William Walter Elliot to Colonel Wallis
8 Sydney-place. Wednesday, November 16
Give me joy of my new establishment in Sydney-place, a decidedly respectable house which my housekeeper Mrs Bennett and my man have wrought into a style befitting a gentleman’s rooms. Sufficient at least for me to afford you some return of hospitality, to an evening of cards on Friday next, which I am sure will be a relief to you beleaguered as you are by a household of females chattering interminably about the joys and tribulations of childbed.
As we shall not be alone on Friday and it would ill become a gentleman to bandy a woman’s name about in male company, let me provide you with intelligence of the latest developments in my campaign to infiltrate the House of Elliot and repel a potential interloper, viz. Madam Clay.
As you advised, immediately upon my return to Bath I employed my breaching strategy: a letter of such earnest apology, such humility, such toadying flattery, with a positive volley of “Would that I might sooner have healed the wounds!” and “Might I but be received once more into the bosom of such a distinguished family” etc. etc. that you would have blushed to hear me.
The result: an invitation to appear at 12 Camden-place to make my apologies in person. An initially chilly first meeting, believe me, with a doubting Sir Walter and a glacial Miss Elizabeth, but the warmth of my ingratiating charm soon melted away any opposition. In brief, within these two weeks I have been welcomed as the Prodigal and have endured three morning visits, a walk in the Gardens, and two evenings of applauding Sir Walter’s views on the Navy and the truly remarkable plainness of women in Bath: “eighty-seven went by as I stood in a shop in Bond-street – and not a tolerable face among them!”
Which brings me, my dear Wallis, to Mrs Penelope Clay. Your description of her, I must protest, strikes me as ungallant. She hovered discreetly by the fireplace until the initial skirmishes were over between the principals; as soon as it became apparent that the heir-presumptive was to be received, she was all civility and smiles – though I grant you that her smiling set off that projecting tooth to great advantage! She gave me her hand with a demurely murmured offer of her sincere condolences on my recent bereavement, which has been much on the minds of her dear Sir Walter and Miss Elliot over the past months since their removal from Kellynch-hall; a reminder of my sad duty, as she knew well from her own tragic loss, to bear all with fortitude and patience – as she has suffered for the sake of those two sweet pledges left behind . . . Here the voice faltered, the smile faded, and the tooth disappeared from view.
I conclude that I was being simultaneously informed of her position in the world as a pitiable relict, and warned of her security in the Elliot family as valued confidante. This may be a woman of poor complexion and flawed features but I am under no misapprehension as to her acuteness. Still, I think she may be circumvented. I have already included her in the range of my battery of charm, gentility and general amiability.
She is a woman, therefore may be
and since this is a plain woman, she will be all the more grateful for the winning by