Mr. Bennet looked up as his wife rushed into his study and quickly shut the door, leaning against it, as if insuring no one else could enter. He raised a brow at her and leaned back in his chair. "Is something the matter, my dear?"
"Oh, James, I have such news!"
"Indeed? Well then, Fanny, have out with it, I am at your disposal."
She smiled gleefully and crossed over to stand before her husband. "Well, I have just had it from my sister Alice that Netherfield is to be let at last!"
"Well, I guess that is news..."
She waved her hand, effectively stopping him mid sentence, "That is not all, the new tenant is said to be a young gentleman ...a single young gentleman ... a rich, single young gentleman."
Mr. Bennet looked at his wife of twenty five years, and for a moment doubted her sanity. "Are you trying to tell me I am in danger of losing you?"
Mrs. Bennet rolled her eyes, "How can you be so teasing? You must know I am thinking about our girls. This could be their chance to meet their match, as you will not take us to town!"
"What, all of them?"
"I think this gentleman will do well for Jane, but then when Jane is settled, her sisters will have to go and visit her and there meet other rich men..."
"All at Netherfield?"
"James, you are not taking this seriously!"
Mr. Bennet let out a chuckle at his wife's outrage. "My apologies, I promise to be serious."
She looked him hard in the eye for a moment. "Very well then, as I was saying, this could be their chance. You know that our girls have to marry, and it is an extreme disservice to them, not taking them to London to come out properly! I do not understand it; you let our house just sit there, empty!"
He sighed at this old argument, "You know how very much I abhor the city, my dear. I did not want to subject my girls to the pettiness of the ton, they deserve better then that."
"But how are they to make proper matches if they are not exposed?"
He just shook his head. "If a man is worthy of my daughters, he will find them."
Mrs. Bennet huffed. "Well then, you leave me no choice."
He looked quizzically at her. "What do you mean?"
"Simply, you do not want to take responsibility, you leave me no choice but to take matters into my own hands, and mark my words, James, you will wish you have simply opened the London house and had been done with it."
He stared at her for a moment until a realization came over him. "No, you cannot be serious, Fanny."
"If you think Lydia and Kitty silly, you just wait!"
"Oh, I can feel the flutterings all over! What will become of me? I must call Hill! Hill! Oh Hill!"
Mr. Bennet dropped his head in his hands as the door burst open and their ever trusty housekeeper came bursting in. "I do not care what you do, Mrs. Bennet, I will not relent on this!"
"Oh, Hill, you must get me my salts. The master, he will ruin us all!! Where are the girls, oh Hill, come we must find my salts!"
She left with a flourish, arms waiving and jabbering nonsense, Hill just narrowed her eyes at Mr. Bennet. "Sir."
"Please, Hill. I am sorry, but I will not relent. I hate London." She said nothing in return, simply turned and followed her mistress.
Elizabeth Bennet approached her home via the rear path so as to not alert anyone of her arrival, hoping to be able to slip away to her rooms without her mother seeing the state of her skirts. They were muddied and torn, though she was unsure at what point they became so; it was sometime during the footrace with some of the tenant children, playing with Apollo, her fathers, and consequently her favorite hound, or climbing the trees just rear to their property while rescuing a kitten that climbed too high for its own comfort. Being that she came to be in this state for all good causes, she was certain her mother would understand, sensible as she was, though she did want to avoid the enviable lecture as long as possible.
As she crossed the threshold into the kitchens she heard a screech sound from the parlor and immediately stopped in her tracks. She looked at one of the cooks, Marie. "What has father down now?"
Marie glanced up from her work to look at Elizabeth. "Miss?"
"Oh, come now, Marie, I know it must be all over the house by now, at least let me know what to expect."
She brushed some flour from her brow. "I heard Mrs. Hill mention London, mistress, though I could be mistaken."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and continued on her way. "Not that again. Very well, think you Marie."
She began up the rear stairs as the cook called up to her, "Are you alright, Miss?"
She looked down at her in confusion, then realization came over and she tried to brush some of the grass stains away. "Yes, yes. Please don't mention this to anyone."
The young girl smiled. "Of course not."
"Thank you!" Elizabeth turned again and sped up the stairs to change. Dashing down the hall, she made it to her room without incident and rang the bell for her maid as she began stripping off the garments. Moments later Sarah walked into the room.
"Miss Elisabeth! What have you done! This dress was just sent down for you."
She blushed at this rebuke, "I know, I didn't mean to ruin it...."
Sarah clucked at her and began pulling out a new dress from the closet. "You are lucky the master looks well on you girls."
"It is true, Miss, he is a very uncommon father."
Elizabeth smiled at this description. "Yes, but I believe with so many girls, he just signs the funds over without question for our wardrobes."
Sarah studied her for a moment before replacing the dress and choosing another. "I believe you are right. There now, how will this one do?"
Elizabeth looked at it for a moment, "Is it not a bit formal for an evening at home?"
"No, no. This one will do very well, as long as you are not planning on gallivanting across the country again tonight."
"I say, Sarah-"
"I mean no disrespect, Miss, but we did only pack so many dresses for the summer."
Elizabeth ground her teeth at the genital rebuke and said nothing more. "Very well."
Awhile later, once her toilet was complete, she returned downstairs and ascertained where her mother was.
Elizabeth marched into the west sitting room to see her mother fanning herself with a handkerchief, head thrown back against the chair. She peeked an eye open and saw that it was her second daughter, so sat up and lowered her hand to her lap.
"Oh, it is you, Lizzy. I thought it would be your father by now, seeking some reason."
Elizabeth sighed and took a seat. "Mamma, I really don't understand why someone such as your self behaves in such a way."
"Lizzy!" Mrs. Bennet's eyes went wide at her daughter's boldness.
"I am sorry, Mamma, but I have to speak plainly. You know Papa hates London, and we do go occasionally; besides, we do so rather being at home, or here in Hertfordshire..."
"Lizzy, I am just concerned about you girls. All of you are coming to an age where you should be married, or thinking of marriage. We are only in town when other's are not, and proper suitors are scarce in the country."
Elizabeth gave a wry smile. "There was Mr. Collins."
Mrs. Bennet gave an indignant shriek. "Do not speak of that odious man. It is bad enough your father has to leave him this property. Thinking that he could gain the rest through you or Jane, no, I will be glad when he is married to Charlotte Lucas, though I do wonder at her accepting him."
Elizabeth looked at her mother in some surprise. "I thought you encouraged him."
"Well, with Mary, yes, as she seemed to genuinely like him for some inexplicable reason, but he did not seem to look kindly on that."
"Well, he shall be married next month and then we can return home with all our obligations fulfilled, and I dare say Papa will be more then happy to go to London come the New Year."
Her mother sighed again. "But insist on leaving before the next seating!* No, I thank you Elizabeth, but it will not appease me. He is doing a great disservice to us all."
Elizabeth shook her head, she loved her parents very much and they were always very sensible, but for when this argument of old surfaced. She had first heard it when she was sixteen and her father had refused to attend the London season that year and present Jane, saying he thought too much of his daughters to place them on the market for the highest bidder. And as none of her mothers' arguments to the contrary held sway on this issue, and knowing her husband did not suffer fools, she began having "nerves" when the issue was next brought up. It did usually end with a trip to their town house, but after settling in and the shopping for the season complete, her father always had some reason to have to quit the house and return north, much to his wife's dismay and anger.
"I still prefer to remain at home, and I am sure Jane does also."
"That is simply because you have never experienced a true season."
"I simply enjoy the quiet of the country."
Her mother smiled at her indulgently. "You are your father's daughter."
Elizabeth took this as an end to their discussion and rose. "I shall go find Jane."
"Do not be long out of doors; we are to dine at your Uncle and Aunt Phillips tonight."
"Yes Mamma." She left the room quietly, knowing the noise that was soon to be filling the small estate and ruin the peace they had so lately recovered since the departure of their cousin Collins, and fervently wished to return home again. Their sojourn into Hertfordshire, though lovely to begin with, always left her anxious to leave, even to London.
* Next seating, meaning the next seating of Parliament, which coincided with the beginning of the Season.
Over the next few days, word of Mr. Bingley spread through the neighbourhood and, though the fact that his family had made their fortune through trade gave Mrs. Bennet pause, he was still looked at as a young man of interest by said mother, who in turn encouraged her husband to do the same, even when to the last he insisted he would not call on him as they themselves were to quit the neighbourhood in the next months.
Having heard so much tell of Mr. Bingley, and seeing him briefly from an upper window when he paid a return call to her father, Elizabeth was as much anticipating her meeting of him as she was sick of hearing him forever talked about no matter where she went.
Having finished her preparations for the ball, Elizabeth went downstairs to await the rest of her family when she noticed her father still in his study; she knocked lightly at the door and stepped inside.
Her father looked up and smiled. "My, don't you look lovely, Lizzy."
She smiled back. "Thank you Papa. Are not you joining us tonight?"
"No, I'm afraid I cannot. These just arrived from my steward, and I must have them ready for tomorrows post."
"Nothing serious, I hope."
"Not too, though I will probably be called away for a few days."
Elizabeth nodded. "Then I best leave you to it."
Mr. Bennet waived his goodbye and she returned to the sitting room to await their departure to the assembly dance.
They had been at the assembly hall almost a full half hour when Mr. Bingley arrived with his party and Elizabeth watched as Sir William greeted them. Mr. Bingley seemed to be a friendly, if not enthusiastic gentleman, smiling at everyone he passed, and it wasn't long until he was walking towards her family, being introduced and securing Jane's hand for the next two. His friend on the other hand, who she was told was Mr. Darcy of Derbyshire, had ten thousand per annum, and was constantly questioned if she knew him as she had grown up near to Derbyshire and therefore must move within the same circles, she saw him to be displeased with the company in particular and the world in general. Mr. Bingley's sisters, a Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, seemed better pleased with themselves then with others and Mr. Hurst went directly to the refreshment table, not caring who he was with, so long as his glass was full. This was not what she expected, but could not find it with in herself to hold it against Mr. Bingley as he was so congenial and did so openly admire Jane.
It was later in the evening when, due to a scarcity of gentlemen, Elizabeth was forced to sit out a dance, did she hear a conversation which made her decide against Mr. Darcy entirely.
She had just left the company of her friend Charlotte Lucas, who was speaking of her wedding plans with some of the other ladies, when Elizabeth watched Mr. Bingley leave Jane's side and make his way towards the refreshment table just behind where she had sat herself when she over heard him in conversation.
"Ah, Darcy, is this not as I promised it would be?"
"And more," came the dry response of Mr. Darcy.
"Do you not find this evening enjoyable?"
"It is only because you simply walk about. Come Darcy, I must have you dance. I do hate to see you stand about in this stupid manner."
"At and assembly such as this? It would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged at present, and there is not another lady present with whom it would not be a punishment to stand up with."
"Come Darcy, I would not be as fastidious as you for a kingdom! There are many pleasant young ladies here, several of whom are uncommonly pretty."
"You are dancing with the only handsome one in the room."
Elizabeth smiled as she heard Mr. Bingley wax poetically about Jane's beauty and perfection and was just settling upon her good opinion when she heard mention, she thought, of herself. She turned her head and caught Bingley's gaze as she heard Darcy continue, "She is tolerable I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me. I am in no humour to entertain young ladies who are slighted by other men." Bingley's looked turned to one of horror as he realized that Elizabeth had heard it all. He was promptly dismissed by Darcy and began to make his way to Elizabeth's side.
She turned a sardonic look to him. "Mr. Bingley."
He shifted in his spot for a moment. "I am truly sorry, Miss Elizabeth."
She smiled up at him. "For what, Mr. Bingley? You have not wronged me, I hope, and it is just a country dance."
He returned her smile nervously, "Yes, and as it is a dance, will you do me the honour of standing up on the next with me?"
"Sir, I...yes. With pleasure, Sir, thank you."
He bowed his thanks and retreated to the refreshment table to complete his original task of procuring punch for her sister, while Elizabeth rose, shot Darcy another scathing look and crossed to Charlotte Lucas.
"My dear, I have been remiss in returning to your side. Tell me, what have I missed?"
"Nothing of import, I assure you. I was simply telling of Mr. Collin's description of Huntsford."
Elizabeth laughed merrily in memory of his frequent depictions and gave Darcy another look out of the corner of her eye, who, she noticed, was now openly staring back, looking a bit more uncomfortable by the minute. "You must be all anticipation."
"I am looking forward to seeing my new home, but Lizzy, I do have a request. I was hoping that you would consent to coming to visit me after I am settled. I know you are accustomed to much finer lodgings then a parsonage, but..."
"Charlotte," Elizabeth interrupted, "I would be pleased to visit if you wish me to."
"Thank you, Lizzy. And I will see to it that you lack nothing."
"My dear Charlotte, your company is all that would be required."
Charlotte was prevented in making any response by Mr. Bingley's approach to claim Elizabeth's hand. They joined the set and began their progression down the line in silence at first, Elizabeth wanting to keep it as such as she, much as she hated to admit, was still smarting over Mr. Darcy's casual dismissal of her. She was not accustomed to such behaviour, given her position.
"Miss Elizabeth," Mr. Bingley broke the silence, "allow me to apologize for my friends ill thought remarks."
"Please, you really have nothing to apologize for. I should not have been listening to a private conversation, so you see; it is I who should be apologizing."
"No, I must claim the responsibility here."
"Well then, since we both seem to think the fault lies with ourselves, let us call it even and think no more on the subject."
"You are generosity itself, Miss Elizabeth."
She smiled. "No, I just know when people are to blame, and when they are not."
He did not know quite what to make of her response, so changed the subject. "I have heard many mentions of your family since arriving here."
"Oh? And what do they say?"
"Just that yours is the most illustrious in the neighbourhood, and that I must have met you in London at some time or the other." He looked a combination of curiosity and concern at this.
"Please, so not worry of a lapse in memory. We are but rarely in town for the season, and I can assure you we have not met before."
"That is good to know, I fear I have been searching my memory for mention of your family since the notion was first brought up."
Changing the subject yet again, she began, "And how do you find the neighbourhood thus far, Mr. Bingley?"
"I like it very well."
"And your friends, do they find it quite to their taste?"
He gave a nervous laugh. "I believe they like the house and grounds well enough."
"Just not the people. I suspected as such."
Bingley blinked at her response. "No, I am sure you are mistaken. We have not had much time to meet everyone and form an opinion."
Elizabeth gave a smile again. "A pretty answer, but I do believe that some people have already formed their own conclusions."
Mr. Bingley's countenance frowned as he did not know what to make of this. "I would never presume to contradict a lady, but I in this case I must..."
Elizabeth blushed as she remembered herself. "Mr. Bingley, you must forgive me, I do sometimes rum off and forget myself. I did not mean any disrespect, simply that people begin to form opinions as soon as they come into a situation, not after they have seen all there is, otherwise how would they know when they have concluded their search for their opinion."
He just stared at her for a moment. "Of course, Miss Elizabeth."
They fell silent again as the dance came to a close and he deposited her back with her friends and retreated to Jane's side, the thought running through his head, that Darcy had indeed made an enemy of Miss Elizabeth tonight. He shook his head at his friend's odd behaviour before falling easily back into conversation with Miss Bennet, Darcy and Miss Elizabeth forgot for the time being.