Penelope Clay to William Walter Elliot
12 Camden-place. Tuesday, February 7
Dear Mr Elliot,
I reflect with pleasure on our chance meeting yesterday in Sydney-garden, and regret that time did not permit me to accept your invitation to explore the Labyrinth. Miss Elliot was impatiently awaiting me at her mantua-makers, and somewhat out of temper.
In the course of our walk under the elms by the canal you most kindly remarked on my uncharacteristic low spirits and I was touched by your interest. I could not then bring myself to divulge the cause of my preoccupation, but in view of your courteous and sincere expressions of concern I have determined to confide in and consult you on a delicate personal matter. Its complexity is such that I cannot commit all the details to paper. As a lawyer, you will approve my circumspection.
It concerns an estate of a relative of my late husband, including considerable property in Jamaica, which has been under some sort of sequestration since the death of Mr Mason, a planter and merchant and Mr Clay’s uncle. My information – scanty in the extreme – is that debts having been cleared, the estate may now come to some kind of settlement in the course of which I am told there may be a possibility of some inheritance by my two children. Hints of some instability in the immediate surviving Mason family complicate the issue somewhat, but my informant is optimistic of a modest settlement in our favour.
You may surmise that the nature of the West Indies trade on which the Mason fortune was built might well now elicit public disapproval, but a solitary widow with two small children to provide for can hardly afford to be so nice about particulars. Thus, conscious of my parental duty to make discreet enquiries but prohibited by my circumstances, I now turn to you, dear Mr Elliot, for your advice as a friend. Might I beg a private meeting – perhaps at Sydney-place – very soon?
Yours very sincerely,