There are a thousand things to be done to prepare to leave Kellynch and all of them seem to fall upon Anne.
Anne trudged up the steps, a heavy ledger tucked under her arm. Portraits, she was cataloging portraits today. Just one more in an unending stream of tasks Elizabeth saw fit to assign her. Count the silver, record the books, and oversee the packing of mother’s china and crystal. Oh, yes, the condition of all the draperies must be noted, and the particularly fine pieces of furniture not suitable for their tenants, those must be readied for storage.
How was it Elizabeth was so good at devising tasks for her, but so very poor at participating in any of them? Had she done anything outside of her own chambers? Her gowns! Oh her gowns! They must all be tended and readied for travel. How dare Anne suggest that she need not take every one of them? Indeed, what effrontery to even consider it? Why, what might that, that woman, Mrs. Croft, do with access to Elizabeth’s fine garments?
Anne pinched her forehead. Mrs. Croft was an unconventional woman who spent much time at sea with her husband. What would she care of Elizabeth’s finery? Not everyone was obsessed with what Elizabeth Elliot wore.
Or how she looked…how many looking glasses had to be packed? What a ridiculous article to transport—how many were necessary? At least she had convinced Father to leave the largest one behind—after all the house in Bath could have no fitting place for it and it would draw attention to the smallness of the room if placed in anything smaller than the Kellynch gallery. Or so she had convinced him, thankfully. He obviously had no concept of the cost of transporting such a monstrosity.
“Oh, Anne!” Father stopped abruptly, blinking rapidly. “What are you wearing?”
What was she wearing? Of all the absurd questions! “A morning dress, father. I must go through all the guestroom and record the portraits there. It is very dusty work.”
“You look a fright, you now, an absolute fright.” His lip curled in a vague sneer.
“No one but the servants shall see me, sir.”
“Still, one must maintain an appropriate presentation to the staff. The family image must be upheld, here as well as in Bath. I will not have the servants thinking ill of us in Bath.”
“Have you forgotten, sir, I am not to attend you at Bath, Mrs. Clay is going in my stead. I am for Uppercross.” A touch of relief battled with a hint of bitterness. While Bath was certainly not the place she would choose to visit, for Mrs. Clay to attend them—it was galling. She had no delusions about being fine or desirable company, but for the unpolished, designing daughter of their agent to be preferred company? No amount of mental machinations could alleviate that sting.
“Oh yes, we cannot do without Mrs. Clay. I had quite forgotten what arrangements we had made for you.”
“I shall visit with Mary.”
He lifted his hand. “Ah, yes, that is right. Very good. I am glad that is settled. I need you to see to Mrs. Clay.”
“Excuse me? I do not think I heard you properly.”
“Elizabeth is quite concerned that she does not know how to correctly pack her gowns for the trip.”
“What do you expect of me?”
“Teach her how to manage them properly, perhaps accomplish her packing for her. She cannot be seen to arriving in disarray.”
Anne squeezed her eyes shut and balled her hands into fight fist. Unlike Mrs. Clay, she knew how to behave properly and she would choose to do so, even if it killed her. “Father, you must see that I am overwhelmed with tasks as it is. Since Elizabeth is her friend, it should fall upon her to assist Mrs. Clay.”
“Elizabeth knows nothing of packing—that is the job of her maid.”
“Then perhaps her maid may be enlisted for this project. She might also arrange Mrs. Clay’s packing.”
“I suppose that is possible. But I do not see why you are being so disagreeable.”
Perhaps because she had far more work to do with far less help…no that thought was not helpful at all. “Please, Father, try to understand, both you and Elizabeth have insisted—”
“But what else have you to do? Truly I do not understand why you complain so. You must learn to better manage your time.” He frowned and tossed his head. “I shall instruct Elizabeth’s maid to assist Mrs. Clay, but I will accept no more lip from you.” He strode past her, muttering something unpleasant under his breath.
She swallowed hard and dashed down the hall. Privacy, she desperately needed privacy! She ducked into the farthest room and shut the door behind her. No one was likely to find her in the smallest, shabbiest guest room.
She pressed her back against the door, panting to hold back the roiling turmoil in her chest. Clutching the ledger to her ribs helped hold back sentiments she must not express. Perhaps it was best she be separated from her father and sister for some time.
Oh, goodness! She gasped. Her mother’s face stared at her from the darkest corner of the room.
Anne dropped her ledger on the press near the door and staggered to the unfinished canvas, balanced haphazardly on an easel. Lady Elliot, standing amidst a spring garden, beamed at her. The paint faded into pencil sketch from her shoulders down, and many of the flowers were unfinished, but there was no mistaking her mother’s face.
“Oh, Mama.” She sank to her knees on the dusty floor, face in her hands. “What have we become? I have tried to make you proud, but I have failed you.”
Standing, she scrubbed tears from her face with her apron and paced before the portrait. “This would never have happened under your management, Mama, but now we must leave our home. They are going to make merry in Bath, whilst I am for Uppercross to see Mary. The Crofts will be here now. I think you would like them. They are very sensible people, as I understand it. Mrs. Croft, I am told, is very much like her…her…brother…” Sobs, uncontrollable and soul-wrenching, drove her to the floor.
“After you have had a good cry out, you must dry your eyes and be happy again. This life is far too fleeting to waste one extra minute on mourning or regrets. I would not have you languishing and forlorn … Anne. I wish to see you strong, sensible, and smiling …”Those were some of Mama’s last words.
It was time to dry her eyes and be strong and sensible and smiling once more. She dragged her sleeve across her eyes and pushed up to her feet. The lists must be finished, looking glasses packed, and all the houses in the parish visited, it was the Elliot way. Somewhere, she would find the strength to smile through it all. And perhaps in Upper Cross she might find something worth smiling about.
She dusted the unfinished portrait with her apron and tucked it under her arm. All the rest would wait a few minutes whilst she put the portrait in her room. Father and sister might have their looking glasses, this is what she would take with her from Kellynch.