Anne suddenly understands her own mind.
Anne fastened her spencer and tied her bonnet strings. Strange sensations threatened to overwhelm her and if she did not get outside into the fresh air quickly she might be overcome. The butler opened the door for her, inquiring if she might require a chair. She shook her head and hurried out before anyone could inquire as to her destination.
What a very strange conversation she had shared with Lady Russell. In truth it was not a conversation. Lady Russell had gone out of her way, once again, to extol the merits of Mr. Elliot and imply his desirability as a suitor. This was not the first time and in each repetition, her subtlety waned.
Something within Anne strained to breaking, and she spoke her mind. Just a few words, soft, but firm ones. He is an excellent man, I am sure, but we would not suit.
The look on Lady Russell’s face—Anne had never see it before—something between astonishment and affront. She almost responded, but stopped before the words escaped. Instead, she turned a very polite, practiced smile on Anne. It was one she used when she disagreed with an expressed sentiment, but was far too well-manner to voice it.
Anne hurried along the lane, hand pressed to her chest. What had come over her, to speak so boldly? Had she ever openly disagreed with Lady Russell before? Quite possibly not. No, certainly not. What an odd, empowering sensation, to speak one’s own mind.
She drew several deep breaths as if free from some oppressive prison for the first time. She would have to do this again not disagree, but represent her own opinion with the same liberty as those she most admired.
But what was her opinion toward Mr. Elliot?
She jumped back out of the way of a phaeton driven too fast along the narrow lady by what looked like a very dandified young man. This was the very kind of behavior Mr. Elliot softly confessed to. In truth, that was among the least of his past transgressions.
He now professed correct, pleasing, very proper opinions, even with regards to his previous behavior. Still, something of the disingenuous lingered.
Why was it no one else saw it? Mr. Elliot had the happy ability of pleasing whomever he was with, from Father to Mrs. Clay—of whom Anne knew he thought very little. They both held his in high regard.
She watched the phaeton disappear around the corner, turning so sharply it nearly turned over on its side. She held her breath until it righted and left her sight.
How could one man be so uniformly pleasing to all? Was it possible to be always rational, discrete and polished? Mr. Elliot seemed so, perhaps even preternaturally so.
The confectionary shop appeared near the end of the lane, greeting her with delightful, teasing smells and pretty cakes in the window. Elizabeth had not yet discovered this place, so she had no demands for marzipan or anything else for Anne to fetch for her. What a happy thing indeed to go somewhere for her own pleasure alone, not that of another.
Inside, Anne requested her favorite almond clear cake from the serving girl and perched on a high stool near the window amongst the other happy customers to wait. Somehow people always seemed happy at a confectionary shop.
A couple passed by the window, engrossed in what appeared to be an animated discussion. Her eyes bulged at some statement of his, and his face colored and his mouth gaped at her retort. How pleased they looked with themselves.
Mr. Elliot never demonstrated any such warmth in his discussion either by way of ascent or indignation. Instead he was unfailingly polite at all times. Polite was pleasing, after a fashion, but wholly unsatisfying.
The girl brought her clear cake. Gracious heavens! These were every bit as good as those at Boyd’s. She closed her eyes and savored the first bite. Oh, the ethereal delight of the crunch sugary crust, surrounding the cool, melting jelly.
How Mrs. Smith laughed at their last visit, as Anne had described her enjoyment of this secret pleasure. Perhaps she should bring one the next time she called. But no, Mrs. Smith confessed to a deep disinclination toward jellies of all varieties before she could censure herself.
Mr. Elliot would never do such a thing—allow a careless word to escape his lips. Mrs. Smith—how flustered she became—attempting to apologize over and over all the while Anne insisted no offense had been taken.
Anne paused and set her clear cake on the dainty pink chine plate. Of course! How clear it was now. That was the crux of the matter, indeed.
Mr. Elliot never spoke a careless or hasty word, and he never had occasion to repent. But was it not in those moments that one’s true character was revealed? Surely Miss Smith showed her true, sensitive nature with her concern for the distress she might have caused.
Anne could not accuse Mr. Elliot of actual disguise, yet at the same time, he never indulged in those moments of exposure that might have offered assurance of his true character.
Since her time in Lyme, among the Harvilles, Captian Benwick—and Frederick, she had come to treasure the frank and open-hearted character she had found among the naval men much more than among the gentlemen of society. Dear heavens, that was what she had found missing in so many she met in Father’s company.
The tension that stiffened her back floated away and she sighed. Frederick expressed himself with warmth and enthusiasm. He occasionally said what he should not, told stories not so very appropriate for the drawing room, complained when affronted by others. In short, one felt like one knew him, the true man, after an evening in his company.
How many times had she been in in Mr. Elliot’s company only to come away knowing him not more after the call than she had before. What was more, she did not like it, did not trust it.
And that was her opinion on him!
How very…freeing to finally understand her own mind.
She took another bite of her clear cake, savoring it as much as the knowledge that while Lady Russell might appreciate Mr. Elliot all she wanted. Anne would remain courteous and save her regard for one who might enjoy a clear cake with the same relish she did.