We are told in chapter 3 of Persuasion how the Crofts learned Kellynch was for let, but we are not told how Captain Wentworth heard they had taken it. Presumably, it would have been in a letter from his sister, and would have come as quite a shock.
It arrived in the morning post – a perfectly innocent looking letter in his sister’s hand. And so Captain Wentworth was perfectly composed when he sat down at his desk to open it and just as perfectly unprepared for what alarming news the contents would convey.
My Dear Frederick,
So much has happened since I wrote you last, and what exciting news I have for you! Our efforts at finding a suitable house in Somersetshire could not have come to a more fortuitous conclusion. As I told you was his intention, the admiral went down to the quarter sessions at Taunton, meaning at the same time to look in on some advertised places in that vicinity. Although none of these suited him at all, he chanced to there hear of the possibility that Kellynch Hall itself might soon be to let…
Captain Wentworth halted in some alarm.
Kellynch! Good God, no.
He could not see the word written, even after all these years, without thunder clouds gathering in his head, without a sting like an hundred hailstones raining down upon his pate. What sore memories that name invoked! What unwelcome feelings it stirred from the depths to which he had attempted to exile them. But he must know more. Regardless of the painful storm brewing, the captain was compelled to read on… to see if there were any news of her to be found.
…The admiral says that rumors run rampant as to the sorry state of affairs in the Kellynch family, but I am not one to repeat gossip. What he learnt to be true upon speaking to the family’s man of business (a Mr. Shepherd, who happened to be most conveniently in Taunton as well) is this. Sir Walter Elliot had been persuaded to accept the idea of leasing the manor house out in order to relieve the considerable pecuniary difficulties in which he finds himself.
We therefore arranged to see the place and were very well pleased with it indeed, both the admiral and myself. And being anxious not to cause the baronet any further embarrassment, we were sure to make no argument over the terms. The long and short of it is that we are to take possession of the house by Michaelmas! I trust we may have the honour of receiving you there soon afterward.
Undoubtedly you know the place that I mean, since you were so near by it in 1806, while visiting our brother at Monkford. Although I suppose you could have had no occasion to call on the Kellynch family yourself, perhaps you were at least able to glimpse the house and grounds while in the vicinity. I am certain you never thought then to one day see me made its mistress.
Come as soon as you can, Frederick, and we shall hope to have it in our power by then to introduce you to the finest company such a country province can supply.
Yes, he knew the place! By God, he knew it all too well. It was her home. It was where he had called on her so many times, where much of their rapid courtship had transpired, and where she had at last put an end to it. The letter had not mentioned the lady by name, but her face had immediately risen up in Captain Wentworth’s mind’s eye nonetheless.
Wentworth allowed himself a moment and a sigh. Then, before other dangerous sensations could get the upper hand, he took care to feed the fires of anger, still burning for how cruelly Anne had wounded his pride. So much about the woman angered him, not the least of which was the knowledge that she still held some power over him. She continued to plague his mind despite the passage of time. Persistent discipline might have tolerably tamed her memory, diminished her influence, but it had failed to banish her completely from view. And now this unwelcome reminder had instantly undone the diligence of the last eight years. Of all the houses in Somersetshire, why must the admiral and his sister have settled on Kellynch? Was he never to be free from Anne Elliot?
The more pressing question, however, was what to do about Sophy’s invitation. What excuse could he conjure up to avoid revisiting the scene of his former mortification? The Kellynch family might be gone – Anne too, presumably – but what of the house itself? How could he enter it again without a thousand unwanted recollections assailing him? Everything he saw would remind him of her, and of her rejection – every room, every furnishing, the prospect from every window.
They had, all of them, cast him off as unworthy – not only Anne. It was her sister, her father, and that interfering Lady Russell as well. Consequently, he had sworn never to subject himself to the punishment of setting one foot in that neighborhood or speaking a single word to its inhabitants again. So there was an end to the matter, invited or not.
His decision made, Captain Wentworth pushed the offending letter away, rose from the desk, and turned his back with resolve. But as he went about his business that day, he had a much more difficult time turning his mind away from the problem. He knew he would have to tell his sister something about why he would not come. Declining the invitation temporarily would be easily done, but Sophy would not be denied the pleasure of showing off her new home forever. It was not right that she should be either!
The more the captain thought about the situation from his dear sister’s perspective, the more he began to revise his opinion. He would be willing to endure a great deal to avoid disappointing her. Perhaps it might be possible for him to go to Kellynch after all. The situation there had substantially altered from what it was eight years ago, he considered. Indeed, the tables were quite turned now! The pompous baronet had fled, forced to give up his house to strangers – in fact, to the rejected sailor’s own sister and brother. The irony of this revolutionary change would no doubt be lost on a man of Sir Walter’s limited penetration, but the reversal of fortunes was no less satisfying for that one regret.
Frederick chuckled to himself, and a lazy smile began spreading across his face.
“Very well, then,” he said to the empty room. “I will go to Kellynch. I will go with my head held high. Others might, but I certainly had nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary, I am vindicated. By my success, I have proven them all wrong.”
His outward bravado went a long way towards quelling Captain Wentworth’s misgivings over the prospect of visiting Anne Elliot’s home again. So long as he could keep his confidence (and his anger) in tact, all would be well.