Lady Russell felt this break-up of the family exceedingly. Persuasion, Chapter Five
Lady Russell reflects on the Eliots’ departure as Anne takes her leave of the local families
Turning away from the window, Lady Russell sighed softly. She had watched Anne walk down the lane from Kellynch Lodge every day since coming to stay with her, intent upon doing her duty and calling upon all the local populace to bid them farewell on behalf of her father.
Anne had spent the first few days attending to the estate workers and their families, taking a large basket upon her arm each morning filled with provisions to share and returning foot-sore and weary each evening, the empty basket seeming to weigh ever heavier as Lady Russell watched her trudge back up the lane.
Shaking her head, she walked across the sitting room towards the door. She needed a distraction for her troubled thoughts, her deep concern for Anne’s situation vying with her unhappiness over the family’s unfortunate position, yet as she passed her fine walnut writing desk, she paused, her hand resting lightly on the elegant chair accompanying it.
A capable and sensible woman, Lady Russell had little need of counsel from others and rarely sought it, but there were times when the ear of a friend would always be welcome. Should she write? It was some years since she had felt such a need; indeed, it was not since the year six…
Brushing that thought aside, she sat down at the desk. Would it suffice in aiding her to sort out the jumble of tangled thoughts jostling for attention in her head? It had answered in the past; would it perchance be a relief to share her despair over the break up of the Kellynch family and their removal from the district?
Leaning forward, Lady Russell selected a pen and pulled a sheet of paper onto the blotter. Dipping the pen into the ink well, she paused in thought for a moment, then began to write.
My dear friend,
Forgive me the long delay since my last. Something has come to pass of an unsettling nature, and how I long for your ear once more, and thus I take the liberty of so addressing you. Whilst the intelligence I am about to share is not of a cheerful nature, I hope you will forgive me the indulgence; in the past, I have found it cathartic to pour out my thoughts to you, and you have ever been there to receive them. I trust on this occasion you will afford me the same tolerance as always.
Sir Walter and Elizabeth are removed to Bath, with Anne remaining in Somersetshire until I may escort her there myself at Christmas. Yes, it is so: the Elliots no longer live at Kellynch. But not only is the village already so altered for me – full of melancholy, it affects me deeply – but the Hall is being let to another.
Though I find it painful now to look upon the deserted grounds, the abandoned walks and the untended rose garden, and can anticipate no longer the daily intercourse, which had become precious by habit, come Michaelmas my heart will be tasked once more.
For then such a beloved home will be given over to others – all the precious rooms and furniture, groves and prospects looked upon by strangers’ eyes.
Oh how deeply I feel the disruption of the family…
As the gilt clock upon the mantel chimed each half hour, the scrape of Lady Russell’s pen continued as she spilled all her sadness and frustration across several full sides of parchment.
As the church bells chimed the hour of two in the afternoon, Anne stepped out onto the lane from the parsonage and closed the wooden gate behind her, drawing in a long, soothing breath of the autumnal air.
It was done; her visits had concluded with a call upon the Reverend Fothergill and his wife and their small clutch of children. The gentleman’s compassion, though discreetly expressed, was draining after yet another morning of calls, this time upon the local families with whom the Elliots had socialised for many years, and Anne could only feel relief the ordeal was over.
Sir Walter and his eldest daughter had condescended to maintain certain acquaintances in the neighbourhood, all of whom Anne had felt obliged to take a proper leave of. Though mostly landed gentry, their station in life was sufficiently low as to ensure their ready welcome at Kellynch, for it always pleased Sir Walter to remark the difference between them and himself.
For Anne, it was more bittersweet. Few of her childhood friends remained in the neighbourhood, as most had found their own establishment by now, but as neither of her sisters had found any more time for her as a child as they did now, she felt a closer bond to those friends remaining and thus felt the separation more deeply than taking leave of her sisters.
With a soft sigh, Anne turned her steps back towards Kellynch. She was hungry; no one had thought to offer her anything beyond a cup of tea. The visits had been short, curtailed on both sides by embarrassment, effectively restricting all manner of conversation and replacing it with awkward silences.
As she passed the churchyard, Anne paused. Then, she walked under the lych-gate and turned towards the church, its mellow golden stone awash with autumnal sunshine.
She did not go inside, however, but followed the stone-flagged path towards the west side of the churchyard and stopped before the elegant railings surrounding a well-tended grave with an ornate, decorative headstone. Her mother’s final wish, granted begrudgingly by her husband, had been to be laid to her last rest in the outdoors, on a rise where the setting sun would caress her with its gentle rays each evening, not entombed in the dismal Elliot family crypt inside the church.
Pushing aside the iron gate, Anne stepped forward to stand in front of the stone bearing her mother’s name. Slowly, she mouthed the words as she read yet again the inscription: Here lyeth Elizabeth Elliot, wife of Sir Walter Elliot, beloved mother of Elizabeth, Anne and Mary, who departed this world, the 12th day of December 1800.
Dropping to her knees, Anne bowed her head in prayer for a moment before raising slightly damp eyes to the words once more.
“Dearest Mama, how I miss thee yet,” she whispered, reaching out a hand to trace the carved letters of her mother’s name. “No matter how many winters pass since you left us, nor how many new springs are born, I miss you more and more. For your love, for your counsel, for your caring…” She stopped and sniffed back a rising sob. “Once I am gone to Bath, I shall no longer be able to visit with you…”
She drew in a shallow, shaky breath, then shook her head. “Come, Anne,” she admonished herself. “That is enough. What did you say of yourself – as your mother always counselled? Be strong, be sensible – and smile.”
Straightening her shoulders, she sat back on her heels, wiping a hand quickly across her eyes. Then, she noticed the empty metal vase discarded near the base of the headstone. Snatching it up, she went to fill it with water from the stone trough near the church door and hurried back, the vase now filled with an offering of wild flowers quickly gathered from around the churchyard.
Placing the vase back on its plinth, Anne stepped back to admire their innocent, natural beauty, but then she frowned. The vase seemed to be tilted to one side and, on closer inspection, she realised the stone beneath it was not sitting level. Leaning forward, she soon saw the cause: something pale, a thin wedge of some sort, lay beneath and prevented it from lying flat.
Carefully placing the vase to one side, she studied the piece of stone, then pushed at the narrow gap where the protrusion was, surprised to discover it was only paper. Tugging would not release it as she could barely grasp it, so thin was the edge displayed, but then she realised the stone was loose and, her curiosity at its height, she grasped it with both hands and pulled it out.
Catching her breath, Anne’s hand flew to her mouth. She had revealed a small, sunken enclosure, on top of which was a folded piece of parchment, quite thick to the touch – crisp and fresh, the ink was perfectly legible and the hand fully recognisable.
Cautiously, Anne picked it up and studied it, turning it over to examine the seal. Then, she looked down into the cavity and realised there were others. Reaching in she removed another still almost intact though severely weathered, the parchment almost brown with age. Faded though the direction was, the hand appeared to be the same. Below these were merely remnants, soiled and damp, of what might have been previous letters.
Moved beyond measure, she swallowed on a sudden restriction to her throat. Then, she placed a soft kiss upon the most recent letter, touching her hand to the lettering of her mother’s name before carefully replacing the letters, ensuring the most recent fitted more neatly into place and dropped the stone back upon its hidden treasure.
Tempted though she was to take them with her, a precious memento, she would not betray to her good friend the discovery of her secret. In Lady Russell, she had found someone who had striven to be as good as a mother to her, and despite any past differences of opinion, Anne could never forget this and would ever love her for it.
She turned away and walked slowly back to the lych-gate, pausing there to cast one last lingering look towards where her mother lay. Then, she hurried out into the lane and began to walk briskly back up the hill to Kellynch Lodge.