A day late, and slightly longer than usual, but I had so much fun writing this installment! I hope you enjoy 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 Sir Walter and Elizabeth remained present, and the content of the letter was not of the sort to please their vanity, the Captain contented himself with summarizing thusly:
“Edward and his wife send their utmost felicitations and insist that we visit them not long after our nuptials. With your permission, 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 I am sure his wife is charming.”
“I will do so this moment, if you would be so good as to supply me with paper and ink, Sir Walter. And I will ask Sophy and the Admiral to accompany us. It will be quite the family reunion.”
Anne smiled in anticipation of the happy, family circle she was soon to join, and hastened 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 can 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 the Rector to Kellynch instead. Surely that would be much more the thing, and Anne would prefer to visit her ancestral home than an unknown town in Plymouth.”
“And you could visit the tenants, Anne, and insure the Crofts are seeing to their comfort,” contributed Elizabeth. “They would be comforted to see an Elliot in neighborhood again.”
“I am sure the Crofts are doing an excellent job in caring for the entire estate,” Anne assured her sister, before tactfully changing the subject. “Where is Mrs. Clay this morning? I have not seen her since breakfast.”
“She had a variety of errands to run. 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.” With that 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 of them,” 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 appearence 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, it was largely compensated for by no longer having to bear Anne's company, which she had ever found tedious. She did, after all, have Mrs. Clay, whose flattering attentions were far more to her taste than her 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, particularly from Sir Walter, Mrs. Clay assured her benefactors that she had already suffered from the disease as a child, that it therefore it 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 must 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 own well-being, she would in all likelihood 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, dear 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 I must do my duty. I cannot have spent so much time in such superior company without learning what is my duty on such an occasion.”
Elizabeth held no illusions regarding her attachment to her sisters, but pride prevented her from disputing the fact. Mrs. Clay must go. “Of course. I understand perfectly. After all, with 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,” said Elizabeth coldly.
“I shall go pack my things at once. Excuse me.” Mrs. Clay held her head up as she quickly left the room, finding consolation in the fact 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 circumstances to Captain Wentworth, namely that she was widowed, in reduced circumstances, and sickly, but she did not provide any information regarding that lady's experience with Mr. Elliot. If Mrs. Smith chose to confide in Frederick, as Anne hoped she would, it would be her choice. Furthermore, while Mr. Elliot remained in town, and Frederick maintained his absurd jealously towards the man, she did not wish to further strain relations between the two, as knowledge of the former's perfidy surely would. Her cousin's removal, however, cleared the way for a frank discussion of Mrs. Smith's situation, and Anne had suggested her friend do so in the correspondence that arranged this day's meeting.
The couple was greeted by Mrs. Smith's maid, somewhat overawed by the towering Captain in his impressive uniform. Indeed, as they were ushered into Mrs. Smith's small parlor, he seemed to fill the already crowed room with his presence. Anne received an even warmer welcome than she had been accustomed to – Mrs. Smith was tangibly pleased to meet her fiancee – and the presence, on a nearby table, of the small box containing papers pertaining to her dealings with Mr. Elliot, assured Anne that her friend did intend to relate her story to Captain Wentworth. The hope that he might be able to advise Mrs. Smith warmed her soul.
Introductions were quickly and warmly made. Anne was reminded of meeting the Harvilles in Lyme, and the instant sense of camaraderie that had pervaded their humble but welcoming home. Being able to provide him with at least this one friend whom he could value was a source of great comfort to Anne, being keenly aware of her own inferiority in this area, 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 is not plotting his next course of action. 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 and interest in preserving his future title 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 revealed itself. “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, and upon assuring her I had no such inclinations, she made his character known to me.”
“I thank you for disabusing Anne from Mr. Elliot's false facade. 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 one of the most dishonorable actions I have ever heard of, 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, Frederick, 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 after finding each other.”
“I will miss him, certainly, but 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, and he will have little option but to act on his role as executor or appoint the task to another. I myslef will volunteer for the duty. 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 of my associates 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 feeling 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. If he 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, privately agreed it would be no 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.