She stopped, regretting with a deep blush that she had implied so much; but less would hardly have been sufficient. Mrs Smith would hardly have believed so soon in Mr Elliot’s failure, but from the perception of there being a somebody else. As it was, she instantly submitted, and with all the semblance of seeing nothing beyond; and Anne, eager to escape farther notice, was impatient to know why Mrs Smith should have fancied she was to marry Mr Elliot; where she could have received the idea, or from whom she could have heard it.
"Do tell me how it first came into your head."
"It first came into my head," replied Mrs Smith, "upon finding how much you were together, and feeling it to be the most probable thing in the world to be wished for by everybody belonging to either of you; and you may depend upon it that all your acquaintance have disposed of you in the same way. But I never heard it spoken of till two days ago."
"And has it indeed been spoken of?"
"Did you observe the woman who opened the door to you when you called yesterday?"
"No. Was not it Mrs Speed, as usual, or the maid? I observed no one in particular."
"It was my friend Mrs Rooke; Nurse Rooke; who, by-the-bye, had a great curiosity to see you, and was delighted to be in the way to let you in. She came away from Marlborough Buildings only on Sunday; and she it was who told me you were to marry Mr Elliot.
She had had it from Mrs Wallis herself, which did not seem bad authority.
She sat an hour with me on Monday evening, and gave me the whole history."
"The whole history," repeated Anne, laughing. "She could not make a very long history, I think, of one such little article of unfounded news."
Mrs Smith said nothing.
"But," continued Anne, presently, "though there is no truth in my having this claim on Mr Elliot, I should be extremely happy to be of use to you in any way that I could. Shall I mention to him your being in Bath?
Shall I take any message?"
"No, I thank you: no, certainly not. In the warmth of the moment, and under a mistaken impression, I might, perhaps, have endeavoured to interest you in some circumstances; but not now. No, I thank you, I have nothing to trouble you with."
"I think you spoke of having known Mr Elliot many years?"
"Not before he was married, I suppose?"
"Yes; he was not married when I knew him first."
"And-were you much acquainted?"
"Indeed! Then do tell me what he was at that time of life.
I have a great curiosity to know what Mr Elliot was as a very young man.
Was he at all such as he appears now?"
"I have not seen Mr Elliot these three years," was Mrs Smith’s answer, given so gravely that it was impossible to pursue the subject farther; and Anne felt that she had gained nothing but an increase of curiosity.
They were both silent: Mrs Smith very thoughtful. At last-"I beg your pardon, my dear Miss Elliot," she cried, in her natural tone of cordiality, "I beg your pardon for the short answers I have been giving you, but I have been uncertain what I ought to do.
I have been doubting and considering as to what I ought to tell you.
There were many things to be taken into the account. One hates to be officious, to be giving bad impressions, making mischief.
Even the smooth surface of family-union seems worth preserving, though there may be nothing durable beneath. However, I have determined;
I think I am right; I think you ought to be made acquainted with Mr Elliot’s real character. Though I fully believe that, at present, you have not the smallest intention of accepting him, there is no saying what may happen. You might, some time or other, be differently affected towards him. Hear the truth, therefore, now, while you are unprejudiced. Mr Elliot is a man without heart or conscience; a designing, wary, cold-blooded being, who thinks only of himself; whom for his own interest or ease, would be guilty of any cruelty, or any treachery, that could be perpetrated without risk of his general character. He has no feeling for others.
Those whom he has been the chief cause of leading into ruin, he can neglect and desert without the smallest compunction.
He is totally beyond the reach of any sentiment of justice or compassion.
Oh! he is black at heart, hollow and black!"
Anne’s astonished air, and exclamation of wonder, made her pause, and in a calmer manner, she added,
"My expressions startle you. You must allow for an injured, angry woman.
But I will try to command myself. I will not abuse him.
I will only tell you what I have found him. Facts shall speak.
He was the intimate friend of my dear husband, who trusted and loved him, and thought him as good as himself. The intimacy had been formed before our marriage. I found them most intimate friends; and I, too, became excessively pleased with Mr Elliot, and entertained the highest opinion of him. At nineteen, you know, one does not think very seriously; but Mr Elliot appeared to me quite as good as others, and much more agreeable than most others, and we were almost always together. We were principally in town, living in very good style.
He was then the inferior in circumstances; he was then the poor one; he had chambers in the Temple, and it was as much as he could do to support the appearance of a gentleman. He had always a home with us whenever he chose it; he was always welcome; he was like a brother.
My poor Charles, who had the finest, most generous spirit in the world, would have divided his last farthing with him; and I know that his purse was open to him; I know that he often assisted him."
"This must have been about that very period of Mr Elliot’s life," said Anne, "which has always excited my particular curiosity.
It must have been about the same time that he became known to my father and sister. I never knew him myself; I only heard of him; but there was a something in his conduct then, with regard to my father and sister, and afterwards in the circumstances of his marriage, which I never could quite reconcile with present times. It seemed to announce a different sort of man."
"I know it all, I know it all," cried Mrs Smith. "He had been introduced to Sir Walter and your sister before I was acquainted with him, but I heard him speak of them for ever. I know he was invited and encouraged, and I know he did not choose to go. I can satisfy you, perhaps, on points which you would little expect; and as to his marriage, I knew all about it at the time. I was privy to all the fors and againsts;
I was the friend to whom he confided his hopes and plans; and though I did not know his wife previously, her inferior situation in society, indeed, rendered that impossible, yet I knew her all her life afterwards, or at least till within the last two years of her life, and can answer any question you may wish to put."
"Nay," said Anne, "I have no particular enquiry to make about her.
I have always understood they were not a happy couple. But I should like to know why, at that time of his life, he should slight my father’s acquaintance as he did. My father was certainly disposed to take very kind and proper notice of him. Why did Mr Elliot draw back?"
"Mr Elliot," replied Mrs Smith, "at that period of his life, had one object in view: to make his fortune, and by a rather quicker process than the law. He was determined to make it by marriage.
He was determined, at least, not to mar it by an imprudent marriage; and I know it was his belief (whether justly or not, of course I cannot decide), that your father and sister, in their civilities and invitations, were designing a match between the heir and the young lady, and it was impossible that such a match should have answered his ideas of wealth and independence.
That was his motive for drawing back, I can assure you.
He told me the whole story. He had no concealments with me.
It was curious, that having just left you behind me in Bath, my first and principal acquaintance on marrying should be your cousin; and that, through him, I should be continually hearing of your father and sister. He described one Miss Elliot, and I thought very affectionately of the other."
"Perhaps," cried Anne, struck by a sudden idea, "you sometimes spoke of me to Mr Elliot?"
"To be sure I did; very often. I used to boast of my own Anne Elliot, and vouch for your being a very different creature from-"
She checked herself just in time.
"This accounts for something which Mr Elliot said last night," cried Anne. "This explains it. I found he had been used to hear of me.
I could not comprehend how. What wild imaginations one forms where dear self is concerned! How sure to be mistaken! But I beg your pardon;
I have interrupted you. Mr Elliot married then completely for money?
The circumstances, probably, which first opened your eyes to his character."
Mrs Smith hesitated a little here. "Oh! those things are too common.
When one lives in the world, a man or woman’s marrying for money is too common to strike one as it ought. I was very young, and associated only with the young, and we were a thoughtless, gay set, without any strict rules of conduct. We lived for enjoyment.
I think differently now; time and sickness and sorrow have given me other notions; but at that period I must own I saw nothing reprehensible in what Mr Elliot was doing. `To do the best for himself,’ passed as a duty."
"But was not she a very low woman?"
"Yes; which I objected to, but he would not regard. Money, money, was all that he wanted. Her father was a grazier, her grandfather had been a butcher, but that was all nothing. She was a fine woman, had had a decent education, was brought forward by some cousins, thrown by chance into Mr Elliot’s company, and fell in love with him; and not a difficulty or a scruple was there on his side, with respect to her birth. All his caution was spent in being secured of the real amount of her fortune, before he committed himself.
Depend upon it, whatever esteem Mr Elliot may have for his own situation in life now, as a young man he had not the smallest value for it.
His chance for the Kellynch estate was something, but all the honour of the family he held as cheap as dirt. I have often heard him declare, that if baronetcies were saleable, anybody should have his for fifty pounds, arms and motto, name and livery included; but I will not pretend to repeat half that I used to hear him say on that subject. It would not be fair; and yet you ought to have proof, for what is all this but assertion, and you shall have proof."
"Indeed, my dear Mrs Smith, I want none," cried Anne. "You have asserted nothing contradictory to what Mr Elliot appeared to be some years ago.
This is all in confirmation, rather, of what we used to hear and believe.
I am more curious to know why he should be so different now."
"But for my satisfaction, if you will have the goodness to ring for Mary; stay: I am sure you will have the still greater goodness of going yourself into my bedroom, and bringing me the small inlaid box which you will find on the upper shelf of the closet."
Anne, seeing her friend to be earnestly bent on it, did as she was desired.
The box was brought and placed before her, and Mrs Smith, sighing over it as she unlocked it, said-"This is full of papers belonging to him, to my husband; a small portion only of what I had to look over when I lost him.
The letter I am looking for was one written by Mr Elliot to him before our marriage, and happened to be saved; why, one can hardly imagine.
But he was careless and immethodical, like other men, about those things; and when I came to examine his papers, I found it with others still more trivial, from different people scattered here and there, while many letters and memorandums of real importance had been destroyed.
Here it is; I would not burn it, because being even then very little satisfied with Mr Elliot, I was determined to preserve every document of former intimacy. I have now another motive for being glad that I can produce it."
This was the letter, directed to "Charles Smith, Esq. Tunbridge Wells," and dated from London, as far back as July, 1803: -"Dear Smith,-I have received yours. Your kindness almost overpowers me.
I wish nature had made such hearts as yours more common, but I have lived three-and-twenty years in the world, and have seen none like it.
At present, believe me, I have no need of your services, being in cash again. Give me joy: I have got rid of Sir Walter and Miss.
They are gone back to Kellynch, and almost made me swear to visit them this summer; but my first visit to Kellynch will be with a surveyor, to tell me how to bring it with best advantage to the hammer.
The baronet, nevertheless, is not unlikely to marry again; he is quite fool enough. If he does, however, they will leave me in peace, which may be a decent equivalent for the reversion. He is worse than last year.
"I wish I had any name but Elliot. I am sick of it. The name of Walter I can drop, thank God! and I desire you will never insult me with my second W. again, meaning, for the rest of my life, to be only yours truly,-Wm. Elliot."
Such a letter could not be read without putting Anne in a glow; and Mrs Smith, observing the high colour in her face, said-"The language, I know, is highly disrespectful. Though I have forgot the exact terms, I have a perfect impression of the general meaning.
But it shows you the man. Mark his professions to my poor husband.
Can any thing be stronger?"
Anne could not immediately get over the shock and mortification of finding such words applied to her father. She was obliged to recollect that her seeing the letter was a violation of the laws of honour, that no one ought to be judged or to be known by such testimonies, that no private correspondence could bear the eye of others, before she could recover calmness enough to return the letter which she had been meditating over, and say-"Thank you. This is full proof undoubtedly; proof of every thing you were saying. But why be acquainted with us now?"
"I can explain this too," cried Mrs Smith, smiling.
"Can you really?"
"Yes. I have shewn you Mr Elliot as he was a dozen years ago, and I will shew him as he is now. I cannot produce written proof again, but I can give as authentic oral testimony as you can desire, of what he is now wanting, and what he is now doing. He is no hypocrite now.