my lodgings are ideal, but I am situated at a very convenient distance to the warm bath.”
“My dear Mrs. Smith,” interposed the Captain, “the distance is immaterial. Besides, as I am now the executor of your husband’s estate, I shall happily advance you the funds. Your health will undoubtedly benefit from the fresher air to be had in Charles Street. Now, what else is troubling you?”
Casting her eyes downward, Mrs. Smith uttered these conscious words, “I am afraid I have been on the receiving end of some very disturbing gossip regarding Mr. Elliot.”
Anne and Wentworth glanced at each other. “So it begins already,” sighed the former.
Mrs. Smith looked up, “But do you already know?”
“If you seek to inform me that my cousin has entered into a most disreputable arrangement with my sister’s former companion, then yes, I am sorry to say that I am fully aware of the disgraceful situation.”
Mrs. Smith looked at once relived and, simultaneously, concerned. “Nurse Rooke brought me the news just this morning. She had it from Mrs. Wallis.”
“I am not surprised.”
“I am afraid it is already much talked of in the town. Such things will not be kept secret, you know, particularly in a place like Bath. And the gossip, unfortunately, has taken a rather ugly turn.”
Captain Wentworth looked surprised, “Uglier than what is to be expected? I cannot see how it could be.”
“I am afraid many have surmised that Mr. Elliot’s motivations were specifically intended to harm you, Miss Elliot.”
“Me?” cried Anne. “What can I possibly have to do with the affair?”
“Many believed that Mr. Elliot was on the verge of asking for your hand when your engagement was announced. Indeed, some even speculate that you had already received an offer. In such circumstances, creative minds will spin the most outlandish tales. Those of us more intimate with Mr. Elliot’s character may recognize his true motivation was pure avarice, but one cannot deny that depressed hopes make for a far more romantic story.”
“I do not see how either version of events undermines Mr. Elliot’s culpability,” replied Anne. “I am an innocent bystander. Indeed, it is my father and sister who feel a personal injury in his defection. I am just relieved that neither he, nor Mrs. Clay, shall be allowed to impose upon my family any longer.”
“Be that as it may, do not be surprised to find yourself the subject of interest in the coming weeks.”
And so she was. Much of the quiet laughter that should have been reserved for Sir Walter and Elizabeth instead manifested itself as whisperings and conjectures wherever Anne made an appearance. The constant presence of the Captain, however, deterred those who might be so bold as to question her directly on the subject, and the couple’s obvious devotion did its office in quelling the worst suppositions. Only two parties were so forward as to comment directly on the scandal. Lady Dalrymple did not hesitate to inform Sir Walter as to her disillusionment in the young man, whom she had considered as much under her own wing as he ever had, and expressed a great deal of concern over the fate of Miss Cateret, having exposed her delicate sensibilities to such an unscrupulous associate. It was quickly decided that the acquaintance with the Wallises must be dropped by the entire family, and while Sir Walter felt some pain over never having had the pleasure of meeting the beautiful Mrs. Wallis, on which event he had set such store, it was a sacrifice he did not hesitate to make. As a result of the couple finding themselves quite shunned by the best of Bath society, they quickly made their exit following the new mother’s recovery. As Nurse Rooke’s services were no longer required, their presence was mourned by none of concern to us.
The other party who felt empowered to comment on the situation, though only to Anne and Wentworth, were the Crofts. The Admiral expressed his indignation at the usage the Elliots had endured, and seconded the Captain’s sentiment that a good flogging was what Mr. Elliot required. Mrs. Croft was more pragmatic in her approach, and while she never mentioned the scandal to anyone in her own circle, she did make sure that every one of her acquaintance was left in no doubt of the long-standing devotion of the engaged couple.
Mary had much to say on the subject, but most of her diatribe was reserved for her husband’s ears. She begged quite ceaselessly for a return to Bath, in order to both provide support and show solidarity with her family in their time of need, but the better information Charles received from Wentworth regarding the Elliots’ impenetrability on the subject decided him firmly against such a display. The duty of attending his own sisters’ approaching nuptials far outweighed the inconvenience of Mary’s complaints, and while they were vigorous, the pleasure derived in having a very constant source of conversation should not be underestimated.
Who can be in doubt of what followed? Time passed quickly between wedding preparations, gossip quelling, attending to Mrs. Smith’s affairs, and bridging the narrowing gulf between Captain Wentworth and Lady Russell. Much faster than she had ever believed possible, Anne’s wedding day was upon her. Frequently, a couple embarking on the adventure that is marriage express a great deal of nervous anxiety, and very understandably so, but on this occasion both bride and groom entered the Abby with perfect confidence. Years of separation and the attendant sorrow, followed by the joy of reaching a long overdue understanding, had effectively overpowered any and all doubts the happy couple had about their union. If any questions still lingered in the minds of those in attendance regarding the bride’s relationship with her cousin, the assurance with which her vows were spoken forever laid them to rest. Nothing but goodwill remained for the newlyweds as they departed for Camden Place, where a select few had been invited to a wedding breakfast. Anne and Wentworth did not linger long, as they were anxious to begin their lengthy journey to Plymouth, having planned several strategic stops in coastal towns along the way.
Sir Walter was highly gratified by the proceedings. The Bishop had done great honor to Anne’s illustrious heritage during the ceremony, Lady Dalrymple expressed her approbation for the entirety of the event, and Bath had relished the opportunity (the late gossip playing no little part in their interest) to witness his handsome family at great advantage. All this, assisted by the Captain’s well-sounding name (though no connection ever was established to the Strafford family), enabled Sir Walter at last to prepare his pen, with a very good grace, for the insertion of the marriage in the volume of honor. Elizabeth’s feelings upon having recorded in the book of books not just one, but the marriage of both younger sisters, can be so easily surmised that we shall not waste the reader’s time by recording them here. Instead, let us concluded on the far more appropriate sentiments belonging to the characters of worth: The Crofts, Lady Russell, Mrs. Smith, and, of course, Captain and Mrs. Wentworth, all of whom saw with unalloyed pleasure the happiness of this union. For Anne was tenderness itself, and she had the full worth of it in Captain Wentworth’s affection, and his profession was all that could ever make her friends wish that tenderness less: the dread of a future war all that could dim her sunshine.
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