Sir Walter and Elizabeth, left alone, with few friends, little money, and no sense, soon found that as their enjoyments were less, their complaints grew greater.
“This cravat,” thundered Sir Walter, “will never do.”
“I beg your pardon, sir.” The butler, Harris, stood back a little, his face red from his efforts at tying, and untying, the thing. “Would you like me to try it again?”
“No! You have tied it in a blasted barrel knot. Do you suppose that I am a blackguard, or a jumped-up tradesman? Why would I wear a lumpish knout below my chin? It completely destroys the line of my neck. And my profile…”
“Do not mind, Father,” Elizabeth soothed him, hovering anxiously nearby. “No one in Bath has such a neck, or chin, and they show very well, I do assure you.”
“Do you think so, my dear?” Sir Walter turned this way and that before the glass, to obtain a better view. “Well, well, there is no slackness there yet – that is something. Not one man my age in a hundred has such a chin. But the cravat!” He ripped it off and threw it upon the floor, where it joined three others.
“Sir – sir – “ Harris lamented, thinking of poor Sally having to do an extra washing, not to mention the cost, and the time.
“It is your own fault!” Sir Walter fumed. “Can you not even tie a gentleman’s knot? Oh, for my French valet once more! Why did I ever let Antoine go. It was the most foolish act of my life. But Lady Russell and Shepherd over-persuaded me. No valet, indeed! How is a gentleman supposed to live?”
There was no one to remind him of the necessity to contract expenditure. It was not the butler’s place to do so, and Elizabeth was only thinking of the loss of her own lady’s maid, for similar reasons. And Anne, who might have gently reasoned, and explained, and soothed, was no longer there. She was married, and living with her husband Captain Wentworth in lodgings in a pretty part of Bath, awaiting the preparations to sail in the Laconia for a Bermuda posting. Every day, it seemed, Sir Walter and Elizabeth saw either the two of them walking together, as if they had not a care in the world, or Anne driving her own handsome little laundaulette, with its prancey ponies.
“I am sure Anne has a lady’s maid,” muttered Elizabeth spitefully. “Perhaps as good as my Marie used to be. While I have to cope with a dirty-fingered slut, in that Sally. I slapped her this morning, did I tell you? She made such a mangle of repairing my lace, that I tore, owing to her clumsiness.”
“Tsk. What a shame. Well, Anne has married a rich man; and we must find another such a one for you, my dear, only something a bit higher than a mere sailor, I should hope,” said Sir Walter absently. “Look here, Harris, don’t you know how to make that new knot that is all the mode, Osbert-something it is called? They say it is quite a simple one, that even an idiot can tie it.”
“Yes, I have seen it done. Osbaldeston, and it only goes round the neck once,” answered Harris in measured tones, trying to conceal how much he wished he could tie the cravat tightly enough to choke his employer.
“Then try. It is important that I present a fine appearance, as we are going to Lady Dalrymple’s soiree. A simple cravat would not be my choice, but as time is running out, and I have no valet…” Sir Walter shook his head, with a martyred expression.
Elizabeth remained silent, Harris concentrated, and this fifth piece of white linen was painstakingly formed into the correct shape. Great beads of sweat stood out on the butler’s forehead.
“That will do, that will do. Heaven help us, what a cravat! Well, help me on with my waistcoat, and then you may go. At least,” he consoled himself, “I still have a good waistcoat. There is nothing wrong with that, I should hope.”
“Dear me, no indeed, father. There is not another gentleman in Bath with so elegant a one, or who can wear it better. How is my gown, do you think? I am afraid Sally has not dressed my hair the most becoming way.”
Sir Walter looked her up and down closely, and pursed his lips. “I wish I could say what you want me to, my dear,” he said regretfully. “Your gown is well enough; it is last season’s, but still in the fashion. Your hair, however…dear, dear.”
Elizabeth bit her lip. “Are the curls all wrong? There is not time to have Sally do it again.”
“No, they will do. It is…oh my dear, it is that I perceive a touch of the grey, at your temples.”
Elizabeth ran to the glass and frantically began pulling down some little curls in front, to hide the offending silver hairs.
“Come, come, there is no time for primping. It will not show by candle-light, but you might try a…a darkening lotion, tomorrow.”
Harris discreetly backed out of the room, carrying all the discarded cravats, and other pieces of clothing the father and daughter had strewn over the floor.
Sir Walter “tsked” again.
“He is an inferior article, my dear,” he told Elizabeth. “Quite the most miserable creature I have ever had the misfortune to employ. And to have only such a man, and the cook, and a couple of maids, and the footman…what a come-down it is.”
“Of course you feel it. I know I do.”
“I only hope Lady Dalrymple will not observe any thing wanting in our appearance. And to think we must enter her drawing-room all alone. All our friends have deserted us. If you are not rich, in Bath as much as in London, you are nothing.”
“I know, Father. Have I not sat at breakfast, these last ten days, quite alone? Of course Anne was never of any use, but she was at least able to help direct the servants, when I wanted to be doing something else.”
“To be sure, Anne was never any thing particular to look at, but she did present a lady-like appearance enough, which was some slight help when making our entrance into parties of an evening. Her husband too – quite a handsome man, that Captain Wentworth. I am never ashamed to stand beside him, the two of us together do catch every eye, I have observed.”
After assuring him this was true, and that Captain Wentworth by no means attracted the larger portion of attention, Elizabeth added, “And now that Lady Russell has gone back to Kellynch-lodge, we are quite abandoned. “
They were in the carriage by this time, and Elizabeth was settling her velvet cloak about her, thankful for the darkness that concealed what she very much feared was a touch of moth, when Sir Walter remembered something.
“But we really are entirely without a companion, now. I know Mrs. Clay went back into the country to see about her children, but I should have thought she might have returned by now. Have you heard nothing?”
“No, not a word. It is very odd.”
“Well, what on earth can be keeping her? Does she not know that we are being left to ourselves? Why, Mr. Elliot has not called in an age, either.”
“I noticed he has not,” answered Elizabeth tightly.
“No one cares about us. We are left to ourselves, barely able to live as a baronet and his daughter ought to do. It is mortifying, and I am sure our invitations are less, too. However, perhaps Anne will start to have at-homes, and invite us. I shall be quite insulted if she does not.”
“Beholden to a younger sister! Pretty preferment!” snorted Elizabeth.
“Do not think of it in that way, my dear. The Wentworths may remain in Bath for some time longer, before they put to sea, and you never know that they may be in the way of introducing you to some good company.”
“Better than the Dalrymples? I think not. Anne’s whole circle now is nothing but dirty sailors. I have seen them.” Thinking of the Harvilles and Benwick, Elizabeth shuddered.
Sir Walter nodded. “There is something to what you say. Well, here we are. Ah, Lady Dalrymple, now, can afford to do every thing right. Here is a footman, quite properly come to hand you out of the carriage. And a groom to take the horses round. Very nice, very nice.”
“Oh, I do hope we can ever live so well again,” Elizabeth sighed.
“Depend on it, my dear, we will. You are still very handsome, and when Mr. Elliot comes back from town…”
Elizabeth smiled sadly. “I fear his attentions are at an end.”
“Oh, surely not. He knows what is due to the family. Now, smile, Elizabeth, as we enter the grand hall. Remember to say, ‘Brush!’ It relaxes the cheek muscles. You must appear to be enjoying yourself, you know.”
“Yes; to be sure, we can enjoy tonight, at least. Lady Dalrymple always serves a fine table, that is some comfort.”
“Yes, my dear. Be very sure to eat fully; then we do not have to order any thing else later. Meat is so dear now. I don’t know how I am to pay the butcher’s last bill.”
Sir Walter shook his head ruefully, and gave one nervous adjustment to his cravat, which gleamed white in the darkness. The grand house was lit from within by a blazon of candles, and they shone on his handsome face as he ushered his daughter inside. “Brush!” they both said, together.
Want to refresh your memory with Jane’s Austen’s original work? Read Persuasion on Austen variations HERE.