The first half of last week’s scene has been reworked, added to, and generally cleaned up. This is all first draft material so there will be other edits and more smoothing out. There are also ebbs and flows of energy in the writing. Again, that will be smoothed out with time.
The scene is in the middle of the novel so there are references to information revealed elsewhere, and information not revealed yet.
I’m not bothered by spoilers but if you are you might want to avert your eyes on Tuesdays.
LADY VS LADY
“This is what comes of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction. I am sure the man’s father, and if he knew his place, his grandfather would be shocked and ashamed at his taking on such airs as to ask for the hand of a baronet’s daughter.” Sir Walter drank the last of his brandy and slammed the glass to the table. Lady Elliot feared for her crystal stems.
In his tirade, there was no mention of Anne by name, merely her standing as it related to her father, and that she was the object of the commander’s audacity. Not a thought to her heart or her prospects in a small country life. Well, there wouldn’t be, now would there? Commander Wentworth’s prospects were not certain, but he did have some. This made it impossible for her mother not to consider announcements of newly made sirs and lords being created almost daily. With the war, most of these were coming from the ranks of the navy and the army. If her husband would take a breath, she might say as much.
“After he left, I was saying to Lady Russell that—”
“Jane was there? She spoke with the Commander?”
“No, no. But she was waiting to see me when the man left. They passed one another in the entryway. As I was saying—”
It was galling enough that her husband was just now telling her about the Commander’s proposal, but to know that Jane was privy so soon after the fact was an embarrassment.
“—she reminded me that this is no different than the tenants wanting new rooves after all the damage of last winter’s snow and icy storms. The very idea that I should be persuaded, nay bullied into paying for the damage that God wrought is absurd.” He eyed the brandy but changed his mind and approached her. “Have no fear, my lady, I have put the barbarian to flight. We are safe once more.” He kissed his finger and touched her cheek. “Sleep well.” He smiled and left her.
Sir Walter Elliot was never so happy as when he was repelling the surfs or demolishing the hopes of the undeserving. “The gentry is safe for now.” Her father was right all along. His warnings about the baronet rang louder as the days passed. They would eventually deafening her.
The book she was reading would hold no interest tonight. It was too early to call Trotter to change for bed. She rose from the chaise to call for Anne. The pull was in her hand when she stopped herself. It was not fair to her daughter to use her as a distraction. Anne might not know of her father’s response to the proposal. It was only a few hours ago and the Commander himself might still be digesting the results of the meeting. Let this be the case and let Anne be hopeful for a while longer. The bell pull dropped from her hand. She watched it as it swayed to a stop.
Another letter to her father this quarter was necessary, but she hadn’t the heart to write it. The view from the window was pleasant enough. The setting sun advancing to cover the garden with night.
A light knock startled and relieved her. No matter who was at the door, they offered an escape from this black mood. “Come.” Elizabeth saw the brilliant green feather eyes first. “Oh, it is you, Jane.” She was wrong about an escape.
“I know you won’t mind but I slipped in the side. No sense giving the servants anything further to gossip about. You have heard about that outrageous boy’s proposal?” Without taking leave, she took off her coat and laid it on the bed.
“He is hardly a boy, Jane. In the eyes of the Crown, he is an officer. And a gentleman.” There was nothing to do but sit and listen as her friend too crowed over the Commander’s defeat.
The feathers on Jane’s hat bobbed as it hung in the air for a moment. “Hardly a gentleman. Does this mean you approve of his suit?”
To admit her own uncertainty would turn all of Jane’s interest and persuasive powers on her. “No, I am considering what is best for Anne. Her prospects here are limited at best. This may be a chance for her—”
“But she has just turned nineteen, Lizzie. There are years for her to find someone suitable. Once Elizabeth is married to her Viscount, the world shall open wide for Anne. I am sure the ___s are extremely well-connected in their part of the world.”
In the wilds of Ireland, she meant to say. It was interesting that Jane did not counsel that Elizabeth should wait a little longer. “No doubt. I have met the mother, and she assured me that they are the absolute centre of the social life of Dublin. Or at least I think that is what she was saying. Her accent was so think I only understood half of what she said. However, I have my doubts that Elizabeth will be exerting herself overly to help her sister.”
Jane was tugging off her gloves. She examined the thumb of one of them. Her father was a glovemaker in Gloucester and she was never satisfied with any made anywhere else. She held the offending creature in her lap. “That is of no matter. When you visit her, you may scout the prospects. Anne is quiet, but she will charm them, even in an Irish wasteland.”
As if the countryside of Somerset was a metropolis. “I suppose. Perhaps it is the romance of it all. Anne is in love with him. We cannot discount that. Genuine love is quite intoxicating—”
“And rarely is it long-lived. Elizabeth, see reason. The man is handsome and a force to be sure, but even you must see that his being Anne’s inferior would ever be a wedge between them.”
“In marriage we grow used to personal defects easily enough. The deeper, and more public ones can be born with a good deal of grace.”
Jane’s mouth set in a firm line. “Commander Wentworth’s defects are not like crooked teeth or dirty fingernails. It is his personality which is at fault. He has such an overwhelming confidence that he has no fear. Or, at the very least, the good sense to be circumspect in the presence of his betters.”
“The man is required by his occupation to keep his fear in check, Jane. You would fault Nelson for his courage? He was courageous to the point of the ultimate selflessness. By your reckoning, all heroes must be so shamed.” As soon as the words were in the air, she wished she could pull them back. What was a discussion of Anne’s best interests was becoming a battle over the defects of another.
“The man is no hero. He is impudent and cruel in his wit.” She ripped open her reticule. How the light silk bag withstood the pressure was amazing. Her hands shook as she moved things about looking for something.” When she seized upon a piece of paper, she brought it to Elizabeth. “What do you think of the hero now?”
The paper was cheap and crinkled with fold lines running through pencil marks on it. It was clearly a crude rendering of Jane, focused on her nose, eyebrows, and one of her many feathered hats. She folded it and handed it back and thanking God she was much practiced in stifling laughter. “You are right, this is very unkind. How can you be sure it was his hand which drew it?”
She explained watching him and Anne at a distance. “When Anne tossed it in the fire, it fell to the side. I pulled it from the flames as I was afraid that they were planning an elopement, or a clandestine meeting of some sort.”
Thoughts of Jane Russell scrabbling about a fireplace was another opportunity for self-control. “He is a young man. They all say and do foolish things.” Lady Elliot waggled the paper for Jane to take.
“Do you want your family associated with such a man?”
“If he knew us better, I wonder that he would want an association with us.”
“That is a ridiculous thing to say. He could only benefit from allying with the Elliot name.”
The small page was still in her hand and Lady Elliot opened it again. “This is silly,” she looked at Jane. “A silly and hurtful sketch. However, the man did no physical damage to you. The Elliots, of late, have done far worse.”
There was no pretence. Jane knew precisely of what Lady Elliot spoke. “You make too much of Young Walter’s carryings-on. He is not yet sixteen. He will mature in time. The Elliot blood will tell. You will see.”
Yes, it will. Instead of giving the sketch back to Jane, Liz slipped it into her pocket. “I pray you are right. Though, his antics of late give me pause.”
“Everything can be laid at the feet of that Musgrove. The family believes their children are without fault and that there is no need to train them at all. Richard Musgrove took advantage of Young Walter and one can only hope that sending him away will rectify the mistakes of the years.”
“Richard Musgrove is a simpleton. A large, brawny simpleton. If there was advantage taken it was by my son. With a slip of the hand, the Larkin boy could have been killed. Had it been the case, Musgrove would have been hanged. There is no dignified way around it.” Her only knowledge of the affair was after-the-fact. She now wondered how much of the business Jane was consulted about.
“I do not understand you, Elizabeth. Why are you so quick to take the part of that sailor first, and now that dreadful young Musgrove? His mother is a Hayter for God’s sake.” The air was charged with the admissions and accusations. Each lady was revolving how best to continue or retreat from their stance. “You are determined to remain Elizabeth Stevenson of Gloucester.”
If she were to retreat, peace was still possible, but she had retreated enough over the past weeks and months. “No, I am merely reclaiming that girl who had better sense than I do now.”
“And why would you do that? She was a nothing of a girl and you are Lady Elliot, wife of a baronet. In Gloucester you were merely the daughter of a prosperous farmer. No different than—”
“The Musgroves. You may say it. I am not offended. I have put aside my pride and spent too many years now humouring and concealing the failings of the baronet to be insulted by such a comparison.”
“You have never esteemed him properly. Always thinking yourself ill—”
“Yes, well, it is likely that the thought of leaving the children at the mercy of such a conceited, silly man has kept me alive all these years.” Lady Elliot had turned away to look at the dark garden but turned back to face Lady Russell. “As for esteem, please remind me how you came to marry Henry Russell. It was his red coat and the title of ‘sir’ which touched your heart, was it not?” Lady Russell now paused. Her right brow raised, and her lips tightened. “Admit it, you did not think me refined enough for the Baronet of Kellynch Hall.”
There is a reason Lady Russell and Sir Walter did not marry after the death of his wife. I think she was a smart woman who had no desire to take over the gargantuan job of cossetting Sir Walter’s ego.