Lady Russell, after consulting with Anne, has come up with a plan for retrenchment for the Elliots and Mr. Shepherd sees an end to his problems…
Mr. Shepherd was in a quandary. His primary employer, Sir Walter Elliot, was in dire financial straits and Mr. Shepherd’s hints about retrenchment had been to no avail. Sir Walter did not have to deal with the creditors who knocked on Mr. Shepherd’s door daily. Mr. Shepherd disliked contention…and offending his most lucrative client was no part of his career plans!
As he sat and debated what to do with Sir Walter, the mail arrived…and there was a letter from Lady Russell. Apparently, Lady Russell and Miss Anne Elliot had come up with a plan for the retrenchment of the Elliot fortunes and Lady Russell wanted him to be present to support her when she presented the plan to Sir Walter and Miss Elliot.
“After carefully considering all the points at which I think Sir Walter can make changes, and reviewing them with Anne, I have come up with a plan of retrenchment for Sir Walter, in an attempt to help him out of his pecuniary difficulties. Anne has encouraged me to make the plan very strict, as she thought it would be no more difficult to convince her father and sister to agree to a strict regimen than a more gentle change…and a strict regimen would eliminate the debts at a faster rate, so they would not have to suffer as long. I plan to present my suggestions to Sir Walter and Miss Elliot on Tuesday and I am hoping that you, Mr. Shepherd, can be there to make your own suggestions.”
At last! The painful choices would be suggested by Lady Russell! Mr. Shepherd quickly sent off a note agreeing to be at Kellynch Hall at her suggested time and rescheduled an appointment with another, less important, client.
When the day arrived, and Mr. Shepherd arrived just as Lady Russell was walking up the path to Kellynch Hall. He had never seen the vigorous Lady Russell look so reluctant to arrive at Kellynch Hall. Her expression was determined, but she looked…hesitant would be a good description. Mr. Shepherd smiled to himself. He had always admired Lady Russell’s intelligence and she clearly had as much understanding of the difficulties of convincing Sir Walter and his eldest daughter to retrench as Mr. Shepherd could wish.
The two visitors were announced at the door of the drawing room and greeted benignly by Sir Walter and coolly by Elizabeth. After a few common courtesies Lady Russell brought up the reason for her early visit.
“I know that you are experiencing some financial embarrassments, Sir Walter, from what you have told me, and I have come up with some suggestions for retrenchments.”
She cleared her throat and Mr. Shepherd noticed that she did not use Miss Anne Elliot’s name in regard to the retrenchment…Lady Russell clearly knew that attaching her name to the program would not make it more palatable to either of the other Elliots. He had noted before how little regard her family had for Miss Anne’s opinions.
Lady Russell continued, “After our last conversation about this I sat down and carefully thought over what you could do to retrench…as so many of the gentry have had to do in recent years with the costs of the wars with Napoleon causing rises in the taxes and all.”
Mr. Shepherd was fairly sure that the wars had not had any effect on the Elliots’ finances, but thought that Lady Russell putting Sir Walter on a par with others would make him feel more amenable to retrenchment, and was a clever move on her part.
“Here are the recommendations that I have come up with. This plan would clear you of debt in seven years, Sir Walter. Only seven years and you would be free and clear!” She smiled brightly as she handed him the paper which held her recommendations.
Mr. Shepherd felt his stomach turn over as his employer looked over the sheet. Did he bring any of his soda mints? He watched Sir Walter carefully. Would he agree to the changes? Would he be offended that his representative had given his tacit support by being there?
It did not take long before Sir Walter’s face became pink, then lobster red. Before he even had time to finish reading the outline of the plan, he threw the paper onto the table in front of him. “You must be joking, Lady Russell! How could we possibly make these changes?”
Elizabeth, who had picked up the sheet and read it, turned to their friend with glare. “If this is a jest, Lady Russell, it is not terribly amusing! No horses, no parties, no trips to London for The Season? You must be mad to even suggest such a thing!” She turned to her father. “Father, we could not even keep up the appearance of our rank with such ridiculous restrictions!”
Sir Walter nodded sagely at his favorite daughter, his high color fading somewhat as he acknowledged Elizabeth’s wisdom. “It cannot even be considered, Lady Russell! To live like a, a lawyer or a tradesman! It is not to be borne!”
Lady Russell glanced at Mr. Shepherd to see his reaction to this comment, but the lawyer did not even notice the scorn…he was accustomed to having the gentry look down on a man who worked for a living. He made sure his expression showed only sympathy and concern.
Elizabeth turned to Lady Russell, tears of anger in her eyes. “How could you even suggest such a thing! Are you trying to humiliate us? To bring us down in society…is this to make your rank above ours? I cannot think of any other reason that a supposed friend of ours would make such suggestions!”
Sir Walter temporized, not wishing to offend Lady Russell, who had many friends in society. “I do not think our friend is trying to humiliate us, my dear Elizabeth. She is just…ill-informed in her suggestions.” He turned to Lady Russell, a simpering smile on his face. “My dear Lady Russell…we could not possible consider your plan. We have responsibilities to our name which cannot be overlooked.” He glanced at Mr. Shepherd, who nodded his agreement. “I would rather leave Kellynch than live here like paupers, counting every penny, no servants, no dinners. It would be disgraceful!”
Mr. Shepherd looked up sharply at this comment. “To tell you truth, Sir Walter, since you bring it up, I think that leaving Kellynch and leasing it to an eligible tenant would be the best plan you could come up with! At Kellynch you have responsibilities and traditions which must not be changed, but if you lived elsewhere you could decide your modes of life and how much you might entertain. You could live in Bath, or Harrowgate, for instance, at much less expense and still be among the leaders of society!”
Sir Walter’s red face faded back to his normal color, but he had a sour look on his face that made Mr. Shepherd tug at his collar. At least he did not reject the idea out of hand. Time to retreat and let his client get used to the idea.
He rose and bowed. “I think you have come up with an excellent plan, Sir Walter! I knew you would be able to figure out the best way eliminate the problem! Please let me know what I can do to help implement it.”