Lady Russell dismissed her maid and sank down on the chair at her dressing table. Another curl, another tuck, none of it would make her feel any better. None of those things could alter the dreadful conversation she faced this all too beautiful morning. If only the weather better matched her mood. Somehow that would make this easier, just a little.
She opened a small drawer and removed a small framed sketch. From the confines of the oval gilt frame, Lady Elliot stared up at her. Oh, to return to the day when she had sketched the likeness of her dearest friend. It should be a mother, not a god mother who had the responsibility of such a discussion.
What kind of friend would she be to mother, or daughter, if she failed to draw attention to the very great danger looming on the horizon, like a storm cloud waiting to burst? Sir Walter should do this duty—he should have already done it! Was it possible for him to sink any lower in her esteem than he already had? Until just a few days ago, it was impossible to consider. Yet, indeed he had managed it.
Was it not a father’s role to consider the character and the prospects of a daughter’s suitor? Indeed all genteel folk would agree. Those same folks would hardly consider Sir Walter truly genteel. His wife certainly had not.
She sighed and placed the portrait on the dressing table beside her hairbrush. She rose and walked to the window. Lady Elliot had always loved the sunshine, even as Anne did now.
Truly, what kind of man was this Wentworth? None here knew him or could vouch for his character. Indeed, he had been away at sea so long, none of her own connections knew him nor could find any who knew of him. He might be everything he appeared to be. But just as likely, and far more disturbing, he might not be.
She pressed the spot between her eyes that often relived her headache. Of course, today, it had no effect.
Wentworth’s past might be quite dark. It was a well know fact that men could, and did, join the navy to escape what they might want to forget. This whole ordeal might be unnecessary if only someone could vouch for his character. What did they know for certain about this man who had offered for Anne? He spent what money he had freely enough—almost as freely as Sir Walter himself. Indeed that was a glorious recommendation of his character. Anne certainly did not deserve the same grief her dear mother had endured.
She twisted the edge of the curtain in her fingers. Sir Walter had not been a cruel husband, only a foolish one. That, though, brought enough grief.
Anne was such a sensible girl. She deserved a man of good sense, even one of limited connections was better than a fool. Was there anything sensible about a man who came into a neighborhood and so quickly entered into an infatuation with the daughter of a baronet? Did Anne realize Sir Walter had done much the same with Lady Elliot? The grief of a hasty engagement and marriage should not be repeated in another generation.
She dropped the bit of curtain and paced to the other side of the room. Anne should not be so unhappy, not for the world. A movement outside the window caught her eye. A young woman, the wife of one of the cottagers on her estate, carried a basket of washing and mending back to her home where two young children awaited her.
Heaven forbid! That too could be Anne! Sir Walter already declared he would give her nothing—how could he do that to his daughter? She wrung her hands. Dreadful, horrible, vain, selfish creature! Without his help they would only have naval pay, pittance that it was, and whatever was left of his prize money to live on.
Poor Anne could be living in some dreadful broken down fourth-rate town house, shared with another tenant, possible several, alone while Wentworth was at sea.
She sucked in a ragged breath. The only thing that could make the scene worse was the possibility Anne could be in such a situation and pregnant. With no servants to help her, it could jeopardize her health. She might not even survive!
Her precious god-daughter, alone, in the throes of travail, unable to even afford a midwife? She grabbed the back of the closest chair.
Perhaps it would all be all right. Perhaps they would have enough to live on, even if not in the comfort to which Anne was accustomed, it might be enough. But—
Her stomach knotted and her knees quivered. How many thousand—ten of thousands!—of men had already been lost to Napoleon and the sea? How many did she know who had sailed off and never returned? Many—possibly most never returned.
That Wentworth had survived this long was a testament to his hardiness and good fortune, but it was no assurance he would return home again. If the worst happened, then what for Anne? What would there be for her, and quite possibly a child, to live from? Certainly not enough. And Sir Walter, if he gave her nothing at marriage, would he support her and a child with Wentworth’s connections?
No, not Sir Walter. He would turn Anne out to the mercy Wentworth’s family for support. Who knew them or anything about them? They might well put Anne out in the hedgerows to starve!
No, no, no! This was not to be!
She could not let Anne take such chances with her future. Though she might dread this conversion, better have it and protect her dearest friend’s daughter, the closest thing she herself had to a daughter, from nearly certain disaster. Even if her husband had no connections, or a gentlemanly profession, or, dare she even think it, an honest trade—anything that might secure a home and a future would be preferable to this unknown naval officer who was more likely to ruin Anne’s future than to bring her any lasting happiness.
She straightened her skirts and picked up her hat and spencer. Best summon the carriage now and get this dreadful errand accomplished.
Please, let Anne not hate her for it. Sometimes, motherly love could be so very hard to bear.