Mrs. Clay looked around her room in Camden Place with satisfaction. It was lofty and elegantly appointed…far, far more elegantly appointed than the small bedroom she shared with her children at her father’s house! Who would trade Chinese silk wallpaper for faded paper and chintz curtains? Not to mention the annoyance of having to sleep in the same room with her restless children, one of whom talked in his sleep!
She did not give a thought to the difficulties with which her parents must deal having the full care of her rambunctious and, she admitted it, ill-behaved offspring, but it was not her fault that their father was a worthless, self-indulgent cad who would abandon his wife and children and leave them without any means of support! It was not to be borne! Besides, this trip to Bath was an investment in their future…she was sacrificing her time with her children to find an opportunity for a long term answer to their financial dilemma.
Perhaps she could meet someone in Bath who would not mind a wife without money, consequence, or background…and who had a couple of small encumbrances. But then, if the encumbrances were the only problem, her parents would surely continue to care for them…after all, a nursery maid does not cost much, and without her there there was plenty of room in the bedroom for the nursemaid to sleep. Her father would be very happy to see here settled permanently, so he would not have to worry about her or his grandchildren after he was gone.
An older gentlemen would be ideal…one who would enjoy the sound of children around the house and appreciate someone to deal with the housekeeping, ordering the meals, etc., and make his life very comfortable. She paused in her unpacking, holding a pile of shifts in her hands. But would she be able to find someone like that? Perhaps she should dress in grey and lavender and let them think she was a widow…not in black as if she was freshly mourning a beloved husband, but half-mourning. A kind woman with sadness behind her, but bravely facing the future alone, her friends in the gentry trying to cheer her up.
She sat down on her soft, beautiful four poster bed and smoothed the silk coverlet. Perhaps she would have to take a position as a housekeeper and then cajole her employer into marrying her. It had certainly happened before, and if she could find someone of the tradesman class, with some real money, mind you, the social divide between them would not be great…after all, her father was a lawyer and highly respectable. Not at all a man to disgust a wealthy tradesman…and the tradesman might think that her father would provide legal services for him for free!
But how would she get to know a tradesman when the Elliots would avoid them like they were plague-ridden? She could certainly do as many errands for her friends as possible and become acquainted with all the tradesmen in the area, but how much time would she have to chat with a busy tradesman who had other customers to care for? Perhaps doing her errands very early in the morning or just before closing, when trade has died off…
She sighed with pleasure, then paused again. But what of the Elliots? They certainly provided her with the means to become acquainted with a higher class of man…perhaps even a gentleman! She pictured herself as the doyenne of a house similar to that in Camden Place…dressed in silk and with real pearls around her neck, instead of the glass beads colored with fish scales she wore!
When her husband had purchased them for her, back when they were courting, she had been fooled into thinking that they were real pearls. She would not make that mistake again! She would have an honest man if she had to lie through her teeth to get him!
But what about Sir Walter? She had overheard him criticizing her sandy coloring and her tooth that was out of line, but he seemed to be softening in his attitude, mostly because of Miss Elliot’s defense of her. It was true that her defense consisted mostly of comments about her low birth and how she could not help being less perfect than the Elliots, but still, it was a start, and Miss Elliot seemed to be unable to be happy without her around to purr, and bow, and grovel and make her feel like a queen.
At this point Miss Elliot would undoubtedly object to her father marrying a tradesman’s daughter, but she and her father were so oblivious to Mrs. Clay’s objectives in coming to Bath with them that it was quite possible that they could be won over.
The Elliots’ financial position was another consideration. She knew from her father that the Elliots were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, hence the leasing out of Kellynch and the move to Bath.
But, if she did not meet someone with more money, Sir Walter, for all his stupidity, would be a catch for a solicitor’s daughter, and there was all that property at Kellynch to provide income. She could certainly make the household much more economical if it was under her hand…including cutting off the extravagant Miss Elliot.
Certainly, she would have a much better chance without Miss Anne around. That Miss Anne, for all her softness and compliance, had a sharp and understanding intelligence and she kept a close eye on Mrs. Clay when she was visiting Miss Elliot. It quite put Mrs. Clay off her feed when she could feel those cow’s eyes on her while taking tea with Miss Elliot!
Well, Miss Anne had been called to her sister’s house at Uppercross to care for that whiny Mrs. Musgrove, who always fancied herself dying when she had even the mildest indisposition. Miss Elliot had commented on it many times before, but she would not be lured there to nurse her sister, and, in fact, was not requested by Mrs. Musgrove. Even thinking of having the elegant Miss Elliot cooing over a foolish sister was ludicrous!
Undoubtedly, Mrs. Musgrove would find it impossible to get on without her sister to support her flagging spirits, and would make her stay for months. So Mrs. Clay had at least 2 months to wrap Sir Walter (and Miss Elizabeth) tightly around her finger.
A gentle tap at the door caught her attention. “Come in!” Mrs. Clay called melodiously, and Miss Elliot stepped in.
“My dear Mrs. Clay! You should have had one of the maids help you unpack!”
“You know I don’t want to be a bother, my dear Miss Elliot…I’m only here as a companion for you. I don’t expect to be treated like a part of the family!”
“Don’t be so foolish, my dear Mrs. Clay! You are as welcome here as my own sister…even more so. And you are a guest not an employee! Such needless scruples you have, my dear! Now come, tea is ready and my father is asking for you.”
Mrs. Clay smiled. “Your dear father is so kind…and so welcoming to a stranger.” She dumped the shifts into the drawer and followed her friend out.