Penelope Clay to Adelaide Hampson
12 Camden-place. Saturday, January 14
My dear Addie,
You will be eager I know to hear more about Mr William Elliot, who since I last wrote has been most faithful in his attendance at Camden-place. Sir Walter and Miss Elliot seem as charmed and delighted by him now as they were insulted by, and distrustful of him in the past. Such a reversal of opinion may be attributed to his considerable affability of manner and the insinuating flattery of his attentions as well as to their previous boredom. Indeed I assure you he knows how to be flatteringly attentive even to your humble sister.
We are now become so fashionable as to contemplate the giving of “small but elegant” evening parties. Mr Elliot proves a willing escort and accompanies us to the Upper Rooms or to the Theatre, and frequently dines here. Our Miss Elizabeth begins positively to glow, and her languor has given way to an animation which would astonish you, used as we all are to her peevish air. Her habitual vanity persuades her that Mr E’s eager reconciliation with the Elliots is due to a renewal of an interest in her (which he was once so eager to repudiate), and Sir Walter is quick to encourage this interpretation – as do I. (A few well-placed hints prove remarkably effective!).
Miss Anne, as Papa will have informed you, has rejoined the family, travelling to Bath with the meddling Lady Russell, whose vinegar looks on finding me still here leave very little to be doubted on her view of your sister as a suitable intimate to the Elliots. Anne is as pale and reserved as ever, seldom offering an opinion (which would not in any case be much attended to) and it is clear that her presence in Camden-place is reluctant.
The talk on her second evening here was much on Mr Elliot, with Sir Walter allowing him a “quite gentleman-like appearance – not perhaps as fine a figure as Colonel Wallis (whose wife by-the-bye is a deuced fine-looking woman) – but I would not be ashamed to be seen with him almost anywhere.”
Anne surprised us by recounting an unexpected glimpse of him at Lyme (on the occasion of that silly little Louise Musgrove’s accident) and no sooner had this been mentioned than Mr Elliot himself arrived! At ten o’clock – with the excuse of enquiring after the health of Miss Elliot and her companion after our previous day’s chilly outing to Claverton down. Elizabeth was still coloured with gratification when Sir Walter introduced Anne, and their previous encounter was confirmed – Anne all blushes, Mr Elliot all surprised compliments. He stayed for another hour during which Anne occupied much of his attention – to the vexation of Miss Elizabeth!
The next morning, my dear Addie, I felt that it would be politic for me to make some gesture of willingness to leave Bath, and approached Sir Walter and Elizabeth:
“Now that Miss Anne has come, I would suppose that I will no longer be so much needed and perhaps should be making preparations to return home?”
“That must not be any reason, indeed,” replied Elizabeth. “I assure you I feel it none. She is nothing to me, compared with you!” This was said in a half-whisper as Anne entered the room. Her speaking look indicated that she had heard but, being Anne, she said nothing.
Sir Walter with unusual delicacy of feeling added his assurances of his need for my continuing presence: compliments on my “fine mind” and general “usefulness” and hints of the promised pleasure of my acquaintance with the beautiful Mrs Wallis – “such a fine complexion!” (For once he refrained from wearying exhortations to me on the daily use of Dr Gowland’s lotion, the application of which I find does more for his sense of proprietorship than it does for my freckles!)
In any event, it has been decided that I shall remain to be a thing of use – if not of beauty – for the present at least. It may be entertaining to watch Mr Elliot dance attendance on both the Misses Elliot at once, with the occasional courtesy charitably bestowed on
Yr. affectionate sister,