Penelope Clay to Adelaide Hampson

                                                                                               12 Camden-place. Saturday, February 4

My dear sister,

I have received yours and am in some perturbation of spirits over your impatience for news of my imminent return from Bath.  You may be assured that nothing but the strongest conviction of necessity could induce me to wound my own feelings by remaining apart from my two little girls any longer than must be.  I  must be frank with you, Addie, begging your indulgence and trusting in your respect of a confidence.

I told you of Mr William Elliot’s arrival in Bath and his reception at Camden-place, since which time Mr E. has continued his attendance on us and has made himself agreeable.  He has been a constant visitor, pays flattering attentions to all three of  “the ladies,” and has become essential in occupying and diverting Sir Walter (whose demands and company have become more fatiguing to me than I dare to admit to any but my dearest sister!).

I may confide in you my fears that the hopes I have had – and which I have freely shared with you – of Sir Walter, seem to be fading.  The suspicion of this became clearer to me on Wednesday last when, on Anne’s  refusal of an evening invitation to the Dalrymples (of whom more anon) in favour of visiting her friend Mrs Smith, Sir Walter met the excuse with disgust and contempt:

“A widow Mrs Smith, lodging in Westgate Buildings! – a poor widow barely able to live, between thirty and forty – a mere Mrs Smith, an everyday Mrs Smith . . . to be the chosen friend of Miss Anne Elliot, and to be preferred by her to her own family connections among the nobility of England and Ireland!  Mrs Smith, such a name!”

It might just as readily have been a “mere Mrs Clay, an everyday Mrs Clay.  Mrs Clay, such a name!”  Secretly mortified, I hastened out of the room.  As I sat at my dressing-table looking at my reflection in the glass, I was forced to admit to myself the precarious nature of my previous ambitions – ambitions which perhaps now may be redirected?

ambitions . . . redirected?

And, I am happy to say, that the direction seems clear.  You will have anticipated me!  I am now almost persuaded that Mr William Elliot’s first object could be your own sister!  No declarations have been made, but several significant glances, phrases, gestures, and constant obliging personal attentions seem promise of his partiality.  It must be remembered that the conventions are to be preserved; the gentleman is still in mourning.  This is evidently a mere formality, as Elizabeth has confided that his marriage was expedient and wretched, the wife being of inferior birth and looks, but of large fortune.  It would seem credible, would it not, that he might now take the liberty and luxury of following his inclinations?

To promote such inclinations, I have determined on consulting him on a personal matter – that old Mason estate business, which you will recall Papa long ago abandoned as being fruitless, judging that whole dark side of Henry’s family better forgotten.  Although I have long ago given up hope of any return from what is at best a mad venture, I now mean to enlist Mr Elliot’s help since this may necessitate lengthy private consultations of which I have more sanguine expectations than a doubtful legacy for the girls!

My dear Addie will shake her head at my impudence and feminine guile, but I can only beg sympathy and patience until she receive some happy  news.

                   Yrs. very affecly.

Postscript: I trust the children continue well?