I don't own Persuasion, that most charming of love stories. I don't own Phantom of the Opera, either.
The story is set in the U.S. around the present time. The language holds archaic tendencies just because I like it.
Chapter 1 – The Name 'Wentworth'
"You will have to rent out the estate," concluded Mr. Shepherd, who was sitting on a white-leather club chair in Walter Elliot's California residence.
"Where are we going to live?" huffed Elizabeth. Her tone indicated that she was bordering on an angry rant.
"It's out of the question," Walter Elliot answered his attorney.
Mrs. Russell spoke now: "Elliot, I do understand your distaste on this subject, but I, with permission from Anne, have looked at the financial records. I do not think Mr. Shepherd is being extreme." The woman's eyes were wide with concern as they gazed upon the famous violinist in his pool robe and sandals. He sank deeper into the teak-framed chaise lounge. His features expressed his desire to find any way of avoiding the horrible news he was forced to consider at the moment.
The attorney, seeing the seriousness of the retired musician's countenance, continued, "If you do not rent out the property, the bank will be forced to-"
"Can't I just declare bankruptcy?" Mr. Elliot looked to his daughter, Elizabeth, for reassurance. She nodded her head, passionately agreeing.
"Yes, why not just go bankrupt?"
"There, now!" The Great Elliot looked pleased with himself.
"Elliot, exemption laws for filing bankruptcy in California do not allow you-,"
"No, Elliot." Mrs. Russell interrupted the attorney. Her matronly but firm tones were a calming balm that helped alleviate the tension in the room. "You will lose the mansion entirely if you do not rent it out." The listeners in the room watched the older man's expression as he turned his head to the red ball outside melting into the horizon off the Malibu coast behind the Elliot mansion.
On the matching loveseat beside Elizabeth sat a slightly older woman dressed in a fuchsia faux suede jacket with a matching feather boa. Mrs. Clay, lately separated from her husband, had only recently found a friend in Elizabeth Elliot. At present, Penelope Clay was trying to look sympathetic while still filing her nails. Many times she would look over at a petite female sitting away from the rest of the party surrounding Walter Elliot. Anne Elliot was seated on an over-large, bamboo-framed armchair. Her hands were clasped in her lap in a nervous manner, but her face did not express her emotions. She was watching the interaction with relative calmness, looking over to her god-mother and her father as they conversed. Yet she did not enter the conversation voluntarily.
Mrs. Clay's eyebrow raised as Anne's father turned to look at his second daughter.
"Anne, I'm sure, has misrepresented our situation to you. We couldn't possibly be that bad off…" His voice trailed away.
Feeling forced to respond, Anne spoke shortly. "I showed her the letters and invoices, Dad."
"How dare you do that? You don't tell our friends our money issues! How dare you embarrass me?" Walter Elliot was finding vent for his financial frustrations, as everyone in the room was uncomfortably aware.
"She only confided in me, because she trusted that I could advise you on the best course of action," mediated Mrs. Russell.
"Advise me! I have an advisor!" Mr. Elliot was becoming quite irate as he gestured to his attorney, Mr. Shepherd.
"And I have advised you for years now to quit spending so much money. Now I am convinced you have no other recourse but to rent out the estate," expressed the lawyer quietly, seeing that the older man might finally listen.
"But where will we live?" Elizabeth asked again, this time in earnest.
"Anne would be delighted to let you stay in her flat in New York until you can find something more permanent." Both Elizabeth and her father made signs of impatient disapproval as Mrs. Russell continued. "It is small, yes, but it will suit your needs at present. And it will put you right in the midst of the city during the height of the season."
"Ah, that's true, Dad. We could be at all of the best performances!" Though Elizabeth spoke of 'performances,' it was plain that she was thinking about the parties. She clandestinely nudged her friend beside her with her elbow.
Though his brow was furrowed, he was nodding now. Considered an influential legend known for his taste in music and theater, The Great Elliot was not without connections. Relief was peeking through the concerned look on Anne's face as she watched her father's expression change.
"Oh, I want to live in Manhattan, Dad. Wouldn't it be the best thing, Penelope?" She turned to Mrs. Clay who shrugged her shoulders.
"Yes, I suppose. But," Mrs. Clay feigned a troubled expression, "you'll have to call me every day and tell me everything that's happening."
"No, you idiot! You're coming with us."
Mrs. Clay looked pleased with this news, but Mrs. Russell did not. "There will not be room for Anne, then."
"It doesn't matter. She won't need to be in New York 'til the fall," Elizabeth cut in briskly.
It was Mrs. Russell's turn to look incredulous now. "It's Anne's apartment!"
Anne spoke up once more to soothe Mrs. Russell's ruffled feelings. "Mary has been begging me to come and help her with the boys for some time. I have promised to stay with her for a few weeks." Her words sounded business-like, as usual; unaffected by the way her older sister discarded her.
"She will probably need you longer," decided Elizabeth.
"Well, now that that is settled, we need to talk about an interested party I have been discussing rates with."
"Discussing rates?" questioned Mr. Elliot completely oblivious to his lawyer's preparation for his financial affairs.
"Rates for renting out the house," explained Mr. Shepherd.
"The renters must be quality. Some 'nobody' is not going to stay in my rooms and use my-," Walter Elliot had a horrified look on his face at the thought of strangers living on his beloved premises.
"I took that into consideration. I think you will be pleased with, not only the tenants, but the amount they are willing to offer." Shepherd was going through his briefcase now with zeal.
"His name is Wentworth, and he and his wife-"
"Wentworth?" questioned Elizabeth. "I've heard that name before…"
"Do they have children? I will not have children running around the displays in my music room!" exclaimed Mr. Elliot.
"They have no children."
"Oh, who is it I know with the name Wentworth?" pursued Elizabeth.
"Shh!" commanded Mrs. Russell now. Her movements to quiet them showed her agitation with the subject. Elliot and his oldest daughter both looked askance at the woman motioning to them. Mrs. Russell was perched upon the cushions of the luxury sofa with an enigmatic energy. The simple pink floral detail on the lapel of her pale, gray pantsuit lay in perfect straightness, as though to bend forward or scrunch up would sully the personage on which the embroidery rested. Valeria Russell had been a friend of Christine and Walter Elliot well before the birth of their three daughters. Her hazel eyes were bright and wide as she glanced with a pained expression at the tired-looking girl in the bamboo chair.
"Oh, I remember!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "You do too, Dad. He's the composer who wrote that musical everyone is going on about. You know, the "mysterious wonder" or something. What was his first name, I can't remember…"
Mrs. Russell's undisguised glare did not curb the insensitive prattle of the daughter. No one seemed the least inclined to end the conversation, even though the small, dark-haired woman sitting away from them seemed distressed by the discussion. Anne had to clear her throat many times to find her voice. "You mean Frederik Wentworth?"
"Yes, I think that name does ring a bell. Is there a connection between the two?" asked Mr. Elliot.
The attorney shook his head, "I couldn't say. This man's business is software-related."
"Hmm…" Walter Elliot didn't seem impressed. "Does he look fit? Does he dress well? I can't have someone coming out of my gate that looks as though he doesn't belong in the neighborhood."
"I'd say so," Mr. Shepherd answered, "He looked pretty fit. And he was very interested in the pool and spas, and asked about the equipment in the gym.
"Oh, I can't stomach the thought of someone sweating on the cushions of my fitness benches," Elliot's eyes widened in horror, "or sitting in my steam shower!"
"Dad, they can all be sanitized or replaced before we return. Of course we'll have to remove the things of real importance from the house. Anne will see to that."
"I'm sure the servants can see to it," expressed Mrs. Russell when Anne did not object.
"Oh. No, Valeria. Anne has already specified that we make some cut backs, and since we won't be living in the house…" she shrugged, but her smugness was apparent to the older woman. "The new renters can see to their own help."
"You don't mean to let all of the staff go!" Mrs. Russell looked astonished at the eldest Elliot daughter.
"Certainly not," spoke Mr. Elliot, looking at Elizabeth. "We will have to have the butler and chef, my assistant, Dosier, and your maid…a housekeeper…"
Anne then spoke, "Dad, I have already sought out a very experienced cook and Dosier will go with you. There will be a housekeeper that comes in weekly-"
"A housekeeper that comes in? What about a butler? I will not live like a gypsy!"
"Dad, we'll get our own place and hire a new butler. Don't worry," Elizabeth waved away his remarks. She was completely persuaded that Manhattan was where they needed to be.