Mrs Smith Tells All
The next day, Anne went to visit Mrs Smith. She was glad to get out of the house. She did not want to see Mr Elliot and he was sure to visit Sir Walter.
‘My friend tells me that Mr Elliot is often at your house,’ said Mrs Smith, when they were sitting in her small room, drinking tea.
‘Who is your friend?’ asked Anne.
‘Mrs Rooke. She’s a nurse and she works for Colonel Wallis. You know his wife has just had a baby.’
‘Yes, and Colonel Wallis is Mr Elliot’s friend. Do you know Mr Elliot?’
‘I used to know him very well,’ said Mrs Smith,’but I haven’t seen him for three years now.’
‘Did you ever talk about me to him?’ asked Anne.
‘Yes, I did. I often spoke about your fine character, your modesty and intelligence. It was at the time when he met your father and sister, before his marriage. Speaking of marriage, Mrs Rooke tells me that Mrs Wallis thinks you will marry Mr Elliot.’
‘Well,’ said Anne, ‘Mrs Wallis is mistaken. Mr Elliot hasn’t asked me to marry him, and, if he did, I would refuse him.’
‘I’m glad to hear you’re not engaged to him. You don’t know his real character.’
‘Please tell me about it. I’ve often wondered what he was like when he was young.’
Mrs Smith looked at Anne with a serious expression on her face. ‘Mr Elliot is a man without heart or conscience,’ she said angrily. ‘He thinks only of himself. My husband was his close friend before we were married, and, after our marriage, I became his friend too. I thought he was a fine young gentleman then. I remember when he met your father and sister, and they invited him to Kellynch. He spent the evening with us afterwards and told us the whole story. He laughed at your father and said he knew that Sir Walter wanted him to marry his daughter. But he had no money, and he wanted to marry a rich woman. He knew that he would get Kellynch Hall and the title anyway, even if he didn’t marry Elizabeth. At that time, he didn’t care at all about the honour of his family. He once said that if titles could be sold, he would sell his for fifty pounds!’
Anne was shocked and angry. ‘But why has he been so friendly to us since he came to Bath?’ she asked.
‘Ah, well, people change, you see. That was years ago, when he was a young man. Now he cares a lot about the family honour and the title. Colonel Wallis told him that Mrs Clay was staying with your sister and that she was trying to make Sir Walter fall in love with her.’
‘How do you know? You said you haven’t spoken to him for three years.’
‘Mrs Rooke again,’ replied Mrs Smith. ‘You see, Colonel Wallis tells his wife everything, and Mrs Wallis tells her nurse everything, and Mrs Rooke very kindly told me. She said that when Mr Elliot heard about Mrs Clay, he decided to make friends with Sir Walter and separate him from Mrs Clay. He has spoken to Mrs Clay in private and warned her not to try to win Sir Walter’s affections. Mrs Clay is afraid of him and doesn’t want to spend a lot of time with Sir Walter while Mr Elliot is present. And so he spends as much time as possible with Sir Walter. You see, Mr Elliot is afraid that Sir Walter might marry her and have a son. Then he wouldn’t inherit Kellynch Hall.’
‘This is terrible!’ said Anne.
‘Yes,’ said Mrs Smith. ‘As I said, he’s a heartless man, but for me the clearest example of it is the way he treated my poor husband and the way he has treated me since my husband died. After his marriage, Mr Elliot was very rich. My husband was never good at managing money, and he was getting into serious financial difficulties. Mr Elliot did nothing to help him. Before my husband died, he had made Mr Elliot the executor of his will. If Mr Elliot had tried a bit harder and invested a little of his own money, my husband’s property in the West Indies would now be mine. But he did nothing, and now the bank owns the property. So you see, it’s Mr Elliot’s fault that I’m so poor. I’ve written him several letters asking him for help, but he always refuses. Here are some of the letters I’ve received from him.’
Mrs Smith handed Anne a packet of letters. As she read them, Anne felt more and more angry: each letter showed coldness and hard-hearted indifference.
As she walked home, Anne thought about her conversation with Mrs Smith. She wanted to tell her family immediately, but she knew that they would not listen to her. She decided that she would tell Lady Russell and ask her advice.
The idea of Mr Elliot’s interest in her now filled her with disgust. At least he was going to be away at Thornberry for two days, and she would not have to talk to him. She shivered at the thought that Lady Russell might have persuaded her to marry him. Then she would have discovered his true character when it was too late!
When she got home, she found Charles and Mary there. They had come to Bath for a few days with Captain Harville, Henrietta and Mrs Musgrove. They were all staying at the White Hart Inn. Anne was surprised and really glad to see them. Before she left, Mary turned to Anne and said, ‘You must come and spend the day with us at the inn tomorrow. We have so much to talk about, and Mrs Musgrove and Henrietta want to tell you all about the wedding plans.’