Chapter 1 Posted on Tuesday, 8 May 2001
A few days after the Bingley party departed Netherfield, Mr. Bennet informed his family that he had received a letter from his sister, Lady Dennis. Mrs. Bennet scowled at the mention of her sister in law's name. "Do you wish to know what she writes?" Mr. Bennet asked. "I am sure I do not," replied his wife, "for I am sure she writes only to remind us how grandly she is living and how well her daughters have married." Saying this, Mrs. Bennet glared at her second daughter, who had lately distressed her by refusing Mr. Collins's offer of marriage.
"My sister writes," Mr. Bennet explained, "to tell us that she will be quite alone this Christmas, and asks that one of our girls come and spend the holiday with her." "An invitation to town!" cried Mrs. Bennet, "Why that is just the thing for Jane-- for the Dennis townhouse is quite grand. I am sure Mr. Bingley will be impressed, and your sister can see that Jane is invited to all the right parties." Mr. Bennet sighed and replied, "As I have told you many times, Mrs. Bennet, the Dennis townhouse is now the residence of my nephew, Sir Robert. My sister's invitation is for Knowlwood Manor." Mrs. Bennet quickly lost interest. She had never visited her sister in law's estate, but could see no value to her daughters in a visit to an isolated country house in December. "Why can not her own children keep her company at Christmas?" she asked. "Young William is with his regiment in Spain," replied Mr. Bennet, "and I would imagine Sir Robert and his wife will spend the holiday in town, while the girls spend the holiday with their husbands' families." "Oh very well," replied Mrs. Bennet dismissively. "Let Lizzy go."
Though it would grieve him to be parted from his second daughter, Mr. Bennet readily agreed. He would not dream of imposing any of his three youngest daughters on his sister, and on the chance that Mr. Bingley might return, it would not do to send Jane away.
That evening, Elizabeth joined her father in the library to discuss the invitation further. Mr. Bennet assured his daughter that she need not accept the invitation if she did not wish to. "I am sure my sister will understand if you do not wish to be away from Longbourn at Christmas." Seeing Elizabeth's hesitation, he added, "Knowlwood Manor is quite isolated, and I fear you shall have but little company besides my sister, but the countryside is very pleasant for walking, and I recollect my late brother kept an excellent library."
Elizabeth tried to remember what she could of her aunt. Sir Thomas and Lady Dennis and their children had last visited Longbourn when Elizabeth was about 10. Elizabeth remembered Sir Thomas as a friendly man who told wonderful stories. Lady Dennis had seemed less open, and had argued with Mrs. Bennet a great deal. The eldest Dennis girl, Sarah, had recently become engaged, and she and her sisters were too busy discussing her fiancÚ to pay any attention to their young cousins. The eldest son had also paid little attention to the Bennet girls, but the youngest, William, a boy of 13, had teased them unmercifully.
It was only after she had agreed to accept her aunt's invitation that Elizabeth recollected that this trip would deprive her of the company of Mr. Wickham. While she enjoyed that gentleman's company a great deal, Elizabeth reflected that her own lack of an inheritance, combined with that gentleman's unfortunate circumstances would make an alliance between them unlikely and imprudent. While silently cursing Mr. Darcy that it was so, Elizabeth prepared for the trip.
Mr. Bennet wrote to his sister that Elizabeth would be happy to accept her invitation, and Lady Dennis replied that she would send her carriage for Elizabeth in a week's time.
Chapter 2 Posted on Sunday, 20 May 2001
Arriving at Knowlwood Manor, Elizabeth could not help thinking that her father had failed to do justice to the place. The extensive grounds were covered with a thin dusting of snow, and the house itself was a fine, well-situated building. Lady Dennis was waiting to greet her niece. "My goodness," said Lady Dennis with a smile, "the last I saw you, your mother was trying to convince you not to climb trees, and here you are grown into a beautiful young lady." After being assured that her brother and everyone else at Longbourn were well, Lady Dennis allowed her obviously very tired niece to retire to recover from the long journey.
After breakfast the next morning, Lady Dennis gave Elizabeth a tour of the house. There were a great many rooms, all of which were tastefully decorated, and many of which offered views of the surrounding countryside. When they came to the library, Elizabeth saw that her father had been correct- there were perhaps twice as many volumes as in its counterpart at Longbourn. Elizabeth scanned the tittles, mentally selecting several she would try to read before the end of her visit. Next they came to the portrait gallery. Elizabeth noted a handsome portrait of Sir Thomas and Lady Dennis, painted shortly after their marriage. There were portraits of various Dennis ancestors going back a century and more, all of whom Lady Dennis was able to identify, and about many of whom she was able to tell interesting anecdotes. Elizabeth stopped in front of a portrait of a handsome young woman about her own age. "That was my mother," Lady Dennis explained. "As you probably know, she died when I was born." Elizabeth nodded. "She was only twenty," Lady Dennis continued, "and she had been married to your grandfather but a year...."
As often as Elizabeth had been embarrassed by her mother's behavior, she could not imagine what it would be like to grow up without any mother at all. She was curious what it had been like, but did not feel it would be proper to ask, so instead she inquired, "What was my father like as a boy?" Lady Dennis smiled. "Why don't we return to the drawing room, and talk about it over tea?"
"When I was six," Lady Dennis began, "old Mr. Thomas, who had the living at Longbourn, died. The new clergyman was a Mr. Hillier, a single man of about thirty. His sister, Miss Hillier came with him and kept his house. To be honest, I took notice of Mr. Hillier only on Sundays and of Miss Hillier barely at all. Several months later, my father took me into the library, sat me down, and told me he had something important to tell me: he and Miss Hillier were to be married. I didn't take the news very well- all the stepmothers in the books I read were cruel. In my mind our lives were perfect just the way they were. Papa explained to me that Longbourn was entailed, and that unless he had a son, a distant relative would inherit it. He also promised me that Miss Hillier would not be like the step-mothers in my fairy stories, and that we would all be happy together."
"I was still not really happy about Papa's marriage," Lady Dennis continued, "but I decided to give Miss Hillier a chance. Not everyone around Meryton was inclined to be as generous. Unlike my mother, who had a sizable dowry, Miss Hillier had no fortune. She was rather plain, and at twenty-eight, had been assumed by everyone in the vicinity to be destined for a life of spinsterhood. I heard more than one neighbor hint that she had somehow trapped my father. The mother of one of my friends even hinted that she would try to steal the money I inherited from my mother. I suppose more than one mother in the area had notions of their daughter becoming the mistress of Longbourn."
"My father, of course, turned out to be right- your grandmother always treated me as if I was her own child, and she was always kind and loving. Even after your father was born a year later, she made sure she always saved time for me. I was very excited to have a little brother, and doted on him. Your father was a very inquisitive boy- from the time he could crawl he drove the staff at Longbourn to distraction opening everything that could be opened." Elizabeth smiled at this. "Once," Lady Dennis said with a laugh, "he managed to get open the chest in which your grandmother kept her sewing things, and had unwound more than a few spools of thread before he was discovered." Elizabeth decided that when she returned to Longbourn, she would have to find an occasion to tease her father about this.
"Once he learned to read," Lady Dennis continued, "you could not get him out of the library. He was a very serious student. Despite the differences in our ages we were very close, and when he was sent away to school, I missed him a great deal." Lady Dennis was about to continue her narrative when a servant announced a Mr. and Miss Hilton.
Lady Dennis warmly welcomed her visitors, and introduced them to her niece. Mr. Hilton, a large and cheerful middle-aged man held the living at Knowlwood. His daughter, who accompanied him, was a pretty girl of 19. As Mr. Hilton had parish business to discuss with Lady Dennis, Elizabeth and Miss Hilton decided to take a walk about the grounds. They soon found they had a good deal in common, as they both enjoyed reading and walking, and had several favorite authors in common. Elizabeth inquired what other families lived in the vicinity. Miss Hilton named several families who lived within an easy distance, but lamented the absence of any eligible gentlemen among them. With a sigh, she added, "I do not suppose it matters, for even if there were forty unmarried gentlemen among our neighbors it would do me no good, for I have no dowry. Elizabeth confessed that she too could expect no more than 1000 pounds. She could see that Miss Hilton was surprised and somewhat relieved by this. She supposed that due to her aunt's circumstances, Miss Hilton had assumed her to have a large fortune.
The girls spoke of their respective families, and Elizabeth learned that Miss Hilton's mother had died some three years previously, and that she had an elder bother, to whom she was very close, who held the living at Kempton, a parish some 20 miles distant.
The girls returned to the house, where they found Lady Dennis and Mr. Hilton had completed their business. Mr. Hilton and his daughter departed soon after, but not before Miss Hilton extracted a promise from Elizabeth to call at the vicarage.
Chapter 3 Posted on Sunday, 3 June 2001
Over dinner that evening, Elizabeth persuaded her aunt to continue the story of her and Mr. Bennet's childhood. She found herself fascinated by Lady Dennis's tale. Unlike his wife, who never tired of talking of her girlhood, Mr. Bennet seldom spoke of his youth, and Elizabeth was startled to realize how little she knew of his upbringing.
"Your grandmother's death," Lady Dennis said, "was hard on all of us, but I think it was hardest on your father. Papa and I were with her when she died, but your father, who was eleven at the time, was away at school. He wasn't told she was sick, so he didn't know anything was amiss until the headmaster called him into his office and told him his mother had died. He was allowed home for the funeral of course, but had to return to school soon after- his school fees for that term had already been paid, and Papa didn't want him to fall behind is his studies."
"Longbourn was a melancholy place after your grandmother died- Papa threw himself into the management of the estate, trying to forget his grief. I had come out into society just before your grandmother took sick. Of course, parties and balls were out of the question while we were in mourning, but even after the proscribed period, I had no one to take me to the assemblies, for father was unwilling to attend. Finally, my cousin invited me to come and stay with her in town. Susan had recently married, and she and her husband had a wide circle of friends. Among them was my late husband." Lady Dennis smiled, obviously enjoying her memories.
"Did you fall in love with him at once?" Elizabeth asked. Remembering herself, she added, "that is if you would like to talk about it." "No," Lady Dennis replied, "it was not a case of love at first sight. Sir Thomas was more than ten years older than I, and though he was quite handsome and charming, I did not at first think of him in that way. In fact, there was another gentleman among my cousin's friends whom I favored, but he married someone else." "Speaking of gentlemen and courtship," Lady Dennis continued, "has anyone captured your heart or those of your sisters? I should dearly love to have a wedding to travel to." "My own heart remains quite uncaptured," Elizabeth said with a laugh. "My elder sister..." Elizabeth paused, trying to decide how to explain her sister's situation. "There was a gentleman who rented Netherfield this fall, and he and Jane seemed to enjoy each other's company a great deal, but he has returned to town, and we do not know when he shall return."
Over the days that followed, Lady Dennis continued her tales of her courtship and marriage to Sir Thomas, and of the birth of her elder children. With a great deal of pain, Lady Dennis spoke of the last illness and death of the elder Mr. Bennet, which occurred when she was confined with the birth of one of her daughters, and when her brother was only just barely of age. "Your father wrote me of our father's illness, and I so wanted to be there. I begged Sir Thomas to go, but he would not leave me. We received word of his death the day after Charlotte was born. Sir Thomas went to Longbourn and after the funeral, he persuaded your father to close up the house and come back to Knowlwood with him. He stayed with us about four months before he felt his duties required him to return to Longbourn. After he left, I worried about him a good deal. I had my husband and children to distract me from my grief, but he had no one, and had the responsibilities of the estate besides.
That night, Elizabeth thought about what her aunt had told her, and tried to imagine what it must have been like for her father to suddenly find himself alone at Longbourn, and with such great responsibility and at such a young age. Elizabeth wondered if some of his cynicism and his tendency to withdraw from others dated from that period.
The next day, Elizabeth paid a call on Miss Hilton, and spent several enjoyable hours in her new friend's company. When she returned to Knowlwood, she discovered a letter had come from Jane, who reported that Mr. Bingley had still not returned, but that she had received a letter from Miss Bingley indicating that Mr. Bingley was spending a great of time in the company of Miss Darcy, and that they had no plans to return to Netherfield. In response to her aunt's query, Elizabeth assured her that yes, everyone at Longbourn was well, but that no, unfortunately her sister's admirer had not returned.
Elizabeth quickly replied to Jane's letter, assuring her that regardless of what Miss Bingley might wish to convince her, Mr. Bingley was sure to return before long. She was also able to assure her sister that she was greatly enjoying her visit at Knowlwood, and that she found her aunt's company very agreeable.
After she had been at Knowlwood a week, Elizabeth worked up the courage to ask Lady Dennis about her parents' marriage. Mrs. Bennet had often hinted that Lady Dennis had not thought her 'good enough' for her beloved brother, and Elizabeth wondered if this was the cause of the rift between the two women. Over breakfast, she inquired "What can you tell me of how my parents met, and of their courtship?" "Not a great deal, I'm afraid" Lady Dennis replied. "I believe your father mentioned a Miss Gardiner in one or two letters, but not in any way that would suggest partiality. When he wrote to tell me of his engagement, I was very happy for him, for he had seemed so lonely since Papa's death. It saddened me that I would not be able to travel to the wedding or meet your mother before they were married, but your cousin William was on the way, so travel was out of the question."
Elizabeth was very surprised at this, as it was quite different from what her mother had led her to believe. "When did you finally meet my mother?" Elizabeth asked. Lady Dennis winced visibly, suggesting that perhaps there was something to Mrs. Bennet's tale after all. "Let me offer you some advice," Lady Dennis began. "When you are married and have five children, the youngest only a few months old, and your husband discovers he has business in London, but can not bear to be parted from you and the children for a lengthy period, and suggests the family accompany him to town, then tell your husband that you love him, but he can do with out you for a little while. For of course there will not be room in the carriage for everyone, so your husband will ride his horse beside the carriage, at a safe distance, and the nurse and other servants will also travel separately, while within the carriage you are trying to quiet a howling infant, and prevent the other four from causing each other serious injury." Elizabeth could not help but laugh at Lady Dennis's description. "And," Lady Dennis added, "If you should be so foolish as to do this, do not then write to any of your relations, telling them when you will arrive in town, and begging them to consider a visit."
"After two days of this agony, we arrived at our townhouse in the late afternoon. I wanted nothing more than to turn the children over to the nurse and sink into a warm bath. But when we got into the house we discovered your parents were there- it seems they had written to accept my invitation, but the letter had gone astray. When they arrived and discovered we were not yet in residence, your father had wanted to go to an inn, but your mother insisted they stay. When we arrived, your father could see I was in no shape to receive visitors, and at his insistence they left at once, but I believe your mother took it as a slight. Once we had settled in, your parents returned and stayed with us for about a week, but neither your mother nor I were able to be at ease.
Chapter 4 Posted on Saturday, 7 July 2001
One morning a letter came for Lady Dennis. "You will be pleased by this, I am sure," Lady Dennis announced. "It is an invitation from Lady Ashley. She and Sir Richard are to give a ball in a week's time. You are included in the invitation, so I suppose Mrs. Lindsey must have told her you are visiting. The Ashleys are wonderful people, they have a fine estate about ten miles from here, and they always give splendid parties. No doubt many of their relations are visiting for the holiday, so it should be a lively evening. I shall write to her at once and accept."
Elizabeth protested that she had not brought anything suitable to wear to a ball, but Lady Dennis would not hear of it. "My girls left a number of their gowns when they married. I'm sure we can find something that can be altered a bit."
That afternoon, Lady Dennis sent a servant to retrieve the dresses from the attic. Elizabeth tried several before settling on one which had previously belonged to Lady Dennis's second daughter, Julia. Had Caroline Bingley been present, she would have been quick to point out that the gown was in a style which had been out of fashion for most of a decade, but even she would have been unable to deny that the fabric was extremely fine, and that the color suited Elizabeth extraordinarily well. Lady Dennis's maid was quite skillful with a needle and thread, and she soon had the gown properly altered to fit Elizabeth.
The next day, Elizabeth called on Miss Hilton to discuss the ball. She began by asking Miss Hilton what she intended to wear, but stopped short, seeing the hurt look on her friend's face. "I have not received an invitation," Miss Hilton said, "and I doubt that I shall. Lady Ashley is very particular about whom she invites, and I dare say she does not think us..." Miss Hilton did not finish, but Elizabeth understood her meaning, and realized at once that she had made a mistake in assuming the Hiltons would be invited. Such distinctions were not common among the circle of families around Meryton with whom the Bennets socialized, and Elizabeth had assumed Miss Hilton would be invited as a matter of course. Seeking to put her friend at ease, Miss Hilton begged Elizabeth to call the day after the ball and describe everything which took place. Elizabeth readily agreed, and when the friends parted, Miss Hilton seemed quite as cheerful as she had been when Elizabeth arrived.
As Lady Dennis's carriage approached the Ashley estate, Elizabeth grew increasingly nervous. She had certainly been to a good many balls before, but at the Meryton assemblies she had known practically everyone, and here she would know no one save her aunt. Her nervousness increased as she observed the many fine carriages and the elegance of the ladies who preceded them in the receiving line. She was introduced to Sir Edward and Lady Ashley, their married daughter, Mrs. Fitzgerald and her husband, and Lady Ashley's brother, Lord Basset, his wife, and their two children, a handsome and pleasant young gentleman, and a very shy young girl who appeared to be but recently out.
There was a large group of people assembled in the ballroom. Lady Dennis quickly spotted her friend, Mrs. Lindsey, and the two began discussing all the latest news amongst their circle. They made every effort to include Elizabeth in their conversation, but as it principally concerned people with whom she was not acquainted, it could provide but little to interest her, so she excused herself, and found a seat where she could observe the first dance, which was then beginning.
Though gentlemen were sometimes scarce at the Meryton assemblies, Elizabeth was unaccustomed to sitting out more than one or two sets, and so was a little disappointed to be watching from the sidelines. Nevertheless, she enjoyed watching the elegant couples pass before her. She was so engrossed in watching the dancing that she did not see the gentleman approach until he addressed her.
"Miss Bennet," Mr. Basset began, "If you are not engaged, might you dance the next two with me?"
Elizabeth was greatly startled, but managed to collect herself enough to accept his offer. She soon found Lady Ashley's nephew to be a most agreeable partner. He was a good dancer, and an ever better conversationalist. Mr. Basset had been at school with William Dennis, and was eager to hear what little information Elizabeth could impart about her cousin and his adventures in the Peninsular Campaign. Elizabeth greatly enjoyed their two dances, and was very sorry to see them end. As Mr. Basset excused himself, Elizabeth began to look about for her aunt, and was relieved to see Lady Dennis approaching.
"Ah, there you are, Elizabeth," she said. "There is someone I should like you to meet."
Chapter 5 Posted on Saturday, 21 July 2001
"Mr. Darcy, may I present my niece,...." "Miss Bennet!," said Mr. Darcy, obviously very surprised. "Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth acknowledged, with complete civility, but little warmth. After a minute or so had passed awkwardly, Elizabeth inquired after Mr. Bingley and his sisters. Mr. Darcy assured her that they had been well when he left London a week previously. Mr. Darcy inquired after her family, and their neighbors in Hertfordshire. After receiving the usual reply, he again fell silent for a moment before asking Elizabeth to dance. Elizabeth assented, and they joined the other couples in the set.
Elizabeth was greatly amused by Mr. Darcy's evident surprise at her relationship to Lady Dennis. No doubt, she thought wryly, he had concluded that her relations were all tradesmen, and that there were no circumstances under which she might be invited to a ball such as Lady Ashley's. "You seem surprised by my relationship to Lady Dennis," Elizabeth offered, as they moved down the line of dancers. "I confess I am," Darcy replied. "I have known Lady Dennis all my life- my late father and Sir Thomas were very good friends- pray how are you related?" "Lady Dennis is my father's half sister," Elizabeth replied. "Her mother was my grandfather's first wife." Mr. Darcy shook his head. "I suppose I knew she came from Hertfordshire," Mr. Darcy allowed, "but I don't believe I ever heard her maiden name- at least, I don't recall that I did." They continued for several minutes in silence, after which Darcy asked, "How do you like this part of the country?" "I like it a good deal," Elizabeth replied. "The woods around Knowlwood are very pretty." Darcy seemed pleased by this information, and looked as though he might say something further, but instead fell silent.
When the dance ended, Elizabeth again sought out her aunt, who was engaged in conversation with a friend who she introduced as Mrs. Whipple, a lady who lived some three miles from Knowlwood. Mrs. Whipple was eager to hear how Elizabeth was enjoying her visit, and extracted from Lady Dennis and her niece a pledge to call on her sometime. On discovering that Elizabeth had so far danced only two sets, Mrs. Whipple undertook the task of finding several suitable partners for her.
Later in the evening Mr. Basset also asked Elizabeth for another pair of dances, and while they were dancing, he commented that he had seen her dancing with Mr. Darcy, and asked if they had previously been acquainted. Elizabeth explained that she had met Mr. Darcy when he was lately visiting a friend who had taken a house in her neighborhood. "Would that friend by chance have been a Mr. Bingley?" Mr. Basset asked. Elizabeth admitted that it was, and was surprised to learn that her partner and Mr. Bingley were old school friends. As their dance was ending, Mr. Basset seemed to be hesitating over whether to say something. Finally, he led her to a quieter corner of the room, and in a low voice said, "Miss Bennet, you will perhaps think me very improper to be asking this, but I am rather concerned for my friend. When I saw Mr. Bingley in town a fortnight ago, he seemed very unhappy, which is not at all like him- he is normally so very cheerful. He assured me that nothing was the matter, but a mutual friend hinted that he had fallen in love with some girl in the country who did not return his regard, and that he had returned to town on account of this, and I wonder if you knew anything of what happened." Elizabeth hesitated for several minutes. It did not seem proper to discuss such a subject, especially with an acquaintance of only a few hours standing, but he seemed genuinely concerned for his friend. At length, Elizabeth replied, "I believe I know something of the circumstance to which you refer. There was a lady Mr. Bingley seemed to favor, and I believe she returned his regard, but then Mr. Bingley returned to town quite suddenly. I know not why." Mr. Basset studied Elizabeth's face for several minutes before asking, "are you quite sure of the lady's feelings?" Elizabeth made no reply, but Mr. Basset smiled and said "never mind, I can see by your face that you are."
After she and her new friend parted company, Elizabeth reflected on what she had heard. Everything seemed to point to Mr. Bingley believing her sister did not return his feelings. How could he have arrived at such a conclusion? To Elizabeth, the answer was obvious. The guilty party was standing on the opposite side of the room, staring in her direction.
Chapter 6 Posted on Sunday, 26 August 2001
The ball continued until quite late, and by the time Lady Dennis and her niece were seated in the carriage, both were quite tired. Elizabeth hoped this would allow her to defer the inevitable inquisition, if only until the morning, but it was not to be. They were barely out of sight of the Ashley estate when Lady Dennis inquired, "Pray how are you and Mr. Darcy acquainted?" "His friend, Mr. Bingley, rented a house near us this fall," Elizabeth explained, "and Mr. Darcy was his guest for some weeks." Lady Dennis thought for a few minutes. "They name Bingley is very familiar to me," she said, "though I don't believe I have met the gentleman..... Perhaps in the morning I shall remember why his name is so familiar." Mercifully, Lady Dennis's exhaustion got the better of her, and they spoke no more of Mr. Darcy or Mr. Bingley during the rest of the journey.
Eager both to avoid her aunt's curiosity and to keep her promise to her friend, Elizabeth paid a call on Miss Hilton right after breakfast. Miss Hilton was obviously happy to see her, and eagerly inquired about the ball. "I wish you could have come," Elizabeth said, "for I so longed to have a friend to talk to." "It is enough," Miss Hilton said, "that I shall have your description of it. Now tell me, who did you meet, and who did you dance with?" "Well," Elizabeth began, "I met my host and hostess, of course, and Mrs. Lindsey, who is a great friend of my aunt, and Mrs. Whipple..." Fearing her friend would soon name every matron who lived within 20 miles, Miss Hilton asked impatiently "Did you dance with any handsome gentlemen?" "As I said, I arrived knowing no one but my aunt, so I was forced to sit out the first two sets, but then Lady Ashley's nephew, Mr. Basset was kind enough to ask me to dance. He and my cousin William were schoolfellows and he also.... well, we have other acquaintances in common as well," Elizabeth finished awkwardly. "I do not know Lady Ashley's nephew," said Miss Hilton. "He sounds like a pleasant young man. Was he handsome?" Elizabeth admitted that he was, which brought an expressive smile from Miss Hilton. "Do not look at me like that," said Elizabeth with a laugh. "I am not in love with him, and in any case I dare say I shall never meet him again."
"Was he the only gentleman with whom you danced?" asked Miss Hilton. "No, no, said Elizabeth. "I also danced with Mr. Dabney, Mr. Freer and Mr. Darcy." "You danced with Mr. Darcy?" Miss Hilton asked, "You are very fortunate, for I have heard he rarely dances." "I would not consider myself fortunate," Elizabeth replied. "I am sure he only asked me because he was so surprised to see me at such a ball, and was shocked to discover my relationship to Lady Dennis."
Seeing her friend's confusion, Elizabeth realized she would have to explain. "I met him last fall in Hertfordshire, when he was visiting his friend Mr. Bingley, who rented an estate near us. I'm afraid we disliked each other at once." "Miss Hilton seemed quite surprised by this, and asked "Why do you dislike him so?" Seeing Elizabeth's hesitation, she added, "that is, if you do not object to speaking of it." "I have no objection to speaking of it," Elizabeth replied. "He is extremely proud and disagreeable, and thought everyone in Meryton beneath his notice. The first time I met him was at a ball, where he danced only two sets, though gentlemen were scarce. When Mr. Bingley tried to convince him to dance, he replied, 'at an assembly such as this?! It would be insupportable." Miss Hilton could not help but laugh at Elizabeth's imitation of the gentleman's voice. "When Mr. Bingley offered to introduce him to one of the young ladies who was sitting down, he replied 'She is tolerable I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me." Laughing, Miss Hilton said, "It was wrong of him to speak so, but I understand he rarely dances, and never with ladies he does not know well, so no doubt he merely meant to convince his friend to let him be. Surely you do not mean to suggest that you came to dislike him because of something so trifling? "No," Elizabeth replied, "I have far better reasons. If you wish to know of them, however, I must ask for your discretion." Miss Hilton readily agreed to keep the matter to herself. "Not long after their arrival in Hertfordshire, I noticed an attachment forming between Mr. Bingley and my elder sister. Both Mr. Bingley's sisters and his friend thought my sister beneath him, and did everything in their power to separate them. Shortly before I came north, Mr. Bingley returned to town, promising to return in a few days, but he has not come back, and my sister feels his absence terribly. I have recently learned that the reason he stays in town is because his friend has convinced him my sister does not care for him"
"I of course do not know the particulars of the situation," Miss Hilton replied, "but it seems to me you are being too hasty in your judgment. If, as you say, Mr. Darcy persuaded his friend your sister did not care for him, perhaps it was because he truly believed she did not." Unbidden, the memory of Charlotte Lucas's words came to Elizabeth. Charlotte had felt Jane was not displaying her feelings sufficiently. Elizabeth pushed the thought from her mind. Mr. Darcy had told his friend that Jane did not care for him because that was the most effective way of keeping him in town. "It is not only this," Elizabeth added. "He has also disregarded his father's last wishes, and ruined the closest companion of his youth." Elizabeth went on to describe in detail Mr. Darcy's history with Mr. Wickham, and that gentleman's current unfortunate situation. Elizabeth was happy to see that she seemed to have finally convinced her friend. Though obviously greatly shocked, Miss Hilton made no attempt to defend Mr. Darcy this time. Seeking to ease her friend's discomfort, Elizabeth changed the subject, and they spoke of other matters until Elizabeth found it was time for her to return to Knowlwood.
Christmas passed quietly at Knowlwood. Though there were only two at table, Lady Dennis's cook prepared a splendid meal. Lady Dennis reminisced about Christmases at Longbourn when she was growing up, while Elizabeth described some of her own favorite Christmas memories.
Chapter 7 Posted on Thursday, 13 September 2001
Several days after Christmas, Miss Hilton called at Knowlwood to see Elizabeth. They had only just begun to discuss their respective Christmases, when another guest appeared: Mr. Basset. Elizabeth introduced her friend to him, and they all sat down together. Mr. Basset explained that his parents and sister had departed for town, but he had decided to remain behind in order to keep his aunt company. After a short interval, Miss Hilton rose to leave, but Elizabeth insisted she stay, and the three young people fell into an animated conversation, which was joined occasionally by Lady Dennis. Later, Mr. Basset expressed an interest in seeing the grounds, and the two girls agreed to accompany him. Before they left, Lady Dennis invited both Mr. Basset and Miss Hilton to stay for dinner, which they happily accepted. After a short tour of the grounds, Miss Hilton took leave of Mr. Basset and Elizabeth to go and tell her father she planned to dine at Knowlwood. This gave Mr. Basset his chance to speak with Elizabeth. "I beg you will forgive me," Mr. Basset said, "but I took the liberty of writing to Mr. Bingley." Seeing the look of alarm on Elizabeth's face, he hastily added, "I did not of course mention any names, or give him any hint of how I came by my information. I merely told him that I had heard that he had returned to town because a lady he had met in Hertfordshire did not return his regard, and that if this was the case, I had cause to believe him mistaken about the lady's feelings. Perhaps I should not have interfered- I know I had no right to- but when I recollected how dispirited my friend had seemed, I could not fail to write to him."
After the guests had departed that evening, Lady Dennis smilingly asked her niece, "why do you suppose Mr. Basset has decided to stay while his parents and sister go to town?" "Perhaps he simply prefers the country," Elizabeth replied. "Perhaps," Lady Dennis replied, "though I must confess that I would have no objection to one day introducing my niece, Baroness Basset." Elizabeth insisted she felt nothing but friendship for Mr. Basset, and had no intention of marrying a man simply because he was heir to an ancient barony. "Well, perhaps, 'my niece Mrs. Darcy, then?" Lady Dennis inquired. "I think I may safely assure you, my dear aunt," Elizabeth replied, "that you shall never introduce me as that!"
"Mr. Darcy looked at you a good deal the night of the ball," Lady Dennis pointed out. Elizabeth was on the point of telling her aunt that Mr. Darcy had probably only been watching her to have the satisfaction of seeing her commit some horrible blunder, but remembering that Sir Thomas and Lady Dennis had been very close to the late Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, decided it was better to keep her peace.
The next day, Lady Dennis and Elizabeth made the promised call on Mrs. Whipple. A widow who had successfully married off her own four daughters, Mrs. Whipple was in need of someone else to marry off, and lacking unmarried female relatives of her own, she was inclined to put her talents to work on her friend's niece. Thus, the three ladies were barely seated when Mrs. Whipple inquired of Elizabeth what her opinion of Mr. Freer had been. Elizabeth said she thought him a very pleasant gentleman, and once again thanked Mrs. Whipple for introducing him. "He is to inherit a very pretty estate in Buckinghamshire," Mrs. Whipple continued, "and he has twenty thousand pounds from his mother as well." When Elizabeth made no reply, Mrs. Whipple asked her what she had thought of Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth said something polite but vague. "He seemed to be watching you a good deal, especially when you were dancing with that nephew of Lady Ashley's." "I am sure you must be mistaken," Elizabeth replied. "You are too modest," Mrs. Whipple said with a smile. Turning to her friend, she said, "If you could not interest him in your Julia, perhaps you can interest him in your niece." Seeing the look of confusion on Elizabeth's face, Lady Dennis explained "Mr. Darcy and your cousin Julia spend a good deal of time in each other's company when she was first out, but then his poor father took sick and died, and by the time he had recovered from the blow she was engaged to Mr. Grey. Mr. Darcy was still quite young then, and I don't think he had any real attachment. Anyway, it turned out for the best, for Julia is very happy."