Anne stayed at Lady Russell’s house in Kellynch for a month, then they both went to Bath. Lady Russell had rented a house for herself there. Anne wished she could stay with her friend, but she had to stay at her father’s house with Elizabeth and Mrs Clay. When they arrived, Sir Walter, Elizabeth and Mrs Clay seemed to be in good spirits and welcomed Anne more warmly than she had expected. Elizabeth told them that William Walter Elliot had been visiting them often over the past two weeks. He was in Bath, staying with his friend Colonel Wallis and his wife and new baby.
‘It’s surprising that he visits you so often!’ said Lady Russell. ‘I’ve never liked the man because he showed no respect for the family. He never came to see you while his wife was alive. I suppose, now that she is dead, he is beginning to value his family.’
Anne was slightly confused. When she had seen him in Lyme, she had thought that Mr Elliot seemed a sensible man. Why, Anne asked herself, is he so interested in making friends with the family now, after all these years? She thought perhaps it was for Elizabeth. Certainly Elizabeth herself and Mrs Clay thought so.
That evening, Mr William Walter Elliot came to visit. When he saw Anne, his face showed surprise and pleasure. ‘My dear cousin!’ he said. ‘I saw you just a few weeks ago at Lyme, but I had no idea that it was you!’
He sat between Anne and Lady Russell. His manners were very pleasant. He asked Anne why she had been in Lyme, and when she mentioned the accident he was interested and sympathetic — he wanted to know every detail. Then he spoke to Lady Russell about the years in which there had been no communication between himself and Sir Walter. ‘It was all a misunderstanding,’ he said. ‘I thought I had offended him, that he didn’t want to see me anymore. But now I realise that was a mistake. I’m so sorry that I missed all those years of his company!’
After he left, Lady Russell cried, ‘What a nice man! Is this really the same Mr Elliot? I used to dislike him, but now he seems completely admirable: he’s intelligent, sophisticated, polite and friendly. He has the right opinions and strong family feelings.’
Anne went to bed that night with a smile on her face: her first evening in Bath had been surprisingly pleasant.
The only thing that disturbed Anne’s first few days in Bath was her fear that her father was falling in love with Mrs Clay.
When Mrs Clay was in the room with him, he talked to her a lot, and when she was out of the room he referred to her often: ‘Mrs Clay thinks’ this and ‘Mrs Clay says’ that.
One evening, when Mr William Walter Elliot and Lady Russell were visiting them, Sir Walter and Elizabeth spoke with great enthusiasm about Sir Walter’s cousin Lady Dalrymple.
‘She has come to Bath and has rented a beautiful house in Laura Place, which is of course the best street in town,’ said Sir Walter. ‘Since we are cousins, I called on her immediately and she invited us to tea.’
‘Yes,’ said Elizabeth, ‘She’s a really charming lady, and her carriage is the most splendid one in Bath!’
Anne was embarrassed. She had never seen her father and sister in contact with nobility before, and she felt ashamed of them. Usually she considered them too proud — too conscious of their own position in society and snobbish towards anyone they considered inferior. But now, for the first time, she wished they had more pride. She wished they did not show so openly how important it was to them for Lady Dalrymple to recognise them and treat them as equals. Lady Dalrymple was pleasant enough, but she was nothing special. She was not intelligent or cultured. Certainly she smiled at everyone, but the only reason Elizabeth called her ‘charming’ was because she was a wealthy aristocrat.
Mr Elliot turned to Anne and said in a low voice, ‘I’m so glad that Sir Walter has found good company in Bath.’
Anne smiled and replied, ‘My idea of good company, Mr Elliot, is the company of clever well-educated people who can make interesting conversation.’
‘You’re mistaken,’ he said gently. ‘That is not good company; that is the best. To be good company, you need only to be from a respectable family and have nice manners.’
‘Well,’ said Anne, ‘I’m proud of my family, and I don’t like to see them trying so hard to be friendly with Lady Dalrymple simply because she’s an aristocrat.’
‘We agree on one thing, at least,’ replied Mr Elliot. ‘I too am proud of my family, and I would rather see Sir Walter being friendly with Lady Dalrymple than with others who are below him.’ He glanced at Mrs Clay.
Although Anne was sure that Mr Elliot’s pride was different from hers, she was glad that he did not like Mrs Clay.
The following week, they were all invited to Lady Dalrymple’s house. Anne said that she could not go, because she had already made plans to visit a friend of hers — Mrs Smith. They had been at school together years ago, but now Mrs Smith was a poor widow. Her husband, Mr Smith, had been wealthy but had lost all his money. Now Mrs Smith had very little money to live on, and she was in bad health. Sir Walter thought that Anne was foolish to waste her time with such a person.
The next day, Lady Russell told Anne all about their evening at Lady Dalrymple’s house. ‘My dear, Mr Elliot was very sorry that you weren’t there, but he said he admired you for wanting to visit your old friend. He thinks that you’re an extraordinary young woman; a model of female excellence! We discussed your virtues for half an hour!’
Hearing this gave Anne great pleasure, just as Lady Russell had planned.
Lady Russell had now decided that Mr Elliot was an excellent gentleman. She was sure that he wanted to marry Anne. She told Anne her thoughts on the subject. After a moment, Anne replied, ‘Mr Elliot is a nice man, but we are not compatible.’
‘Just think,’ said Lady Russell. ‘If you marry Mr Elliot, you will have your dear mother’s name, her position and your old home!’
This vision affected Anne very deeply. Yes, she would love to be Lady Elliot of Kellynch Hall! But she did not want to marry Mr Elliot. There was only one man she had ever wanted to marry, and besides, she had doubts about Mr Elliot’s sincerity. He was clever, friendly, interesting and polite, but he was not open. He had suggested to her that he disliked Mrs Clay, yet he was just as charming to Mrs Clay as to everyone else. He never expressed anger or pleasure at the good or evil of others. She preferred people who occasionally made mistakes but were warm-hearted and sincere.