Penelope Clay to Adelaide Hampson
12 Camden-place. February 23
My dear Adelaide,
I had hoped to solicit your congratulations but must confess that they would be premature, and the situation demands my continuing in Bath.
Lady Russell, who turns on me a dragon glare over the tea-table, presses earnest and meaningful enquiries on me about the well-being of my two little orphaned darlings “who must miss their mama sadly.” I return my thanks with equally earnest assurances of the tender solicitude of the Hampsons and the superior healthful qualities of the air around Ashley-hall. (It will be no surprise to either of us that milady scents the danger of a second Lady Elliot of inferior connections. Since her ladyship has ever the interest of Miss Anne at heart, I wonder if it would give her much comfort to know that any such impudent designs have been displaced by an aspiration to the much more modest title of the “second Mrs Elliot”?)
Mr William Elliot has continued his flattering attentions to me, though they seem of a piece with those now also directed at Miss Anne. Miss Elizabeth is impatient at having to share him with “only Anne” and “poor Mrs Clay.” I have, however, been at some pains to reassure her that Mr Elliot’s respect for Sir Walter (“Dear Miss Elliot! Exactly like father and son!”) is undoubted proof of his serious attachment to, and intentions toward, herself.
On the other hand, my own growing intimacy with Mr Elliot has allowed me to teaze him on his making love to Anne and to scold him on a few instances which have troubled me but which he dismisses as civil trifles. You will remonstrate with me for excessive sensibility I know, but I observed that on a recent rainy day when there came a chance for walk and a tête-à-tête with me, Mr Elliot pronounced in favour of Anne and her “thicker boots” – though I must concede the truth of his protestation that this was in response to Miss Elizabeth’s demand that I ride with her in the Dalrymple carriage.
Have I not mentioned the Dalyrmples? A Dowager Viscountess and an aging, long-faced Honorable daughter who talks only of horses. Cousins of the Elliots, newly discovered and inordinately valued, though unfortunately Irish. Sir Walter and Elizabeth speak of little else but “our cousins in Laura-place,” “our cousins Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret,” and visits to Laura-place take precedence over any other engagement.
Last evening, bowing to pressure from Lady Dalrymple as patron, we attended a benefit concert in the Octagon Room for a Madame Sessi. We made a respectable party, including Colonel Wallis and the beautiful Mrs Wallis, Lady Russell and Mr Elliot. Admiral and Mrs Croft, now lodging in Gay-street, did not attend, not being under a similar obligation to demonstrate a passion for Italian contraltos!
Who should appear just as we had taken our station by one of the fires but Captain Wentworth – whom you will remember, Addie, as Anne’s rejected suitor of eight years ago. A brother of Mrs Croft and now quite the hero, I am told, and rich as a consequence. How Miss Anne must bitterly regret her previous refusal! Indeed I watched an agitated blush as he walked in, and as he moved past she deliberately addressed him so that he was forced to approach – in some embarrassment, I supposed. On receipt of a stiff bow from Sir Walter, the Captain stayed to speak with Anne in a corner for some little time, just out of earshot. The talk was animated and Anne becoming almost lively when all had to pause to give due tribute to the entry of the Viscountess in black velvet and feathers, and her daughter in unbecoming green sarsenet and a scowl.
What Anne and the gallant Captain said to each other I could not quite hear, but she was all smiles for the rest of the evening. These, I am certain, were intended for the benefit of Mr Elliot. She had so maneuvered her position on one of the benches that Mr Elliot must sit with her, and I blush to record the spleen which arose in me as I watched them whisper together over the incomprehensible Italian lyrics in the concert-bill, which she was evidently pretending to interpret for him.
I will allow that Mr Elliot escorted me – and Elizabeth and Miss Carteret – for tea in the interval, and on our return Mr Elliot sat between us, although Anne had clearly anticipated his return to her side and sat eagerly waiting at the end of one of the benches with a vacant space beside her. When Captain Wentworth again stopped to exchange some words with her, however, Mr Elliot suddenly left us and crossed over to ask her some question again about the Italian on the pretext of Miss Carteret’s wishing information – as if Miss Carteret had an interest in anything but hunters!
When I took him to task over this desertion once we were alone, he merely laughed at my jealousy of “expected affability,” protesting that there is a much deeper devotion which does not require open expression.
Never trust your sister, however, if she cannot bring matters to the test. I have been assiduous of late in openly renewing my flattering attendance on Sir Walter (attentions which I confess have been somewhat neglected), employing those devices that every woman – even my candid Addie – knows: the sweet smiles, the soothing murmur of assent, the grateful leaning on a proffered arm into the carriage.
Sir Walter looks complacent, Mr Elliot gratifyingly vexed. We shall see if his devotion may not be persuaded into a more open expression!
Your affec. sister,