The Elliots are in trouble and Lady Russell wants to help.
Why was she forever having these difficult discussions with Anne? A god mother should anticipate her duties, enjoy pleasant intimacies with her goddaughter. Recently those moments seemed fewer and farther between, over shadowed by difficult and challenging issues that should have been a mother’s realm.
But with no Lady Elliot, who else was there to manage such unpleasant burdens? Only for the love of her friend, her dear, dear friend and her only deserving daughter did she persist.
She rearranged the tea table one more time. Anne would be there soon and their conversation must not be overheard by servants, even trusted servants. Not that any of them would be surprised by the contents of their conversation, they had probably already discussed it among themselves and with the staff of Kellynch. To be sure, every merchant of the village knew and probably most of London—no secrets remained. Still, the impropriety of it all and respect for the Elliot family required discretion.
The butler opened the door and ushered Anne into the parlor.
“Lady Russell!” Anne rushed toward her, hands extended.
Dear girl, always so warm and enthusiastic away from the shrewish eyes of her father and sister. Her eyes were worn, colored with disillusionment beyond her years. How unfair, when Anne worked so hard to prevent it all.
“I am so happy to see you.” She took Anne’s hands and kissed her cheek. “Do sit down. I had cook prepare your favorite sandwiches.” It was unlikely that the cook at Kellynch even knew Anne’s favorites, much less prepared them.
“What have I done to deserve such favor?” Anne laughed and removed her bonnet. Her smile was weary, the way it usually was these days. The joy had gone out of it some time ago and never returned.
A pang of guilt twinge in Lady Russell’s side. How was she to have predicted Wentworth’s success much less the lack of another suitable suitor? Now was not the time to indulge self-recriminations.
“Simply coming to keep me company is sufficient.” Lady Russell took her seat. “Did you hear? The Bourne’s are all recovering nicely from their colds. They are fortunate that none of them has taken a turn for the worse.”
“I am glad to hear that. They have suffered too much in the last year.” Anne looked over the table. “Did those clear cakes come from Bond’s?”
“Yes, they did. My cook cannot make them properly. I would purchase them nowhere else.” She poured tea. “Have you been to Bond’s recently?”
Anne looked aside, color rising on her pale cheeks. “No, no I have not.”
“Miss Elliot procures her own marzipan now? However did you convince her?”
“I did not. She…she decided her figure was suffering for taking too much marzipan and now eschews it.” Anne’s decidedly false smile returned.
Lady Russell laid her hand on Anne’s. “You do not need to maintain your façade with me.”
The smile slid from Anne’s face and rest of the mask slowly followed. “Oh, Lady Russell, it was so humiliating! Elizabeth forced me to accompany her and I could do naught be stand there stupidly while she berated first Miss Bond, then her father. They have been nothing but kindness to me, but now…”
“I had heard tell of a bit of a to-do.” To-do was an understatement, but no need to increase Anne’s discomfiture.
Anne rose and took up station at the window. “Then you heard of it in the most polite possible way. I do not understand why my sister and my father find it such an affront that a shopkeep would desire to be paid for their wares. They seem to think the privilege of our patronage alone should be sufficient and they should be thanking us for being seen in their shops!”
“Has this happened—”
“More than once? Absolutely. In fact, it is happening so often lately that I dread going into town anymore. It has been weeks since I last showed my face. Little good it has done as my father’s creditors have now taken to visiting the house. The butler has strict instructions not to allow them in, so they have begun to plague Father’s agent.” Anne dropped her face in her hands.
Lady Russell moved to Anne’s side and embraced her gently.
“It is truly awful. Did you know there have been threats of debtor’s prison? Though he would admit it to no one, Father lives in fear of the magistrate coming to the door. Mr. Shepard does his best to maneuver the apostles, paying a little to each merchant to try to keep them at bay, but I do not know how much longer he can persist. The next quarter day is still six weeks away and the farm has nothing to take to market. The sovereigns will run out soon.”
“I am so sorry.” Lady Russell sighed. “I feared matters had progressed to this point.”
Anne gripped the curtain until her knuckles turned white. “What am I to do? Though Elizabeth is the eldest and has the running of the house in name, all the real work falls to me. I try to walk in my mother’s path and press for economy and moderation in our home, but I am over ruled at every turn.”
“It all falls to you?” The question was pointless, the answer was written in the lines on Anne’s face, still it was right to ask.
“You do not think Elizabeth sullies her hands with such mundane things as household accounts. She does not even truly understand that all her frippery has any cost attached.” Anne released the curtain and began a labored circuit around the room.
“So you are well aware of the expenses?”
“Painfully aware, painfully: new upholstery for the carriage, more new gowns for Elizabeth, a new suit for Father. Have you any idea how many suits he has? Have you any idea of the cost of the food for the last party he held?”
“Actually, I do.”
“He wants to host another next month! A baronet must be seen living as a baronet.” Anne threw her hands in the air.
Had Anne ever demonstrated such agitation? The poor dear had reached the end of herself.
Lady Russell returned to the table, Anne needed the freedom to express herself here since she found it nowhere else. “Since you have mentioned the matter, may I speak freely regarding your families troubles?”
“Certainly. You will be the lone voice of reason I have heard on the matter.”
“There is a great deal of talk about the situation of Sir Walter and of Kellynch in general.”
“It is to be expected.” Anne returned to the table, but did not sit. She gripped the back of the chair as though it might try to run from her.
“Have you considered advising your Father to … retrench?”
“I have considered advising my father of many things, but there seems to be little point in the exercise. If the idea does not come from Elizabeth, then it is not worth hearing. I am dismissed almost as soon as I open my mouth.”
“And you have tried—”
“Every approach I can think of. I have even written him a letter, which he tore up in front of my face, declaring it a disgrace that I should attempt to garner his attention in such a way.” Anne dropped into her chair. It creaked under the weight of her burdens.
“So there is no hope he would accept the notion of retrenching?”
“Truthfully, I do not know. I only know there is no hope of him listening to me.”
Lady Russell tapped steepled fingers to her lips. “Perhaps he might more readily accept it if presented with a choice? A more radical notion would be for your family to quite Kellynch all together and more to a less expensive local—Bath perhaps?”
“You know I hate Bath.”
“I know, but consider, it is still a better alternative than to allow things to remain as they are. And think, a few years in Bath might allow him to pay off his debtors and return to Kellynch. He might even learn moderation—”
Anne shot her a penetrating glare.
“Perhaps not. But still your family would be in a better situation.”
Even more appealing, Anne might encounter an appropriate suitor in the greater society of Bath and be away from her dreadful family all together. That alone would make Bath worthy of consideration.
“How much better? Do you really believe relocation could be the salvation of my family?”
“I do. If you like, we can get some paper and work it out specifically after tea. I think you might be surprised at how much more cheaply one may run a household there.”
“I would like that very much.” Anne massaged her temples. “But even if you are correct, how…”
“If you like, and think it would be useful, I would be happy to help you present the idea to your father.”
Anne’s look of surprise could hardly have been more endearing. “You would?”
“I know it would be very forward and intrusive of me, but the urgency of the matter supersedes all of that. If you think it would help, I would be willing.”
“Father respects your station. You have a better chance to garner his attention than anyone else I can think of.”
“Then let us have our tea, work our numbers, and plan how we shall approach your father.” It was high time that she should be able to offer Anne some relief. Hopefully, Sir Walter would be amenable to their plans.