William Walter Elliot esq. is the heir presumptive of Sir Walter Elliot’s baronetcy and of Sir Walter’s property, Kellynch Hall, as Sir Walter has only daughters. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, has, since her girlhood, considered William to be the most suitable possible husband for her—he is of the proper rank and will be a baronet, just like her father. Who could be more proper, and what could be more delightful than for Elizabeth to take over her late mother’s place as mistress of Kellynch?
April 20, 1802
William Elliot hovered near the refreshment table at Almack’s, bored nearly to tears by the simpering young misses preening and posturing at The Marriage Mart. He would prefer to be drinking with his friends or trying out that new gambling hell he heard of this week, but his empty pockets made a wealthy wife a must before he could indulge in such entertainments. He was not too particular about her looks or breeding, as long as she had a large fortune that was fully her own and not shared among a quiver full of sisters, or encumbered with trusts that limited his access to the money.
He had already danced with several of the wallflowers, hunched next to their avid chaperones and even at the beginning of the season knowing that their plain faces would condemn them to a Season consisting of a long string of chairs with a view of the dance floor…at least until the beauties were all engaged and out of the way. William had enjoyed the grateful blushes of these pathetic girls…he was so kind to give these ugly ducklings his gracious condescension! Unfortunately, he had quickly determined that none of these depressing debutantes were the only chick in their family nest and, although most had dowries adequate to buy them a husband (eventually), they did not come with a dowry sufficient to make them worth his time.
He bowed gracefully to the last of the wallflowers as he returned her to the harpy who was being paid to bring her out and strolled around the edge of the dance floor again. A gentle tug on his exquisitely tailored sleeve caused him to turn, to find his friend Smith giving him a warning look.
“Elliot! Your cousin Sir Walter is here with his eldest daughter!”
“Truly? I was hoping to avoid them this Season. I thought my vast indifference to his letters would give him a hint. My cousin’s self-consequence is unbelievable!”
“Yes, I know…do you think I have forgotten all of your comments about Sir Walter after he wrote to you after his wife died?”
“I suppose not.” William smiled sardonically. “His letters were exquisite sources of entertainment, were they not?”
“Truthfully, I don’t recall them that well. What is it you object to in your cousin? Would it not be useful to be familiar with the property you will inherit and be in the good graces of your cousin? There is some property that is not entailed, is there not?”
” Very true, but my cousin, judging by past experience, is a pompous ass who talks about nothing but how important he is. He is a fool and I don’t need him. I will inherit Kellynch with or without his approval!”
“I don’t know about him, but his daughter is quite attractive.” William turned in the direction Smith was indicating with a tip of his head and saw a tall, slender, stylish woman of about seventeen or eighteen years. She was dressed very much a là mode and it suited her…yes, it suited her very well.
Before he could turn back to Smith he was stopped by Lady Sefton, one of the chaperones. “Mr. Elliot! Sir Walter Elliot would like to be introduced to you! Mr. William Elliot, Sir Walter Elliot, and, of course, Miss Elliot.” Unable to avoid the meeting, William gave them each his most elegant bow.
“Delighted Sir Walter. Miss Elliot.” Sir Walter immediately launched into expressions of delight upon meeting his heir. His glance covered every inch of William, from his perfectly curled coiffure to the mirror-like shine of his dancing pumps, and he clearly preened himself upon having such a well-looking heir. Within 5 minutes William was heartily bored with his cousin and felt his eyes turning glassy. He opened his mouth to excuse himself for a fabricated dance promised to another lady, but before he could open his lips Sir Walter turned to his daughter.
“I am sure, Mr. Elliot, you would prefer to dance with Miss Elliot than stand around while others enjoy the dance.”
Sir Walter gave his daughter a none too subtle nudge in the back and when she eagerly took another step towards him he could not avoid the encounter. And, he was not sure he wanted to. Miss Elliot was certainly a lovely young woman. Why was she not yet married? He bowed to the inevitable and offered his cousin his arm. Miss Elliot was a graceful dancer, without a doubt. She was confident and able to carry on a conversation without being too shy or overly bold. Unfortunately, it took William only a few minutes to realize that his cousin had a rapacious eye and seemed to view him as her rightful prey.
When the dance ended William bowed and excused himself as quickly as he could without rudeness and dragged Smith out of Almack’s.
“Lord! What a bore Sir Walter is! And he seems to think I should be falling all over to make his acquaintance! He is even worse than I thought from his letters!” Smith looked at him thoughtfully.
“Do you know what her dowry is? Perhaps she might be worth cultivating.”
” Lord no, Smith! I checked Sir Walter out when he first started hinting about meeting…he hasn’t a sou to his name! He can barely keep up on his servants’ pay, let alone dower his daughters. He made it clear back then (although I’m not sure he realized how much he gave away) that he considers a marriage between Miss Elliot and myself to be the perfect way to ensure that his daughters are not left in the street when he dies!” William shook his head in disgust. “The only things of worth that he possesses are Kellynch Hall and his title…and I would sell the title for £ 50 if I could get it! As far as Kellynch…it is out in the wilds of Somerset, miles from any refined society of any kind. The minute it is mine I will sell off every bit that is not entailed and do whatever I can to make a few pounds out of it.”
The next morning William received an invitation from Sir Walter to a dinner party at their house in town. He sent his regrets, claiming a previous engagement, but two or three times over the next week Sir Walter sent other invitations, which William Elliot also declined. “Lord,” he thought. “I’m going to run out of excuses if he doesn’t leave London soon!”
As he dodged around London, attempting to avoid the Elliots and enjoy himself cheaply while trying to find a suitably wealthy young lady to marry, he found himself with Smith one night at a public masquerade. William always enjoyed hobnobbing with the cruder elements of society and a masquerade was always a good place to meet ladies of less than the highest virtue. He had his eye on one with hair like dead grass and a dress that was far too tight to hold all of her charms, and was just about to go make her acquaintance when Smith came back from the refreshment room, dragging a couple of drunken Cits and a blushing young woman.
“Elliot! Come meet my new friends!” He rattled off their names, then paused. “And this, Elliot, is Miss Agnes Chandler. Miss Chandler, Mr. Elliot.” Mr. Elliot bowed and cocked an eyebrow at his friend. He knew that Smith would not bother him with an introduction unless these Cits had something he wanted. The woman had some pock marks and the type of face that looked old at 20 and did not change much over the years. Her plain features were not what he first took note of, however. Her gown was layers of fine silk embroidered with silver and pearls. Her pearls looked genuine…at least in the dim light of the masquerade, and there were multiple twists of them at her neck.
“It is my pleasure Miss Chandler.” She blushed again and took his offered hand. “May I have this dance Miss Chandler?” She accepted and he offered his arm.
Before they left for the dance floor Smith grabbed his ear and shouted into it, to be heard over the noise of the music and the roisterers, “Her father owns most of the cotton mills in Manchester…and she’s an only child.” Mr. Elliot’s eyes widened and a genuine smile spread over his face. “Well done, Smith!” By the end of the evening Miss Chandler was hanging on his arm, her face wreathed in smiles that revealed her large, rather yellow teeth. She had revealed that her two escorts were employed by her father and outside of office hours they were required to guard their employer’s daughter and protect her from fortune hunters. Miss Chandler herself was eager to know him better and told him all the engagements she had in the coming week.
In addition to the prospects revealed by Miss Chandler, Mr. Elliot was relieved to hear from a friend that Sir Walter and Miss Elliot had returned to Somerset. “That is one worry out of the way, Smith! Now I can concentrate on Miss Chandler!” Elliot was able to arrange an invitation to a dinner party Miss Chandler and her doting father were to be at. An introduction was performed and he worked his charm on her father, a stout man in elegant clothes, but with callouses on his hands. Elliot suppressed a sneer at his crude appearance and made himself treat Mr. Chandler with the utmost respect. Things were looking up…