“There had been three alternatives, London, Bath or another house in the country.” Persuasion: Chapter Two
A decision has been made: the Elliots are to quit Kellynch Hall and seek an establishment elsewhere, and the Hall is to be let to another. Lady Russell and Anne Eliot discuss where the family should go:
Anne’s head ached. The interminable debate between her father and sister over where they should go upon quitting Kellynch had continued over evening supper and had been taken up again with as much speed as their cutlery as they broke their fast the following morning. Overriding Mr Shepherd’s suggestion of Harrowgate, her father had soon settled in favour of London and, almost choking upon her food in her haste to speak, her eldest sister quickly added her approbation for this scheme.
A further visit from Mr Shepherd later that morning, however, seemed to bring a little more sense to the proceedings, and Sir Walter was soon considering his advisor’s recommendation of Bath, a place where Mr Shepherd felt the family could live with far more consequence and at less expense than in Town. The latter benefit seemed destined to leave no impression upon the gentleman, yet the appeal of the former struck Sir Walter immediately, and Elizabeth quickly echoed his sentiments. As either choice remained equally unpalatable to Anne and she doubted her opinion would be of any more interest than it generally was, she excused herself from the room.
Walking quickly along the hallway she made her way out of a side door, pausing on the terrace to draw in a welcome breath of fresh air before stepping onto the gravelled walk bordering the lawns below. She made her way slowly along the path, her gaze taking in the beauty of the borders, now in full summer bloom, and inhaling with pleasure the heady perfume of the roses. The rose beds at Kellynch had been the late Lady Elliot’s one indulgence; she had tended them with such pleasure, and the estate gardeners had continued to cherish them in her memory – but who would care for them henceforth?
Oh how could she bear it, to leave her home behind? Heavy at heart, she turned about and stared at the house where it loomed before her: tall, immensely handsome despite its age, the malfunctioning roof tiles and draughty casements invisible to the eye under the brilliant sunshine gracing its golden walls. Then, she frowned: was it such a hardship to forego?
So much of the inside of the house evoked sad memories – her mother’s chamber had lain silent and empty for fourteen summers, the small sitting room where she had taught Anne her first letters and later awoken a shared love of poetry in her remained a melancholy place, despite the years lengthening since her passing. As for the year six… a brief spasm passed through Anne’s breast as the old memories poured in unbidden.
Captain Wentworth had never been welcomed over the threshold of Kellynch Hall except by herself. Her distaste for the drawing room she had overcome in time, though she could not pass the windows fronting upon the main ride without recalling her anxious wait for him on the morning he sought her father’s blessing.
The parlour where she had awaited the outcome of the interview evoked painful memories, for she could still recall being held close by Frederick, feeling so loved by him when he finally came to her. Such happiness as they had had, despite its brief duration, was not easily forsaken… their conversation about the cottage in the country where they had talked of raising their family haunted her when she was in the parlour, reduced to nothing but a shattered dream.
And despite the passage of time, Anne could not enter her father’s study without hesitating upon the threshold, her eye drawn to the chair into which she had fallen, distraught and broken at ending all her hopes of happiness, Frederick’s cold air and countenance and his retreating footsteps her last abiding memory of him.
Unwilling to look at the house further, she turned her back and continued along the path, relishing the warmth of the sun on her cold skin, slowing her pace as she neared an opening in the stone wall to peer down towards the more formal gardens. Beyond, the sweep of undulating Somerset countryside rolled in all directions from the boundary of Kellynch’s grounds, dotted here and there with sheep amidst patches of grassland and aged trees, their branches stirring gently in the summer breeze.
She glanced over towards the stretch of ancient hedging which bordered two sides of the formal gardens, her eye seeking the roughly made arch carved in the hedge’s sturdy branches. Beyond lay her favourite place, a grove where she often lost herself in memories of a happier time.
Oft had she strolled in the shrubbery there with Frederick, and in that very place he had offered her his hand, his love, his future. It was something no one could take from her, this memory, and she would go there to retrieve it in times of need, close her eyes and savour the moment of a time when she had felt safe, secure and most of all, beloved, a moment so sweet, so cherished, and she knew – no matter whose feet trod that path in the centuries to come – the grove would remain forever hers and Frederick’s.
Here was the hardship, where every corner turned revealed yet another dearly-loved place once walked with such joy, her arm tucked securely within another, her heart and mind full of the excitement of love, of romance, of the future.
With a start, Anne turned around and saw Lady Russell standing on the terrace, and shaking aside her introspection, she waved and began to walk towards her.
“My dear girl!” Hands outstretched, Lady Russell had reached her and, taking the lady’s hands, Anne squeezed them lightly, giving a small, self-deprecating smile as she met her friend’s concerned gaze.
“Forgive me, Lady Russell. I was not aware of the passage of time.”
“Nonsense, my dear. There is no need for apology.” Lady Russell’s gaze became more serious. “This pains you – how could it not? I am no fool, Anne; I see how it pulls at your heart to consider Kellynch must be forsaken.”
“But whither shall we go? Father seemed set upon Town this morning, but how is his loose pocket to be tamed with such temptation on hand?” Anne looked pleadingly at Lady Russell. “I should so dearly love to remain in Somersetshire. Could you not suggest the benefit to him of our taking a smaller property in the neighbourhood, thus retaining the closeness of Kellynch and the family at Upper Cross and be able to continue to enjoy our intimacy there?”
Lady Russell looked, if at all possible, even more solemn and taking Anne by the hand she led her to a nearby bench.
“You must think rationally, my dear. How would it be for your father in such circumstances? Made a tenant where once he was landlord!”
“But if we took a smaller house on our own estate, he would be beholden to none but himself!”
Shaking her head, Lady Russell patted her absent-mindedly on the hand.
“You know of the intent to lease Kellynch to another, for the income is essential if your father is to ever settle his debts and recover his financial standing. It would only add further insult if, in addition to being removed from the family seat, he had to observe another take his place. Further, would you have your father, once lord of his own manor, reduced to paying rent to a former neighbour upon whom he has long looked down and probably deigned to even have dine at his table?”
Anne met her friend’s serious gaze firmly. “A decision more likely grounded upon his ruddy complexion or sparse hair than his position in society, as well you know, Lady Russell!”
“Dear child,” the lady shook her head. “It is not sound; you know it is not.”
Anne sighed. “Of course it is not sound – but it does not signify I must only wish for sensible things.”
“The sensible thing,” continued her friend, “would be for a removal to Bath.”
“But I dislike it so!”
“Nonsense, Anne; you only think you do.”
Shaking her head, Anne said nothing, allowing her gaze to drift over the well-loved garden, the hollyhocks rocking gently in the breeze, bees buzzing over the lavender bushes and clusters of daisies and lilies all turning their faces to the sun for approval. Who would be admiring their blooms next summer?
She swallowed to ease a sudden tightness in her throat. “I shall miss Kellynch so very much.”
“So shall I miss your being here.” Lady Russell placed a gentle hand on Anne’s arm, and she turned to face her. “It will be a sad day indeed when you leave, my dear. But there! You see the benefit if Sir Walter favours Bath? You may make as much or as little stay with me as you wish, for you can call Kellynch Lodge your home in the warmer months and you know I always spend the winter months in Bath!”
Lady Russell rose from her seat and dusted down her skirts. “Come, let us return to the house and see if this matter can be resolved.”
Attempting to conceal her sadness, Anne got to her feet. If her father could be persuaded away from London – and she had little reason to doubt Lady Russell’s powers of persuasion – they were destined for Bath, the one place she least wished to go.
With one last glance in the direction of the grove, its arched entrance just visible from where she stood, Anne suppressed a sigh and turned reluctantly towards the house, her head lowered and her heart heavy once again with the pain of impending loss.
There had been three alternatives, London, Bath or another house in the country. All Anne’s wishes had been for the latter. A small house in their own neighbourhood, where they might still have Lady Russell’s society, still be near Mary, and still have the pleasure of sometimes seeing the lawns and groves of Kellynch, was the object of her ambition. But the usual fate of Anne attended her, in having something very opposite from her inclination fixed on. She disliked Bath, and did not think it agreed with her – and Bath was to be her home. Persuasion, Chapter Two.