Posted on 2013-10-31
Mr. William Elliot, a well-favored young widower, had, upon the death of his rich wife, found himself in possession of all the wealth needed to be able to live in comfort, and even, to a degree, in luxury, for all his remaining years.
Fortune being no longer a problem, he had come to depend, for his future happiness, on two things. The first was his succession to the baronetcy currently held by his uncle, Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch, a title to which he was only the heir presumptive, and the securing of which meant making sure that the middle-aging, vain, but still virile and rather handsome gentleman, whose own wife had passed some years earlier, never remarried, at least not to anyone capable of bearing him a son.
The second was the hand of his lovely cousin, Miss Anne Elliot, Sir Walter's second daughter. To some degree, this inclination was based on the aforementioned first element needed to secure his happiness. Marriage to one of the baronet's daughters would give him the influence of a son by marriage, rather than that of a somewhat distant nephew, and thus allow him to discourage any romantic explorations the baronet might be inclined to pursue.
Nevertheless, Mr. Elliot could not fail to be aware that Anne was, in herself, a prize most worth obtaining. Lovely, gracious, elegant, possessed of all the accomplishments a gently-bred young lady was supposed to have, along with a keen understanding and intelligence, improved by her extensive reading. Her quiet, serene manner and kindly impulses stood in stark contrast to her ill-mannered, self-centered, spiteful (though undeniably attractive) elder sister, Elizabeth, who had set her cap for Mr. Elliot, but whom Mr. Elliot would never consider, not even if marrying her meant that his succession to the baronetcy was absolutely assured. Not even if failing to marry her meant that his succession to the baronetcy was just as assuredly denied. Some things were not worth sacrificing even for a title.
But Anne, delicate, graceful Anne was worth having at his side with or without the baronetcy. That having her would make that title more certain was an added advantage. But Mr. Elliot had the good sense to desire her for herself, and not merely for the influence he would then be able to wield over his father-in-law.
He also had the good sense to recognize that Miss Anne did not seem to return his regard. There were two impediments, the first being one of the characteristics that Mr. Elliot most admired about Miss Anne, her intelligence and quick understanding.
Mr. Elliot was possessed of enough self-awareness to know that he was unscrupulous, amoral, wholly lacking in integrity, and basically unkind, and, though he was adept at hiding these qualities, Anne was possessed of sufficient understanding to recognize them. Despite his assiduous wooing, she seemed to know what he was about, and had resisted, kindly but firmly, all his hints and overtures.
The second impediment was that Anne seemed to have a tendre for a fellow who was decidedly not Mr. Elliot. He had learned from Miss Elizabeth Elliot that, years earlier, Miss Anne had been briefly engaged to an officer in the Royal Navy. Persuaded of the imprudence of the match by family and friends, she had broken it off, but had been regretful ever since. Now that officer, one Captain Frederick Wentworth, was back in the picture, young despite his high rank and comparatively high standing on the Captains' List, dashing where Mr. Elliot was stylish, ruggedly handsome where Mr. Elliot was pleasantly good-looking, honest and honourable where Mr. Elliot was crafty and guileful, and now reasonably wealthy on the basis of heroic toil in defense of his country where Mr. Elliot had inherited his wealth and had made a point of avoiding military service, even comparatively safe service in his local militia. Worse still, despite rumours that Wentworth was romantically involved with a sister of Sir Walter's son-in-law, the captain was here in Bath, wholly unattached, and clearly hoping to reestablish his relationship with Miss Anne.
Worst of all, he was right here in the Octagon Room, attending a musical recital featuring a protégé of the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter, the Honourable Miss Carteret. Since Lady Dalrymple was a distant cousin of the Elliots, Sir Walter, his two elder daughters, and Mr. Elliot were all in attendance. Captain Wentworth and Miss Anne had spent a few moments in conversation before the concert started, and the look in their eyes was unmistakable. They were in love. Mr. Elliot had never really felt that emotion for anyone but himself. Indeed, despite his admiration for her, he could not, if he was honest, even say he felt it for Anne; what he felt for her was acute desire, a completely selfish emotion. But, if he had never felt it, he was perceptive enough to recognize it in others, and Captain Wentworth and Miss Anne, his Anne, clearly felt it for each other.
He had contrived to sit next to Miss Anne, and she had, at his request, good-naturedly translated the Italian lyrics of the song being performed into clear, comprehensible English. But she remained, though unfailingly courteous, unmoved by his compliments, unpersuaded by his hints that he had heard much about her ere they had ever met, and resistant to his overtures of love.
Captain Wentworth, observing the two of them sitting together, had started to leave the room in the intermission between songs, which was all to the good. If the Captain thought he had no chance, that Mr. Elliot was already Anne's favorite, he might end his pursuit and leave the way clear for Mr. Elliot.
But then Anne arose to follow him. This was all to the bad. The captain's main disadvantage in his pursuit was that he clearly was not sure how Anne felt about him, though it was plain to anyone else who observed them. If he knew that Anne had enough regard for him to ask him to say, he would be gain the one advantage he lacked, confidence that his campaign to win her heart might be crowned by success.
Mr. Elliot couldn't have that. Desperate measures would obviously be required. If he couldn't persuade Anne to marry him, he would have to force her into a position from which she would have no other choice but to marry him, and simultaneously convince Wentworth that she was beneath his notice. Here, during this well-attended public event, was just the place to do it.
Wentworth had stopped briefly to bid Miss Anne a good night. Anne was just trying to persuade him that the next song was worth staying for when Mr. Elliot made his approach.
"Miss Anne," said Mr. Elliot, "could you not rejoin us at our seats? Miss Carteret is hoping you can translate the lyrics of the next song."
He turned back to the audience to indicate the Dowager Viscountess's daughter, and, turning back to Miss Anne, pretended to lose his footing and fall against her. Seeming to grab her shoulder with his left hand to balance himself, he deftly hooked his fingers into the sleeve her gown, and deliberately continued his path downward, landing on his knees, causing a long rip that exposed the chemise and short stays beneath. Strictly speaking, modesty was technically preserved, but the effect was mortifying in the extreme. Mr. Elliot had, as he had planned, successfully compromised his cousin in a public setting and was now prepared to do his duty to her.
Captain Wentworth, ever the hero coming to the aid of a damsel in distress, had immediately whipped off the heavily gilded coat of his Number One uniform, and draped it over Miss Anne's shoulders, so she could cover herself. But her exposure, and consequent humiliation, though brief, was nevertheless complete. Most of the company had seen what happened, and had seen the lady's undergarments revealed to all eyes present, and a sufficient number had also seen that Mr. Elliot had been the cause of Miss Anne's inadvertent display.
Miss Anne's father and sister were at her side immediately, but their response was anything but sympathetic.
"Anne," said the baronet, "of what can you be thinking by such a humiliating display."
“The fault was not hers, Sir Walter,” said his scheming nephew. “I lost my footing and inadvertently fell against Miss Anne. Her dishabille must be laid at my door. I regret, more than I can say, that she has been so publicly embarrassed. And compromised. But be assured, I intend to do the right thing. It would be my pleasure, and my honour, to bestow on my dear cousin all my worldly goods, as soon as may be. By special license if one can be obtained.”
"Well, well," huffed a still irritated Sir Walter. "I suppose that makes the case different. To a degree. Still no excuse, mind you, but if you're willing to marry the girl, I suppose there's no real harm done."
Anne who had regained a small measure of her composure as her father and Mr. Elliot exchanged words, finally found her own voice.
"No harm done!" cried she. "What of the harm to my future happiness? I have no wish to marry my cousin."
"My dear Miss Anne," replied Mr. Elliot, "though you were in no way at fault, we now have no choice but to marry."
"Indeed," said Sir Walter. "You should be thankful, Anne, that the future baronet is willing to plight his troth with someone so completely disgraced. For who else would marry you now, after such a disgusting public display?"
"I would!" thundered Captain Wentworth. Then, turning to Anne, he continued in a softer tone, "I have come to Bath for no other reason than in the hope of regaining your regard. I offer myself to you now with a heart even more your own than when you first captured it all those years ago. If you can find it in your heart to forgive the bitterness and anger I so inexcusably displayed these past few months, and accept this battered warrior as your own, you would make me the happiest of men."
"Of course I will marry you, Frederick," Anne replied. "Indeed, why do you suppose I have stayed single all these years, if not for you? I hope you did not think I was incapable of attracting other suitors."
"On the contrary, my greatest fear, though one I did not admit to myself, was that you had not only found someone else, but had found him worthier of your hand than I."
"That could never be, Frederick."
Sir Walter was almost apoplectic.
"Anne," he almost shouted, "you cannot be thinking of marrying this . . . this sailor. I absolutely forbid it! You will marry my nephew, and there's an end to it."
"I have been of age for some years now, Father, though I have no doubt that this event passed unnoticed by you. I no longer need your approval. I will marry who I wish, not who I'm told."
"You will get nothing from me if you do," warned the baronet.
"I would get nothing in any case," retorted Anne. "Your immoderate habit of spending beyond your means has already depleted my dowry, which should have been my mother's last gift to me. Withholding that which you have foolishly squandered so long ago is about as empty a threat as you can make, Father."
"Emptier than you know, Sir Walter," added Wentworth. "Her dowry meant nothing to me when we were first engaged, and all I had then to offer her was talent at my craft and sheer determination to succeed. Now I have a considerable fortune. Anne will be better off, at least in a pecuniary sense, with me than she is with you. And that is quite aside from the fact that, with me, she will be cared for and valued as she deserves."
Mr. William Elliot, well-favored widower, wealthy gentleman, and future baronet so long as his uncle never had a son, watched this exchange with dismay. He had intended to force Anne into his arms, and had succeeded in pushing her closer to the arms of his rival.
But that is often the way of it when one employs desperate measures. Such measures have a way of recoiling on the desperate.The End