Sir Walter Elliot stood in one of his two fine adjoining drawing-rooms in Bath, minutely examining his elegant figure in a long pier-glass mirror. It was placed between two ornamented windows, so that the daylight might best reveal the morning condition and texture of his complexion. At the moment he was occupied in examining the hair curling on his temples, to satisfy himself that its thickness was not diminishing. He was completely absorbed in this occupation, only glancing out the windows now and then, to see what equipages passed by the house in Camden-Place.
Elizabeth was less satisfactorily occupied. She looked elegant, even magnificent, in a green gown of watered-silk, and a small square of lace on her still-dark hair; but she barely bothered to take stitches in her tambour-work as she gazed out the window idly. She was thinking, for the thousandth time, of her cousin Mr. Elliot, who had decamped to London with his mistress, humiliatingly enough none other than Elizabeth’s former friend Mrs. Clay. There was no hope of an offer from him any longer, if there ever had been; and now that Elizabeth was turned of thirty, she could not flatter herself with any other plausible hopes. Her father’s fortune was nearly all dissipated, the necessary economies had pinched her face as well as her figure, and fewer people came to call.
Yet here was a carriage, of all things! Elizabeth started, just as Sir Walter turned to look. Yes! Pulling up at the Camden-Place sweep, was unmistakeably the stately coach of their cousin, the Dowager Vicountess Dalrymple, and inside her ladyship and her daughter, the Hon. Miss Cartaret, could be discerned.
“Well! We have some friends still, I see,” Sir Walter said complacently. “Our cousins do not neglect us.”
“They have not deigned to come in a very long time,” replied Elizabeth fretfully. “They must want something. I wonder what it is.”
Lady Dalrymple lost no time. Walking at twice her usual pace, her daughter trotting to keep up, she swept into the drawing-room. She looked about, and gave Sir Walter a careless nod. “Ha! You use this room in the morning, do you, Sir Walter?” she inquired. “I perceive that it would appear much grander if you opened up both rooms at once.”
“We shall, Your Ladyship, when we have tea,” Elizabeth said, curtseying.
“Order it now, Elizabeth, summon the servant. Tell him to open the doors, and to make haste about it,” said Sir Walter irritably.
“No, no.” The Vicountess lifted a gloved hand, and sank into a chair. “There is no need for that. We do not care about the tea. We are here to find out about the news, Sir Walter, that is what. Come, now, do not be coy. Tell us everything.”
Sir Walter and Elizabeth exchanged perplexed glances. Just then another carriage, a more modest equipage, was heard rattling up to the door and the servants ran to attend to the horses, and to usher in Sir Walter’s youngest daughter, Mary Musgrove.
He was not best pleased, and met her with what might be called a scowl, had he allowed such a thing to furrow his smooth brow. “Mary! And all alone,” he exclaimed. “That is hardly proper. And how came you to burst in like this? What a time to pay a call. Do not you see we have visitors? Our great cousins are here. They may condescend to greet you, but you will oblige me by sitting down, and saying nothing.”
“Oh! I cannot, possibly,” she exclaimed, turning to the Vicountess. “I have only come for a few moments. And Lady Dalrymple will be glad of it, too, when she hears the news I have brought!”
“Ah! I am not surprised,” said the lady, with unusual graciousness. “For I am very sure that it is about Commander Wentworth. We have just read the news of him being at Court. How very proud you must be!”
“Wentworth – at Court?” asked Sir Walter, puzzled. “What has he done now?”
“Only listen, Papa. Commander Wentworth has been made a Knight Companion! In the honours following the peace. The Prince has ordered it himself, and Frederick is one of only a very few to be singled out. Is it not wonderful?”
Sir Walter and Elizabeth, judging by their cold and unenthusiastic expressions, did not seem to find it so.
“Yes, that is the very news. Your son-in-law, Sir Walter, will be Commander Sir Frederick Wentworth,” Lady Dalrymple spelled it out. “And your daughter will be Lady Wentworth.”
“Anne – a Lady!” Elizabeth almost spit out. “What did they do to deserve a title? But it is only a new one – nothing especially distinguished. Those new titles are nothing more than a military medal.”
“On the contrary, my dear Elizabeth,” Lady Dalrymple corrected her. “It is a very signal honour indeed, and Sir Frederick will be somebody. He is somebody already. So very rich, and distinguished too. Lady Wentworth will spend all her time at Court, I have no doubt.”
“Oh, I do not think she will do that, Lady Dalrymple,” Mary contradicted. “You know she likes to be at home with the children, and she is so happy there now that Frederick is back from the wars, and the family are together.”
“Where are they living?” asked Lady Dalrymple. “Have they a place in Bath? I mean to make a point of asking them to my next soiree.”
Sir Walter and Elizabeth looked at one another, pained. They did not want to admit that they did not know where the Wentworths lived.
“Why, don’t you know,” said Mary. “They are at Kellynch.”
“Kellynch!” Elizabeth exclaimed, and Miss Cartaret found her voice and ventured to ask, “Was that not the name of your estate, Sir Walter? The one you used to have?”
“What is Anne doing at Kellynch?” frowned Sir Walter. “She must be visiting the Crofts. My tenant, Admiral Croft,” he recollected, turning toward Lady Dalrymple.
Mary knew it all, and said importantly, “Yes, you know Mrs. Croft is Frederick’s sister. The Wentworths have been staying there for several months – I was sure you knew that. They were there for Anne’s last lying-in, and now they are looking for an estate of their own, in the neighborhood.”
“Pah! An estate,” said Sir Walter contemptuously. “What does Wentworth think he can get for five and twenty thousand? Nothing like Kellynch, you may be assured.”
Mary opened her eyes wide. “Oh, but Father, Frederick is much richer than that! Why he must be worth – oh, hundreds of thousands of pounds! Don’t you know, he took thirty French ships on his last tour, and was retired home to be spoken of in – oh, such terms! They say he will end as Admiral of the Fleet, one day. It is so very splendid. Only think of Anne being so rich!”
“I cannot approve,” said Sir Walter, tight-lipped, “of such fortunes being made in wartime. It is very wrong. A sailor is just a sailor, and should not be put in proximity with the nobility. I, for one, shall have nothing to say to him.”
“Well, in that case, I need not waste my time here,” said the Vicountess decidedly. “I am determined to have the dear young Wentworths for a nice long visit, and shall go home and write to them at once.”
As she swept out, Elizabeth went and touched her father’s arm. “Father, perhaps we ought to be more forbearing about – about Anne’s husband. Consider…our debts…”
“I dare say he will be very generous, if you ask,” said Mary carelessly. “I must go home, and then I will make Charles take me to call on Anne. Perhaps she will ask us to accompany her to London, and see the Court after all.” And she flounced out, all eagerness, leaving her father to stare after her carriage, while Elizabeth sank back into her seat.
At Kellynch, Anne, dressed in gray silk which set off her rosy complexion, happily held her newest baby, little Rose, on her knee. Her two little boys were playing with a puppy in a corner of the drawing room, while their father leaned over the sofa to feast his eyes on his darling wife. Admiral and Mrs. Croft looked on approvingly, while Lady Russell, visiting for the day, enjoyed the sight as well.
“So, what are you going to do now you are knighted, Frederick?” Admiral Croft wanted to know. “Pity about the peace. You won’t be going back to sea for some time. That’s a man’s job, rather than dawdling about his wife.”
“Oh, I think I’ve earned a little dawdling,” said Frederick, smiling at Anne. “I have had enough of the sea, for now at least. It has done what I wanted, given me occupation and made me my fortune. But it has kept me divided from Anne for too long.”
“Yes, indeed. It is my turn to have my husband, and my children their father,” Anne agreed.
“But it is true that I like to be occupied,” said Frederick, “and that is why we think of buying a house at Portsmouth, so I may be near to whatever is going on, and have something to do with naval affairs.”
“Portsmouth is so far off,” Lady Russell protested. “We were in hopes you might settle near us.”
“There is always room for you here at Kellynch,” the Admiral pointed out. “Children and all.”
“My dear Admiral, they might prefer not to be in this house, you know,” his wife reminded him.
“That is true, I forget. You might not like the memories of when it was your home. And to think that cousin of yours, that Elliot blackguard – “
“Well, well, your cousin then, will inherit. That will be a black day. With all due respects to your father,” he bowed politely.
“Every one will be sorry to lose you in the neighborhood,” Anne said gently, “But you are right about this house. I no longer think of it as my home. Frederick and I will settle somewhere else. If he likes to live at Portsmouth, I shall be happy with that. So many of our naval friends are there, we will be quite comfortable.”
“But you may like to be settled near our friends here,” Frederick protested. “To have the Crofts, and Lady Russell, and the Musgroves, all around us. I should like it myself.”
“You won’t go to London, and take your place in society, then?” asked Lady Russell with a faint smile. She knew Anne so well, as to be sure what her answer would be. “Or even to Bath?”
Anne smiled and shook her head. “No, we never were ones for society, as you know. What we care for is our friends. We want to have a house, so we may invite them, and see them often – Mrs. Smith, and Mary and Charles, the Hargroves, and the Benwicks. But whether it will be in this neighborhood, near Kellynch, or in Plymouth, is still to be determined.”
“We might have two houses,” Frederick suggested. “Would you not like that, my dear?”
“Wherever you are is home to me,” Anne told him earnestly, and they gazed into each other’s eyes, and smiled.