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Chapter 17
While Sir Walter and Elizabeth were assiduously pushing their good fortune in
Laura Place, Anne was renewing an acquaintance of a very different description.
She had called on her former governess, and had heard from her of there being
an old school-fellow in Bath, who had the two strong claims on her attention of
past kindness and present suffering. Miss Hamilton, now Mrs. Smith, had shown
her kindness in one of those periods of her life when it had been most valuable.
Anne had gone unhappy to school, grieving for the loss of a mother whom she
had dearly loved, feeling her separation from home, and suffering as a girl of
fourteen, of strong sensibility and not high spirits, must suffer at such a time; and
Miss Hamilton, three years older than herself, but still from the want of near
relations and a settled home, remaining another year at school, had been useful
and good to her in a way which had considerably lessened her misery, and could
never be remembered with indifference.
Miss Hamilton had left school, had married not long afterwards, was said to have
married a man of fortune, and this was all that Anne had known of her, till now
that their governess's account brought her situation forward in a more decided
but very different form.
She was a widow and poor. Her husband had been extravagant; and at his
death, about two years before, had left his affairs dreadfully involved. She had
had difficulties of every sort to contend with, and in addition to these distresses
had been afflicted with a severe rheumatic fever, which, finally settling in her
legs, had made her for the present a cripple. She had come to Bath on that
account, and was now in lodgings near the hot baths, living in a very humble
way, unable even to afford herself the comfort of a servant, and of course almost
excluded from society.
Their mutual friend answered for the satisfaction which a visit from Miss Elliot
would give Mrs. Smith, and Anne therefore lost no time in going. She mentioned
nothing of what she had heard, or what she intended, at home. It would excite no
proper interest there. She only consulted Lady Russell, who entered thoroughly
into her sentiments, and was most happy to convey her as near to Mrs. Smith's
lodgings in Westgate Buildings, as Anne chose to be taken.
The visit was paid, their acquaintance re-established, their interest in each other
more than re-kindled. The first ten minutes had its awkwardness and its emotion.
Twelve years were gone since they had parted, and each presented a somewhat
different person from what the other had imagined. Twelve years had changed
Anne from the blooming, silent, unformed girl of fifteen, to the elegant little
woman of seven-and-twenty, with every beauty except bloom, and with manners
as consciously right as they were invariably gentle; and twelve years had
transformed the fine-looking, well-grown Miss Hamilton, in all the glow of health
and confidence of superiority, into a poor, infirm, helpless widow, receiving the
visit of her former protégée as a favour; but all that was uncomfortable in the
meeting had soon passed away, and left only the interesting charm of
remembering former partialities and talking over old times.