Elizabeth’s last letter had communicated a piece of news of some interest. Mr. Elliot was in Bath.
“My dear Anne,” Elizabeth’s letter began, “I have some news that will astonish you not a little. Be not alarmed, it is assuredly of the most pleasant variety. Mr. Elliot has presented himself at Camden-Place, and has become so rapidly, pleasantly acquainted with Sir Walter, that he is now quite our intimate! He is the most charming man you can imagine, his manners, his person, his air, are superior even to the finest gentlemen one meets in Bath; Sir Walter is excessively proud of him, as belonging to our family, and I may whisper to you, Anne, that there is some hope of his creating a closer connection. My modesty will not permit me to think it at all likely, myself, but Mrs. Clay is so good as to say that he is paying me the most extreme attentions, and is so attracted by my beautiful person and discerning, elegant mind, that it is quite a desperate thing. Naturally I laugh at her, but she is perfectly insistent that it is so. I declare I do not know which way to look, when she says such things, and as for when He is by! Oh! When you arrive in Bath this week, Anne, you may tell me if you think she is right, for you will have every opportunity to meet Mr. Elliot. He visits us every day, without fail. I begin to think that he really is serious.”
Anne had read the letter several times to herself, and to Lady Russell, with some concern, but more wonderment, as they drove along in the carriage that conveyed them from the lodge at Uppercross, to Bath. The subject had already been discussed between them, without either having come to a satisfactory conclusion. With nothing to look at but the wet streets, hard to discern in the depressing downpour, Anne looked the letter over again, and could not refrain from speaking once more. “I do wonder how this can be,” she said. “Mr. Elliott, who never wished to be known to my father, in Camden-Place every day! What can be his meaning? Can he be sincere in wanting to improve the acquaintance? Can Elizabeth really be his object?”
“Perhaps he is sorry for his behavior before, and is wishing to make amends,” said Lady Russell, as she had two or three times already. “I could almost see him differently, myself, if that is the case. Whatever he has done in the past, seeking out his family connections and paying them attention now, is certainly very proper, and all one could wish for.”
“Certainly,” answered Anne, “but I am still not satisfied. What can he possibly gain from this behavior?”
“You forget, Anne, that Sir Walter Elliot and Elizabeth are somebodies, in Bath. They are worth cultivating.”
“Cultivating, perhaps, but that does not mean daily visits. There must be some other motive.”
“Perhaps it is the one Elizabeth suspects,” said Lady Russell, smiling.
Anne was doubtful. “He rejected her very soundly before. She was mortified. There is something very strange in all this, that I cannot understand.”
“You do not give allowance for the time that has passed. A man’s feelings can alter in so many years. To a mature man, a woman like Elizabeth, handsome, elegant and well bred, and of his own family, may be more attractive now than when he was young. He may perceive her value at last. I have known such things to happen.”
Anne was silent, thinking not of Elizabeth and Mr. Elliot, but of herself and Captain Wentworth. Were his feelings in a state of alteration, was he relenting toward her, returning to anything like his old regard? She did not dare think so, and to entertain such a hope would be almost too much.
Lady Russell, knowing not where her thoughts were centered, assumed that she was dissatisfied with her description of Elizabeth. “You must admit,” she pointed out, “that she is handsome – certainly handsome, her looks have not faded as so many women’s do; and Elizabeth always was elegant in her style of dress and her way of carrying herself. Well bred…” she faltered.
Anne threw her a look. “You know what we have often talked of before, about Elizabeth’s manners,” she said. “They reflect her character. She is vain, self centered, and arrogant. Only to you could I say such things, but you know them to be true.”
“I know what you have suffered from them, Anne,” said Lady Russell softly, putting her hand on hers.
“Then is it possible that Mr. Elliot, who seemed to see what Elizabeth was ten years ago, should be less aware of it now? There must be some double dealing here. I suspect Mrs. Clay’s hand in all this. She is a flatterer.”
“There may be something in what you say,” Lady Russell conceded, “but we will not have long to wonder. Here we are in Camden-Place, where I am to drop you. I hope you will be able to enjoy your visit to your family, my dear Anne.”
Anne only nodded and murmured something vague, as she was handed down from the carriage. She did not think she would be happy at all with her family, and dreaded the visit almost as an imprisonment. She had to steel herself to endure the cold welcome of her father and sister.
Yet she was surprised when Elizabeth came forward to meet her in the hallway, hands outstretched, the moment she was announced. What could this mean?
“Anne! Here you are!” Elizabeth exclaimed, with positive animation and cordiality such as Anne had never seen in her before, at least not directed towards herself. “You have something to see!”
And she flung open an intervening door. Anne perceived that it was as Elizabeth had written, they had the happiness of two drawing-rooms in their Bath house. Her father and Mrs. Clay were seated in one, by the fire, and they drew apart as if they had been talking privately. They rose, Sir Walter moving slowly but gracefully, and he moved forward to inspect her face. “Hum!” he exclaimed after his perusal. “Not too bad, despite the frosty weather. Well done, Anne. You have improved in looks – your complexion is brighter – no, you will not disgrace us amongst our Bath friends, at all.”
“And she will make a fourth at our evening meals,” pointed out Mrs. Clay, curtseying. “Upon my word, Miss Anne, I am very glad to see you!”
Anne thought there was something in her behavior that made it almost appear that she was the hostess, but Elizabeth turned from shutting the door and effaced that impression at once.
“Now, Anne, did you ever see two such rooms! And the company we have adorning them – we are more popular in our Bath life than is even becoming for me to say.”
“Oh, Miss Elliot!” exclaimed Mrs. Clay, as if lost for further words.
“But now I must tell you of our principal visitor – you are aware, as I have written to you – I hardly know how to describe the frequency of his visits.”
“You mean Mr. Elliot, I collect,” said Anne, resignedly.
“Indeed yes. We must tell you all about it, then you can give your opinion. I am sure it will be positive.”
Elizabeth seated herself, without at all waiting to see if Anne was comfortable, and she and Mrs. Clay began animatedly to canvass the subject of Mr. Elliot. Dinner was announced, eaten, and done, and news of all their Bath acquaintance exhaustively conveyed, when there was a knock on the door.
“It must be Mr. Elliot!” exclaimed Elizabeth brightly. “I hardly expected him so late, if it is him.”
“It is his knock,” said Mrs. Clay wisely. Anne looked from one to the other of them, as the door was thrown open, and her cousin entered.
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