Anne recollected with pleasure the next morning her promise of going to Mr_mith, meaning that it should engage her from home at the time when Mr Ellio_ould be most likely to call; for to avoid Mr Elliot was almost a firs_bject.
She felt a great deal of good-will towards him. In spite of the mischief o_is attentions, she owed him gratitude and regard, perhaps compassion. Sh_ould not help thinking much of the extraordinary circumstances attendin_heir acquaintance, of the right which he seemed to have to interest her, b_verything in situation, by his own sentiments, by his early prepossession. I_as altogether very extraordinary; flattering, but painful. There was much t_egret. How she might have felt had there been no Captain Wentworth in th_ase, was not worth enquiry; for there was a Captain Wentworth; and be th_onclusion of the present suspense good or bad, her affection would be his fo_ver. Their union, she believed, could not divide her more from other men, than their final separation.
Prettier musings of high-wrought love and eternal constancy, could never hav_assed along the streets of Bath, than Anne was sporting with from Camde_lace to Westgate Buildings. It was almost enough to spread purification an_erfume all the way.
She was sure of a pleasant reception; and her friend seemed this mornin_articularly obliged to her for coming, seemed hardly to have expected her, though it had been an appointment.
An account of the concert was immediately claimed; and Anne's recollections o_he concert were quite happy enough to animate her features and make he_ejoice to talk of it. All that she could tell she told most gladly, but th_ll was little for one who had been there, and unsatisfactory for such a_nquirer as Mrs Smith, who had already heard, through the short cut of _aundress and a waiter, rather more of the general success and produce of th_vening than Anne could relate, and who now asked in vain for severa_articulars of the company. Everybody of any consequence or notoriety in Bat_as well know by name to Mrs Smith.
"The little Durands were there, I conclude," said she, "with their mouths ope_o catch the music, like unfledged sparrows ready to be fed. They never miss _oncert."
"Yes; I did not see them myself, but I heard Mr Elliot say they were in th_oom."
"The Ibbotsons, were they there? and the two new beauties, with the tall Iris_fficer, who is talked of for one of them."
"I do not know. I do not think they were."
"Old Lady Mary Maclean? I need not ask after her. She never misses, I know; and you must have seen her. She must have been in your own circle; for as yo_ent with Lady Dalrymple, you were in the seats of grandeur, round th_rchestra, of course."
"No, that was what I dreaded. It would have been very unpleasant to me i_very respect. But happily Lady Dalrymple always chooses to be farther off; and we were exceedingly well placed, that is, for hearing; I must not say fo_eeing, because I appear to have seen very little."
"Oh! you saw enough for your own amusement. I can understand. There is a sor_f domestic enjoyment to be known even in a crowd, and this you had. You wer_ large party in yourselves, and you wanted nothing beyond."
"But I ought to have looked about me more," said Anne, conscious while sh_poke that there had in fact been no want of looking about, that the objec_nly had been deficient.
"No, no; you were better employed. You need not tell me that you had _leasant evening. I see it in your eye. I perfectly see how the hours passed: that you had always something agreeable to listen to. In the intervals of th_oncert it was conversation.
Anne half smiled and said, "Do you see that in my eye?"
"Yes, I do. Your countenance perfectly informs me that you were in compan_ast night with the person whom you think the most agreeable in the world, th_erson who interests you at this present time more than all the rest of th_orld put together."
A blush overspread Anne's cheeks. She could say nothing.
"And such being the case," continued Mrs Smith, after a short pause, "I hop_ou believe that I do know how to value your kindness in coming to me thi_orning. It is really very good of you to come and sit with me, when you mus_ave so many pleasanter demands upon your time."
Anne heard nothing of this. She was still in the astonishment and confusio_xcited by her friend's penetration, unable to imagine how any report o_aptain Wentworth could have reached her. After another short silence—
"Pray," said Mrs Smith, "is Mr Elliot aware of your acquaintance with me? Doe_e know that I am in Bath?"
"Mr Elliot!" repeated Anne, looking up surprised. A moment's reflection shewe_er the mistake she had been under. She caught it instantaneously; an_ecovering her courage with the feeling of safety, soon added, mor_omposedly, "Are you acquainted with Mr Elliot?"
"I have been a good deal acquainted with him," replied Mrs Smith, gravely,
"but it seems worn out now. It is a great while since we met."
"I was not at all aware of this. You never mentioned it before. Had I know_t, I would have had the pleasure of talking to him about you."
"To confess the truth," said Mrs Smith, assuming her usual air o_heerfulness, "that is exactly the pleasure I want you to have. I want you t_alk about me to Mr Elliot. I want your interest with him. He can be o_ssential service to me; and if you would have the goodness, my dear Mis_lliot, to make it an object to yourself, of course it is done."
"I should be extremely happy; I hope you cannot doubt my willingness to be o_ven the slightest use to you," replied Anne; "but I suspect that you ar_onsidering me as having a higher claim on Mr Elliot, a greater right t_nfluence him, than is really the case. I am sure you have, somehow or other, imbibed such a notion. You must consider me only as Mr Elliot's relation. I_n that light there is anything which you suppose his cousin might fairly as_f him, I beg you would not hesitate to employ me."
Mrs Smith gave her a penetrating glance, and then, smiling, said—
"I have been a little premature, I perceive; I beg your pardon. I ought t_ave waited for official information, But now, my dear Miss Elliot, as an ol_riend, do give me a hint as to when I may speak. Next week? To be sure b_ext week I may be allowed to think it all settled, and build my own selfis_chemes on Mr Elliot's good fortune."
"No," replied Anne, "nor next week, nor next, nor next. I assure you tha_othing of the sort you are thinking of will be settled any week. I am no_oing to marry Mr Elliot. I should like to know why you imagine I am?"
Mrs Smith looked at her again, looked earnestly, smiled, shook her head, an_xclaimed—
"Now, how I do wish I understood you! How I do wish I knew what you were at! _ave a great idea that you do not design to be cruel, when the right momen_ccurs. Till it does come, you know, we women never mean to have anybody. I_s a thing of course among us, that every man is refused, till he offers. Bu_hy should you be cruel? Let me plead for my—present friend I cannot call him, but for my former friend. Where can you look for a more suitable match? Wher_ould you expect a more gentlemanlike, agreeable man? Let me recommend M_lliot. I am sure you hear nothing but good of him from Colonel Wallis; an_ho can know him better than Colonel Wallis?"
"My dear Mrs Smith, Mr Elliot's wife has not been dead much above half a year.
He ought not to be supposed to be paying his addresses to any one."
"Oh! if these are your only objections," cried Mrs Smith, archly, "Mr Ellio_s safe, and I shall give myself no more trouble about him. Do not forget m_hen you are married, that's all. Let him know me to be a friend of yours, an_hen he will think little of the trouble required, which it is very natura_or him now, with so many affairs and engagements of his own, to avoid and ge_id of as he can; very natural, perhaps. Ninety-nine out of a hundred would d_he same. Of course, he cannot be aware of the importance to me. Well, my dea_iss Elliot, I hope and trust you will be very happy. Mr Elliot has sense t_nderstand the value of such a woman. Your peace will not be shipwrecked a_ine has been. You are safe in all worldly matters, and safe in his character.
He will not be led astray; he will not be misled by others to his ruin."
"No," said Anne, "I can readily believe all that of my cousin. He seems t_ave a calm decided temper, not at all open to dangerous impressions. _onsider him with great respect. I have no reason, from any thing that ha_allen within my observation, to do otherwise. But I have not known him long; and he is not a man, I think, to be known intimately soon. Will not thi_anner of speaking of him, Mrs Smith, convince you that he is nothing to me?
Surely this must be calm enough. And, upon my word, he is nothing to me.
Should he ever propose to me (which I have very little reason to imagine h_as any thought of doing), I shall not accept him. I assure you I shall not. _ssure you, Mr Elliot had not the share which you have been supposing, i_hatever pleasure the concert of last night might afford: not Mr Elliot; it i_ot Mr Elliot that—"
She stopped, regretting with a deep blush that she had implied so much; bu_ess would hardly have been sufficient. Mrs Smith would hardly have believe_o soon in Mr Elliot's failure, but from the perception of there being _omebody else. As it was, she instantly submitted, and with all the semblanc_f seeing nothing beyond; and Anne, eager to escape farther notice, wa_mpatient to know why Mrs Smith should have fancied she was to marry M_lliot; where she could have received the idea, or from whom she could hav_eard it.
"Do tell me how it first came into your head."
"It first came into my head," replied Mrs Smith, "upon finding how much yo_ere together, and feeling it to be the most probable thing in the world to b_ished for by everybody belonging to either of you; and you may depend upon i_hat all your acquaintance have disposed of you in the same way. But I neve_eard it spoken of till two days ago."
"And has it indeed been spoken of?"
"Did you observe the woman who opened the door to you when you calle_esterday?"
"No. Was not it Mrs Speed, as usual, or the maid? I observed no one i_articular."
"It was my friend Mrs Rooke; Nurse Rooke; who, by-the-bye, had a grea_uriosity to see you, and was delighted to be in the way to let you in. Sh_ame away from Marlborough Buildings only on Sunday; and she it was who tol_e you were to marry Mr Elliot. She had had it from Mrs Wallis herself, whic_id not seem bad authority. She sat an hour with me on Monday evening, an_ave me the whole history." "The whole history," repeated Anne, laughing. "Sh_ould not make a very long history, I think, of one such little article o_nfounded news."
Mrs Smith said nothing.
"But," continued Anne, presently, "though there is no truth in my having thi_laim on Mr Elliot, I should be extremely happy to be of use to you in any wa_hat I could. Shall I mention to him your being in Bath? Shall I take an_essage?"
"No, I thank you: no, certainly not. In the warmth of the moment, and under _istaken impression, I might, perhaps, have endeavoured to interest you i_ome circumstances; but not now. No, I thank you, I have nothing to troubl_ou with."
"I think you spoke of having known Mr Elliot many years?"
"Not before he was married, I suppose?"
"Yes; he was not married when I knew him first."
"And—were you much acquainted?"
"Indeed! Then do tell me what he was at that time of life. I have a grea_uriosity to know what Mr Elliot was as a very young man. Was he at all suc_s he appears now?"
"I have not seen Mr Elliot these three years," was Mrs Smith's answer, give_o gravely that it was impossible to pursue the subject farther; and Anne fel_hat she had gained nothing but an increase of curiosity. They were bot_ilent: Mrs Smith very thoughtful. At last—
"I beg your pardon, my dear Miss Elliot," she cried, in her natural tone o_ordiality, "I beg your pardon for the short answers I have been giving you, but I have been uncertain what I ought to do. I have been doubting an_onsidering as to what I ought to tell you. There were many things to be take_nto the account. One hates to be officious, to be giving bad impressions, making mischief. Even the smooth surface of family-union seems wort_reserving, though there may be nothing durable beneath. However, I hav_etermined; I think I am right; I think you ought to be made acquainted wit_r Elliot's real character. Though I fully believe that, at present, you hav_ot the smallest intention of accepting him, there is no saying what ma_appen. You might, some time or other, be differently affected towards him.
Hear the truth, therefore, now, while you are unprejudiced. Mr Elliot is a ma_ithout heart or conscience; a designing, wary, cold-blooded being, who think_nly of himself; whom for his own interest or ease, would be guilty of an_ruelty, or any treachery, that could be perpetrated without risk of hi_eneral character. He has no feeling for others. Those whom he has been th_hief cause of leading into ruin, he can neglect and desert without th_mallest compunction. He is totally beyond the reach of any sentiment o_ustice or compassion. Oh! he is black at heart, hollow and black!"
Anne's astonished air, and exclamation of wonder, made her pause, and in _almer manner, she added,
"My expressions startle you. You must allow for an injured, angry woman. But _ill try to command myself. I will not abuse him. I will only tell you what _ave found him. Facts shall speak. He was the intimate friend of my dea_usband, who trusted and loved him, and thought him as good as himself. Th_ntimacy had been formed before our marriage. I found them most intimat_riends; and I, too, became excessively pleased with Mr Elliot, an_ntertained the highest opinion of him. At nineteen, you know, one does no_hink very seriously; but Mr Elliot appeared to me quite as good as others, and much more agreeable than most others, and we were almost always together.
We were principally in town, living in very good style. He was then th_nferior in circumstances; he was then the poor one; he had chambers in th_emple, and it was as much as he could do to support the appearance of _entleman. He had always a home with us whenever he chose it; he was alway_elcome; he was like a brother. My poor Charles, who had the finest, mos_enerous spirit in the world, would have divided his last farthing with him; and I know that his purse was open to him; I know that he often assisted him."
"This must have been about that very period of Mr Elliot's life," said Anne,
"which has always excited my particular curiosity. It must have been about th_ame time that he became known to my father and sister. I never knew hi_yself; I only heard of him; but there was a something in his conduct then, with regard to my father and sister, and afterwards in the circumstances o_is marriage, which I never could quite reconcile with present times. I_eemed to announce a different sort of man."
"I know it all, I know it all," cried Mrs Smith. "He had been introduced t_ir Walter and your sister before I was acquainted with him, but I heard hi_peak of them for ever. I know he was invited and encouraged, and I know h_id not choose to go. I can satisfy you, perhaps, on points which you woul_ittle expect; and as to his marriage, I knew all about it at the time. I wa_rivy to all the fors and againsts; I was the friend to whom he confided hi_opes and plans; and though I did not know his wife previously, her inferio_ituation in society, indeed, rendered that impossible, yet I knew her all he_ife afterwards, or at least till within the last two years of her life, an_an answer any question you may wish to put."
"Nay," said Anne, "I have no particular enquiry to make about her. I hav_lways understood they were not a happy couple. But I should like to know why, at that time of his life, he should slight my father's acquaintance as he did.
My father was certainly disposed to take very kind and proper notice of him.
Why did Mr Elliot draw back?"
"Mr Elliot," replied Mrs Smith, "at that period of his life, had one object i_iew: to make his fortune, and by a rather quicker process than the law. H_as determined to make it by marriage. He was determined, at least, not to ma_t by an imprudent marriage; and I know it was his belief (whether justly o_ot, of course I cannot decide), that your father and sister, in thei_ivilities and invitations, were designing a match between the heir and th_oung lady, and it was impossible that such a match should have answered hi_deas of wealth and independence. That was his motive for drawing back, I ca_ssure you. He told me the whole story. He had no concealments with me. It wa_urious, that having just left you behind me in Bath, my first and principa_cquaintance on marrying should be your cousin; and that, through him, _hould be continually hearing of your father and sister. He described one Mis_lliot, and I thought very affectionately of the other."
"Perhaps," cried Anne, struck by a sudden idea, "you sometimes spoke of me t_r Elliot?"
"To be sure I did; very often. I used to boast of my own Anne Elliot, an_ouch for your being a very different creature from—"
She checked herself just in time.
"This accounts for something which Mr Elliot said last night," cried Anne.
"This explains it. I found he had been used to hear of me. I could no_omprehend how. What wild imaginations one forms where dear self is concerned!
How sure to be mistaken! But I beg your pardon; I have interrupted you. M_lliot married then completely for money? The circumstances, probably, whic_irst opened your eyes to his character."
Mrs Smith hesitated a little here. "Oh! those things are too common. When on_ives in the world, a man or woman's marrying for money is too common t_trike one as it ought. I was very young, and associated only with the young, and we were a thoughtless, gay set, without any strict rules of conduct. W_ived for enjoyment. I think differently now; time and sickness and sorro_ave given me other notions; but at that period I must own I saw nothin_eprehensible in what Mr Elliot was doing. `To do the best for himself,'
passed as a duty."
"But was not she a very low woman?"
"Yes; which I objected to, but he would not regard. Money, money, was all tha_e wanted. Her father was a grazier, her grandfather had been a butcher, bu_hat was all nothing. She was a fine woman, had had a decent education, wa_rought forward by some cousins, thrown by chance into Mr Elliot's company, and fell in love with him; and not a difficulty or a scruple was there on hi_ide, with respect to her birth. All his caution was spent in being secured o_he real amount of her fortune, before he committed himself. Depend upon it, whatever esteem Mr Elliot may have for his own situation in life now, as _oung man he had not the smallest value for it. His chance for the Kellync_state was something, but all the honour of the family he held as cheap a_irt. I have often heard him declare, that if baronetcies were saleable, anybody should have his for fifty pounds, arms and motto, name and liver_ncluded; but I will not pretend to repeat half that I used to hear him say o_hat subject. It would not be fair; and yet you ought to have proof, for wha_s all this but assertion, and you shall have proof."
"Indeed, my dear Mrs Smith, I want none," cried Anne. "You have asserte_othing contradictory to what Mr Elliot appeared to be some years ago. This i_ll in confirmation, rather, of what we used to hear and believe. I am mor_urious to know why he should be so different now."
"But for my satisfaction, if you will have the goodness to ring for Mary; stay: I am sure you will have the still greater goodness of going yoursel_nto my bedroom, and bringing me the small inlaid box which you will find o_he upper shelf of the closet."
Anne, seeing her friend to be earnestly bent on it, did as she was desired.
The box was brought and placed before her, and Mrs Smith, sighing over it a_he unlocked it, said—
"This is full of papers belonging to him, to my husband; a small portion onl_f what I had to look over when I lost him. The letter I am looking for wa_ne written by Mr Elliot to him before our marriage, and happened to be saved; why, one can hardly imagine. But he was careless and immethodical, like othe_en, about those things; and when I came to examine his papers, I found i_ith others still more trivial, from different people scattered here an_here, while many letters and memorandums of real importance had bee_estroyed. Here it is; I would not burn it, because being even then ver_ittle satisfied with Mr Elliot, I was determined to preserve every documen_f former intimacy. I have now another motive for being glad that I ca_roduce it."
This was the letter, directed to "Charles Smith, Esq. Tunbridge Wells," an_ated from London, as far back as July, 1803: —
"Dear Smith,—I have received yours. Your kindness almost overpowers me. I wis_ature had made such hearts as yours more common, but I have lived three-and- twenty years in the world, and have seen none like it. At present, believe me, I have no need of your services, being in cash again. Give me joy: I have go_id of Sir Walter and Miss. They are gone back to Kellynch, and almost made m_wear to visit them this summer; but my first visit to Kellynch will be with _urveyor, to tell me how to bring it with best advantage to the hammer. Th_aronet, nevertheless, is not unlikely to marry again; he is quite foo_nough. If he does, however, they will leave me in peace, which may be _ecent equivalent for the reversion. He is worse than last year.
"I wish I had any name but Elliot. I am sick of it. The name of Walter I ca_rop, thank God! and I desire you will never insult me with my second W.
again, meaning, for the rest of my life, to be only yours truly,—Wm. Elliot."
Such a letter could not be read without putting Anne in a glow; and Mrs Smith, observing the high colour in her face, said—
"The language, I know, is highly disrespectful. Though I have forgot the exac_erms, I have a perfect impression of the general meaning. But it shows yo_he man. Mark his professions to my poor husband. Can any thing be stronger?"
Anne could not immediately get over the shock and mortification of findin_uch words applied to her father. She was obliged to recollect that her seein_he letter was a violation of the laws of honour, that no one ought to b_udged or to be known by such testimonies, that no private correspondenc_ould bear the eye of others, before she could recover calmness enough t_eturn the letter which she had been meditating over, and say—
"Thank you. This is full proof undoubtedly; proof of every thing you wer_aying. But why be acquainted with us now?"
"I can explain this too," cried Mrs Smith, smiling.
"Can you really?"
"Yes. I have shewn you Mr Elliot as he was a dozen years ago, and I will she_im as he is now. I cannot produce written proof again, but I can give a_uthentic oral testimony as you can desire, of what he is now wanting, an_hat he is now doing. He is no hypocrite now. He truly wants to marry you. Hi_resent attentions to your family are very sincere: quite from the heart. _ill give you my authority: his friend Colonel Wallis."
"Colonel Wallis! you are acquainted with him?"
"No. It does not come to me in quite so direct a line as that; it takes a ben_r two, but nothing of consequence. The stream is as good as at first; th_ittle rubbish it collects in the turnings is easily moved away. Mr Ellio_alks unreservedly to Colonel Wallis of his views on you, which said Colone_allis, I imagine to be, in himself, a sensible, careful, discerning sort o_haracter; but Colonel Wallis has a very pretty silly wife, to whom he tell_hings which he had better not, and he repeats it all to her. She in th_verflowing spirits of her recovery, repeats it all to her nurse; and th_urse knowing my acquaintance with you, very naturally brings it all to me. O_onday evening, my good friend Mrs Rooke let me thus much into the secrets o_arlborough Buildings. When I talked of a whole history, therefore, you see _as not romancing so much as you supposed."
"My dear Mrs Smith, your authority is deficient. This will not do. Mr Elliot'_aving any views on me will not in the least account for the efforts he mad_owards a reconciliation with my father. That was all prior to my coming t_ath. I found them on the most friendly terms when I arrived."
"I know you did; I know it all perfectly, but—"
"Indeed, Mrs Smith, we must not expect to get real information in such a line.
Facts or opinions which are to pass through the hands of so many, to b_isconceived by folly in one, and ignorance in another, can hardly have muc_ruth left."
"Only give me a hearing. You will soon be able to judge of the general credi_ue, by listening to some particulars which you can yourself immediatel_ontradict or confirm. Nobody supposes that you were his first inducement. H_ad seen you indeed, before he came to Bath, and admired you, but withou_nowing it to be you. So says my historian, at least. Is this true? Did he se_ou last summer or autumn, `somewhere down in the west,' to use her own words, without knowing it to be you?"
"He certainly did. So far it is very true. At Lyme. I happened to be at Lyme."
"Well," continued Mrs Smith, triumphantly, "grant my friend the credit due t_he establishment of the first point asserted. He saw you then at Lyme, an_iked you so well as to be exceedingly pleased to meet with you again i_amden Place, as Miss Anne Elliot, and from that moment, I have no doubt, ha_ double motive in his visits there. But there was another, and an earlier, which I will now explain. If there is anything in my story which you know t_e either false or improbable, stop me. My account states, that your sister'_riend, the lady now staying with you, whom I have heard you mention, came t_ath with Miss Elliot and Sir Walter as long ago as September (in short whe_hey first came themselves), and has been staying there ever since; that sh_s a clever, insinuating, handsome woman, poor and plausible, and altogethe_uch in situation and manner, as to give a general idea, among Sir Walter'_cquaintance, of her meaning to be Lady Elliot, and as general a surprise tha_iss Elliot should be apparently, blind to the danger."
Here Mrs Smith paused a moment; but Anne had not a word to say, and sh_ontinued—
"This was the light in which it appeared to those who knew the family, lon_efore you returned to it; and Colonel Wallis had his eye upon your fathe_nough to be sensible of it, though he did not then visit in Camden Place; bu_is regard for Mr Elliot gave him an interest in watching all that was goin_n there, and when Mr Elliot came to Bath for a day or two, as he happened t_o a little before Christmas, Colonel Wallis made him acquainted with th_ppearance of things, and the reports beginning to prevail. Now you are t_nderstand, that time had worked a very material change in Mr Elliot'_pinions as to the value of a baronetcy. Upon all points of blood an_onnexion he is a completely altered man. Having long had as much money as h_ould spend, nothing to wish for on the side of avarice or indulgence, he ha_een gradually learning to pin his happiness upon the consequence he is hei_o. I thought it coming on before our acquaintance ceased, but it is now _onfirmed feeling. He cannot bear the idea of not being Sir William. You ma_uess, therefore, that the news he heard from his friend could not be ver_greeable, and you may guess what it produced; the resolution of coming bac_o Bath as soon as possible, and of fixing himself here for a time, with th_iew of renewing his former acquaintance, and recovering such a footing in th_amily as might give him the means of ascertaining the degree of his danger, and of circumventing the lady if he found it material. This was agreed upo_etween the two friends as the only thing to be done; and Colonel Wallis wa_o assist in every way that he could. He was to be introduced, and Mrs Walli_as to be introduced, and everybody was to be introduced. Mr Elliot came bac_ccordingly; and on application was forgiven, as you know, and re-admitte_nto the family; and there it was his constant object, and his only object (till your arrival added another motive), to watch Sir Walter and Mrs Clay. H_mitted no opportunity of being with them, threw himself in their way, calle_t all hours; but I need not be particular on this subject. You can imagin_hat an artful man would do; and with this guide, perhaps, may recollect wha_ou have seen him do."
"Yes," said Anne, "you tell me nothing which does not accord with what I hav_nown, or could imagine. There is always something offensive in the details o_unning. The manoeuvres of selfishness and duplicity must ever be revolting, but I have heard nothing which really surprises me. I know those who would b_hocked by such a representation of Mr Elliot, who would have difficulty i_elieving it; but I have never been satisfied. I have always wanted some othe_otive for his conduct than appeared. I should like to know his presen_pinion, as to the probability of the event he has been in dread of; whethe_e considers the danger to be lessening or not."
"Lessening, I understand," replied Mrs Smith. "He thinks Mrs Clay afraid o_im, aware that he sees through her, and not daring to proceed as she might d_n his absence. But since he must be absent some time or other, I do no_erceive how he can ever be secure while she holds her present influence. Mr_allis has an amusing idea, as nurse tells me, that it is to be put into th_arriage articles when you and Mr Elliot marry, that your father is not t_arry Mrs Clay. A scheme, worthy of Mrs Wallis's understanding, by al_ccounts; but my sensible nurse Rooke sees the absurdity of it. `Why, to b_ure, ma'am,' said she, `it would not prevent his marrying anybody else.' And, indeed, to own the truth, I do not think nurse, in her heart, is a ver_trenuous opposer of Sir Walter's making a second match. She must be allowe_o be a favourer of matrimony, you know; and (since self will intrude) who ca_ay that she may not have some flying visions of attending the next Lad_lliot, through Mrs Wallis's recommendation?"
"I am very glad to know all this," said Anne, after a little thoughtfulness.
"It will be more painful to me in some respects to be in company with him, bu_ shall know better what to do. My line of conduct will be more direct. M_lliot is evidently a disingenuous, artificial, worldly man, who has never ha_ny better principle to guide him than selfishness."
But Mr Elliot was not done with. Mrs Smith had been carried away from he_irst direction, and Anne had forgotten, in the interest of her own famil_oncerns, how much had been originally implied against him; but her attentio_as now called to the explanation of those first hints, and she listened to _ecital which, if it did not perfectly justify the unqualified bitterness o_rs Smith, proved him to have been very unfeeling in his conduct towards her; very deficient both in justice and compassion.
She learned that (the intimacy between them continuing unimpaired by M_lliot's marriage) they had been as before always together, and Mr Elliot ha_ed his friend into expenses much beyond his fortune. Mrs Smith did not wan_o take blame to herself, and was most tender of throwing any on her husband; but Anne could collect that their income had never been equal to their styl_f living, and that from the first there had been a great deal of general an_oint extravagance. From his wife's account of him she could discern Mr Smit_o have been a man of warm feelings, easy temper, careless habits, and no_trong understanding, much more amiable than his friend, and very unlike him, led by him, and probably despised by him. Mr Elliot, raised by his marriage t_reat affluence, and disposed to every gratification of pleasure and vanit_hich could be commanded without involving himself, (for with all his self- indulgence he had become a prudent man), and beginning to be rich, just as hi_riend ought to have found himself to be poor, seemed to have had no concer_t all for that friend's probable finances, but, on the contrary, had bee_rompting and encouraging expenses which could end only in ruin; and th_miths accordingly had been ruined.
The husband had died just in time to be spared the full knowledge of it. The_ad previously known embarrassments enough to try the friendship of thei_riends, and to prove that Mr Elliot's had better not be tried; but it was no_ill his death that the wretched state of his affairs was fully known. With _onfidence in Mr Elliot's regard, more creditable to his feelings than hi_udgement, Mr Smith had appointed him the executor of his will; but Mr Ellio_ould not act, and the difficulties and distress which this refusal had heape_n her, in addition to the inevitable sufferings of her situation, had bee_uch as could not be related without anguish of spirit, or listened to withou_orresponding indignation.
Anne was shewn some letters of his on the occasion, answers to urgen_pplications from Mrs Smith, which all breathed the same stern resolution o_ot engaging in a fruitless trouble, and, under a cold civility, the sam_ard-hearted indifference to any of the evils it might bring on her. It was _readful picture of ingratitude and inhumanity; and Anne felt, at som_oments, that no flagrant open crime could have been worse. She had a grea_eal to listen to; all the particulars of past sad scenes, all the minutiae o_istress upon distress, which in former conversations had been merely hinte_t, were dwelt on now with a natural indulgence. Anne could perfectl_omprehend the exquisite relief, and was only the more inclined to wonder a_he composure of her friend's usual state of mind.
There was one circumstance in the history of her grievances of particula_rritation. She had good reason to believe that some property of her husban_n the West Indies, which had been for many years under a sort o_equestration for the payment of its own incumbrances, might be recoverable b_roper measures; and this property, though not large, would be enough to mak_er comparatively rich. But there was nobody to stir in it. Mr Elliot would d_othing, and she could do nothing herself, equally disabled from persona_xertion by her state of bodily weakness, and from employing others by he_ant of money. She had no natural connexions to assist her even with thei_ounsel, and she could not afford to purchase the assistance of the law. Thi_as a cruel aggravation of actually streightened means. To feel that she ough_o be in better circumstances, that a little trouble in the right place migh_o it, and to fear that delay might be even weakening her claims, was hard t_ear.
It was on this point that she had hoped to engage Anne's good offices with M_lliot. She had previously, in the anticipation of their marriage, been ver_pprehensive of losing her friend by it; but on being assured that he coul_ave made no attempt of that nature, since he did not even know her to be i_ath, it immediately occurred, that something might be done in her favour b_he influence of the woman he loved, and she had been hastily preparing t_nterest Anne's feelings, as far as the observances due to Mr Elliot'_haracter would allow, when Anne's refutation of the supposed engagemen_hanged the face of everything; and while it took from her the new-formed hop_f succeeding in the object of her first anxiety, left her at least th_omfort of telling the whole story her own way.
After listening to this full description of Mr Elliot, Anne could not bu_xpress some surprise at Mrs Smith's having spoken of him so favourably in th_eginning of their conversation. "She had seemed to recommend and praise him!"
"My dear," was Mrs Smith's reply, "there was nothing else to be done. _onsidered your marrying him as certain, though he might not yet have made th_ffer, and I could no more speak the truth of him, than if he had been you_usband. My heart bled for you, as I talked of happiness; and yet he i_ensible, he is agreeable, and with such a woman as you, it was not absolutel_opeless. He was very unkind to his first wife. They were wretched together.
But she was too ignorant and giddy for respect, and he had never loved her. _as willing to hope that you must fare better."
Anne could just acknowledge within herself such a possibility of having bee_nduced to marry him, as made her shudder at the idea of the misery which mus_ave followed. It was just possible that she might have been persuaded by Lad_ussell! And under such a supposition, which would have been most miserable, when time had disclosed all, too late?
It was very desirable that Lady Russell should be no longer deceived; and on_f the concluding arrangements of this important conference, which carrie_hem through the greater part of the morning, was, that Anne had full libert_o communicate to her friend everything relative to Mrs Smith, in which hi_onduct was involved.