Caroline Bingley got down from her carriage & entered her sister's home. Her face was animated, and she seemed excited. She found her sister waiting for her in the parlor.
"Louisa, I have some news for you. The new Earl of Dembley has finally got his family in town. I passed the house while coming from Mr Darcy's and it was all alive. Servants going in and out; lot of activity. So I had the coachman make enquiries".
Louisa looked up expectantly. "And what did you learn about the family?"
Caroline pouted, "Nothing much. Just that the Earl, his lady and 2 of their daughters are in residence. We must leave our cards and make their acquaintance."
"It has been what... 5 years since the old Earl died; leaving his property and Earldom to be inherited by a distant male relative. There is a mystery surrounding this new Earl, isn't there? No one knows anything about him, he has hardly been in town the last 5 years"
"Oh, apparently he was holed up with his family in the old Earl's country estate in __shire. I have heard a lot about that grand estate. What parties the old earl gave...I wonder if the new one has a son?" mused Caroline.
Louisa smiled, "For your sake, I sincerely hope he has a dashing son, just the right age for you. Then you wont have to run after Mr Darcy and his insipid sister all the time". The two of them laughed at that & proceeded outside.
Their plan today was to shop at Madam Gormer's place on Bond street.
As they entered the shop, they saw Madam Gormer already engaged with 2 ladies. One was an elderly woman, the other a young girl. The Bingley sisters looked on with astonishment at the beautiful silks, brocades, muslin and lace being chosen.
"So much silk." Whispered Caroline, "I wonder who they are. Looks like they are getting a brand new wardrobe"
"And look at the lovely lace. Whoever they are sure know how to spend money"
Finally Mrs Gormer was done with her measurements. "Mrs Gardiner, once the dresses are made, should I send them to your address on Gracechurch street ?"
Mrs Gardiner turned to her companion, "Whatever my niece wants. Where would you like them go Lizzy?"
Elizabeth thought for a second and scribbled down her own address "Here Mrs Gormer, send everything at this address".
As they were leaving the shop, they heard a hiss and a short laugh. A lady spoke,
"Gracechurch street? Imagine Louisa, all this silk to go to cheapside!!"
Louisa grinned, "Yes, someone seems to be blowing up their lifetime savings indeed!".
Elizabeth turned back to look at the 2 culprits. The Bingley sisters however, totally ignored her and started doing their own purchases.
As soon as they settled down in the coach, Elizabeth said, "My dear aunt. Wasn't that a really malicious remark? Are ladies in London society this arrogant and foolish? I wonder why papa wants us to spend time here"
"Lizzy dear, you must learn to ignore such people. Their minds are empty save thoughts of their own false pride and so-called position in society. Whoever they were, are not worthy of your acquaintance. Choose your friends carefully and you will enjoy London with them. Do not let such people mar your stay here. And by the way, I completely agree with your father that your stay here will do you and Jane lot of good".
"And mother too. She has been wanting to spend time here since...well you know since the last 5 years. She will have fun too" grinned Lizzy.
The coach carrying the 2 women, entered a fashionable London street and stopped outside the Earl of Dembley's residence. The ladies went inside to find the Earl reading in the large library.
"Papa," said Elizabeth, "we had a great time. Thank you so much for everything. You have been more than generous".
Mr Bennet nee the Earl smiled. "My dearest Lizzy. I am glad you enjoyed the shopping experience. I woudnt have you and Jane mix in London society without the advantage of good clothes, shoes, bonnets...whatever it is you girls like! I am thankful that I am in a position to provide the best to my daughters and those of my daughters who earn it *will* get the best. Now, please do not make me go through the silks and muslins. Let Mrs Bennet do that" saying thus, he turned back to his book.
If truth be told, every single day he thanked the lord for his newly discovered inheritance. Without that he wouldn't have been able to do anything much by his daughters.
About 10 years ago, when Elizabeth was 11 and Jane 12, the attorney of a long lost relative on his mothers side contacted him. He was called to meet the Earl of Dembley at his country estate named "Sheffield Court" in ___ county. Poor Mr Bennet was flabbergasted, when he learnt that he was to inherit the Earldom and the estates that went with it after the old Earl died. The Earl had lost 2 of his closest male family members in the war. The last remaining one died of a weak heart. Mr Bennet being a second cousin was now the closest surviving male relative.
The old Earl was ailing. He wanted to spend time with the family of his heir apparent. Mr Bennet agreed to visit often with his family, on the condition that none of them be told about the inheritance.
And so Jane and Elizabeth spent many months with their grand-uncle (as they were told to call him). Mrs Bennet, thrilled to be related to the Earl's family often accompanied her husband during short visits.
Happily for Mr Bennet, Mrs Bennet was easily influenced by the old Lady Dembley. The good old lady sent a wonderful governess for the younger daughters, directed and monitored the progress and education of all 5 daughters from time to time. Mrs Bennet was overwhelmed by this attention and rather liked to have a governess at home. The daughters grew less ignorant and more graceful as time went by.
The 2 eldest held a special place in the heart of the old couple. They saw them being shaped into beautiful young ladies.
About 5 years after the initial contact with Mr Bennet, the old Earl died. The old lady moved into the dower house on the property. Mrs Bennet was shocked to hear of her own new position. With what pride she left Longborne to move permanently to Sheffield Court can only be guessed. Thankfully the old lady continued to exert her influence on the family. Truthfully, everyone by now (perhaps with the exception of Lydia) was sincerely attached to her.
The new lady wished Mr Bennet would take her and the daughters to London every season. But Mr Bennet never agreed to the scheme. He said he hated that society. In private he acknowledged to self that he didn't quite want his wife to make a fool of herself in London.
This year, however, the old lady took up Mrs Bennet's cause. Mr Bennet was summoned to the dower house. A discussion with old Lady Dembely convinced him that his older daughters will benefit from a trip to London. The kind soul that she was, she also wanted him and Mrs Bennet to open up the house in town and let Mrs Bennet experience the London life she so wanted.
"I will give her a few hints myself, dear Edward. Don't fret." said she. "And remember, London society does have very many people who are more ignorant than her. Why, I can count at least 3 Earls and 4 countesses of my acquaintance who are far more...you know...less decorous...than poor Mrs Bennet. She wont be unmanageable after I have had my talk with her"
"Aunt, I hope you have the same success with Lydia! She is growing worse day by day. Not a day goes by when the governess does not complain about her." Said Mr Bennet.
"You go to London with Jane, Lizzy and Fanny. Leave the others to me. I will move into the great house when you are in London and try to work on Lydia, Kitty and Mary".
Thus the trip to London finally came about. After his discussions with his aunt, the Earl readily opened his purse for his beloved daughters. He wanted them to shine in society. That they come in contact with good eligible men was one of his goals too. But he did not want them to be married in their very first season. He wanted them to "go out and have some fun" as his aunt described it.
He was very firm about Mrs Bennet NOT choosing their wardrobes and generally not having a say about important matters relating to them. He did not want Mrs Bennets behavior spoiling their chances of friendship or fun in any way
Mrs Bennet however had enough to do at the house in London, without being bothered about shopping for Jane and Elizabeth.
Their stay in London began. It was to last for 8 to 10 weeks at least. It was on their very first day, that Miss Bingley's carriage had passed outside it.
Jane and Elizabeth were getting ready to go out with their parents. They were going to a ball at Sir Purvis Elton's mansion in town.
As the girls descended the grand staircase, all dressed up and ready to go, Mr Bennet, who was waiting below it remarked to his wife
"My dear, don't these two beautiful girls make us proud today?"
"To be sure Mr Bennet" said his wife, "they do. But all my girls are beautiful (although Jane is the best) and all of them would have made us proud, if they had been here. At least Lydia should have come with us".
"No more of that please Mrs Bennet. We have already had too many discussions on that. Let us prepare ourselves for a wonderful night at Sir Elton's".
A few hours later at the ball...
Tall, handsome and very rich was an apt description for the two cousins who were the center of attention at this ball. Both had attended Oxford, both were well read and moved in the best circles. Their appearance showed wealth but not unnecessary pomp. Viscount Edward Ogilvy & his cousin Viscount James Winworth were back in town after a long tour of the continent. Sir Purvis Elton had been delighted when they accepted his invitation for the ball.
Gossip around the room (that found its way to Mrs Bennet's ears right away)went that the Viscount Ogilvy's house in London was one of the best houses in Mayfair. His parents had gifted it to him. Both he and his parents were known to entertain in style and he was undoubtedly the most eligible bachelor at the ball.
His cousin Viscount Edward Winworth, must follow a close second. He was in line to inherit an Earldom along with extensive property in _shire.
Lady Elton and Mrs Bennet worked things out quickly and Jane and Elizabeth were soon introduced to the duo. Each man claimed a sister for the dance.
As they danced together, Elizabeth liked both the men for themselves. In spite of talk about their wealth & the excessive attention from many mothers at the party, they seemed unaffected and at ease with their surroundings. Conversation with them ranged from poetry to their recent travels to mundane things like the types of cakes found in a new shop on Bond street. Elizabeth who rated the ability to converse as an important male virtue, found herself wanting to get to know the cousins more.
Soon each of them drifted to other partners, having promised one more dance with each other before the night was over....
After much dancing, in between a lull when the musicians were getting ready for the next set, Jane and Elizabeth found themselves in a group consisting of their parents and Lord and Lady Thompson's family. Lady Thompson was a very good friend of the old Lady Dembley.
"My dears, you both are as beautiful as Lucy had described you to be. She loves to talk about you and your sisters in her letters. Now, tell me how do you like London so far?"
Both sisters replied that they liked everything they had seen so far.
"Have you been to the theater yet? I think your father would love a play himself"
Their father replied for them, "I would definitely love attending a play. But I have been really busy looking over the books here. You must know this is my first visit in the last few years".
"Then I must step up and invite the ladies to the theater soon. You will hear from me dears. We will have a fun night together. Let your father toil on the books, if he may" she grinned. The girls smiled at her. What beautiful smiles these two have thought Lady Thompson.
Across the room, someone else happened to look at them & thought the same of their smiles.
"Who is that beautiful creature in Lady Thompson's group?" asked Mr Bingley to his friend Mr Darcy.
"Which one do you mean? The tall blonde or the shorter one with lovely eyes and curly hair?"
"Darcy, then you have been watching that group as intently as I was!! Let us go to them"
Bingley strode impatiently and Darcy followed. He found his eyes to be drawn to the face that had the lovely eyes.
Lady Thompson spied them coming and immediately guessed the reason.
"Hello Charles, Hello Mr Darcy. Good to see you both in town. Let me introduce you to my friends here: The Earl & Countess of Dembley, and their daughters Lady Jane and Lady Elizabeth."
The introductions were made and Charles & Darcy stood with the group for the next few minutes chatting on general topics. When the dancing began, Charles asked Jane and Darcy took to the floor with Elizabeth.
As can be guessed Jane and Bingley enjoyed their dance very much. Mrs Bennet, observing from the side, saw smiles and laughter flowing out from the pair all throughout the dance.
Elizabeth and Darcy fared pretty good as well. Elizabeth, never the silent one, began with:
"You are a very good dancer Mr Darcy" said she.
"So are you! And I like to dance with girls who do NOT giggle while dancing."
"Then you wouldn't like my younger sisters. They love to giggle all the time."
"Ah..so unlike my younger sister. Now there I do wish she would giggle once in a while".
Elizabeth looked up at his face; it showed tender concern mixed with pride.
He looks too handsome with that look on his face.
"You mentioned Derbyshire to my father. Is that where you live?"
"Yes, Pemberley, our ancestral home is situated in Derbyshire. Have you been to that part of the country?"
"Yes, once. About a year ago, my great aunt took Jane and me visiting to Derbyshire to her friends place. We were there only for a week. It is a beautiful county".
"I know. But then I was born and raised there, so I am prejudiced about it. And where are you from, Miss Elizabeth?"
"Oh, we are from Hertfordshire. I was born at my fathers estate Longbourne, in Hertfordshire. We moved to Sheffield Court in _shire when I was about 15. I do love Hertfordshire; there is no place like it...you know one always says that for the place where you spent your childhood"
At this point the dance ended. Darcy guided her back to a chair and got her a drink. Soon Jane and Bingley came up to that table and occupied the next seats.
Darcy continued the previous conversation,
"So how did you like Sheffield Court after Hertfordshire? I have been there once as a child and remember parts of the garden very well."
Both Jane and Elizabeth began talking at once, "Have you been there?" "When did you visit?"
"I was about 9 years old, I had come with my father who was paying a visit to your Grand-uncle"
Jane chose to reply to his original question,
"We liked moving into Sheffield Court very much. That got us close to great aunt Mary. Perhaps you have met her during your visit?"
"Perhaps I did. I honestly don't remember too much about the visit. Your uncle has a big collection of swords, doesn't he? I did take a look at that and scampered around the garden for a while."
The conversation was interrupted here with Jane's next partner coming to fetch her.
Viscount Ogilvy, stood before her with his charming smile, "The next dance has started. Miss Bennet, shall we go?" Viscount Winworth followed him & claimed Elizabeth.
Bingley saw them go with dismay. Darcy & Bingley walked over to get some drinks, but their eyes followed the two couples on the dance floor who were evidently enjoying their dance.
Jane and Elizabeth had a very good time at the ball. They met many other young men, danced with most of them and almost all of them asked for permission to visit them at home. On the ride home, the two sisters agreed that the most charming men they met were the dashing and handsome pair of Viscounts Ogilvy and Winworth. Jane allowed the Viscount three dances with her, (which was more than any other gentleman in the room) and Mrs Bennet was thrilled to bits.
She now heard the girls chatter about the party and said,
"I am glad you danced so much with the Viscount Ogilvy, Jane. He was so handsome and well dressed too. I heard Lady Thompson mention that he is into another big inheritance from an uncle on his mothers side of the family. That sounds really nice, doesn't it?"
"Now, now, Mrs Bennet" said her husband. "Remember our situation. Our girls do have their own inheritance now. They do not need to run after anyone just for money. In any case I wouldn't have liked them doing that even when they didn't have any money"
"Yes, my dear. I am thinking of our situation. The girls should not accept anyone with lesser money either.... In their position they must choose someone who is a good match ...you know they are titled ladies now. If we were just the Bennets of Longbourne, it wouldn't signify whom they associate with. But it is a different thing now"
The girls had learnt a while ago that their mother had entertained grand ideas about their partners in marriage. To some extent their grand aunt Mary too had warned them to look for "title AND money together" when accepting proposals. Elizabeth, however was sure that she would not heed to this advice if she found true love elsewhere. And she could always rely on her father for accepting her choice.
Or so she thought.
"Caroline, you had this fever at such a bad time, didn't you?" sighed Louisa.
"I know. I missed the ball yesterday...after all the efforts the seamstress took to get my purple dress ready in time. And then Julie's glowing account of the ball...I do so wish I could have been there" whined Caroline for the umpteenth time.
"Viscount Ogilvy and Viscount Linley attended" rubbed in Louisa.
"And the Earl of Dembley's daughters. Sister, we must leave our cards as soon as possible. There is no time to be lost."
"My dear I would have gone yesterday morning had I not been nursing you. So get well soon and we will visit them tomorrow."
Caroline's eyes thinned as she thought about the Earl's family, "So according to Julie Mr Darcy was smitten by one of the daughters and Viscount Ogilvy danced three dances with the other. I *must* check on my competition."
"But tell me Caro dear, whom do you fancy more, the Viscounts or Mr Darcy?"
"Oh Louisa, much as I would love to be a Countess, you do know that those two wont even look at me. I have no title and our inheritance after all was made thru trade. I know I should settle for someone without a title but rich and influential enough to suit me. Who else is in such a position but Mr Darcy? Surely his wealth is more than at least one of the Viscounts' estate?"
"I am not much informed about either Viscount's estate. I shall ask Mr Hurst today."
The servant entered the room and announced Mr Bingley who followed him into the room.
"My dear Caroline, how are you feeling today?"
"Much better than yesterday, thank you brother."
"Charles, why are you dressed in a new coat? Where are you planning to go this morning?" asked Louisa.
There was a hint of a blush on Mr Bingley's face when he replied,
"Umm Darcy and I are making a morning visit to an acquaintance of ours. I called in here to check on your health first"
"And may we inquire who this acquaintance is? And why didn't Mr Darcy come with you here. Surely he knows I am unwell."
Mr Bingley ignored the first question and replied to the second with, "Darcy was not sure if you would admit a visit of an outsider today. He did send his compliments for your health"
"Outsider? Hmphh he is no outsider by any means. And you know how I love his company. Actually it would have helped raised my spirits. But any how, do give him my thanks and let him know that he can visit me any time"
Mr Bingley looked somewhat ashamed at his sisters words. Louisa changed the subject,
"So did you enjoy the ball last night Charles? Tell us about the Dembley ladies"
"The ball was fun, yes. Darcy and I danced for a while. We met many of our friends at the ball. In all a good time."
"And the Dembley ladies?"
"What about them?"
"Charles, don't be so obtuse. Did you meet them? How are they? We heard Mr Darcy danced with one of them."
"Darcy danced one dance with Lady Elizabeth. But he danced with a few other friends as well. What is the big deal about his one dance with her?"
Caroline practically shouted at him, "Charles, HOW are the ladies? We mean to call upon them perhaps tomorrow and would like to know about them from you."
"OK, Caro. I don't know much about them. I did meet them for a little while. The Countess seems like a good natured lady, who must have been very pretty in her days. The eldest daughter is Lady Jane and the second one is Lady Elizabeth. They are both fine ladies."
"Is that all you can say?"
"I don't know them much. In any case I need to be going now, Darcy will be waiting for me."
He walked to the door, halted for a few seconds and then turned around. "Oh by the way We are on our way to pay our respects to the very same ladies. I will let them know to expect you in the next few days." With that he strode outside the door quickly and shut it.
Caroline turned red and purple, "Did you hear that Louisa? Mr Darcy is visiting them today!"
"But think of it, we have a good introduction now. As sisters of Charles Bingley and particular friends of the Darcys we can have a good long visit tomorrow. Rest well today Caro. If you are not up to it tomorrow, I plan to go on my own for this visit."
At the Dembley's house in town, the morning saw a host of flowers arriving for our two beautiful ladies. And then a steady stream of callers.
Mrs Bennet greeted all visitors with a smile. However it was clear to her daughters at least, that she was bestowing more attention on those callers she thought suitable for her daughters -Titles with lot of money got the juiciest nectarines and cake served on a silver platter. Money with no titles fared lower, and of course little money and no title got just a smile from the hostess (& perhaps a slight invitation to help themselves to leftover fruit kept on a low buffet table)
Elizabeth was tickled by her mother's behavior. Occasionally she shared a smile of genuine amusement with Mrs Gardiner who was visiting with them that morning.
"Oh here comes Lord Camerson. Look mother ordered only grapes and peaches for him. She must know that his income doesn't quite match mine" she grinned.
"Oh Lizzy, be quiet. You are making it impossible for me not to laugh" said her good aunt.
Jane smiled kindly, "I quite agree with you aunt. But even I could not help being amused when Mr Arthur was here. I heard Mama send for melon balls and nectarines for him. As soon as he mentioned how he was planning to sell some of his prize horses, she recollected that although very rich, rumor has it that he is not what he once was. She neatly changed the order to bananas and grapes in a china bowl. Thankfully he was seated further away and busy talking to Lizzy so neither he nor Lizzy heard any of Mama's orders."
"Wonders never cease when mother is around." Said Elizabeth shaking her head.
Around mid morning Mr Darcy, Miss Darcy and Mr Bingley were announced.
Mrs Bennet asked her daughters, "Who are they? I don't remember meeting them."
They could see her trying to slot the visitors in the correct category.
"We met them at the ball. They seem like very good men. Lady Thompson introduced all of us to them. Don't you remember them ?" Jane answered.
"Hmmph" was the only response she got.
"Mama, Mr Darcy has been to Sheffield Court when he was a boy. His father knew our granduncle."
There was no time for further conversation. The visitors entered the parlor. Mr Darcy saw Elizabeth sitting next to a large arrangement of wildflowers.
"Ah" sighed he, "she looks like a beautiful wildflower herself"
The introductions were made and Elizabeth found herself seated next to Miss Darcy.
Miss Darcy seemed like a quiet shy girl. No wonder her brother wishes her to giggle once in a while, thought Elizabeth.
"Do you always come to London for the season, Miss Darcy?"
"Not as a rule, no. But for the last 2 years at least, I have been accompanying my brother when he comes to town."
"Are you in Derbyshire for the remaining time then?"
Mrs Gardiner, on hearing the words Derbyshire, inquired with interest,
"Where in Derbyshire Miss Darcy? I have spent some part of my life there and have very good memories of the place"
"The closest known village to Pemberley is Lambton. We are south west of it".
"Oh Lambton, that's where I was!! And Pemberley, of course I have heard about the great estate. I have been there once a long time ago. Don't you open part of it to visitors?"
"Yes, that's right madam," replied Mr Darcy "It's a tradition started by my grandfather."
Elizabeth could see Mrs Bennets features change on catching the words "great estate". She looked over at Jane with a half-smile. But Jane and Mr Bingley were deep in conversation further off in the room & hadn't really heard anything.
Mr Darcy however happened to look at Elizabeth at that time and caught the half smile.
Did I say something funny? Why is she amused about my house being open for the public? His thoughts however were interrupted by his sisters voice.
She was addressing the lady of the house.
"You have a charming place here Madam. I like the new style of curtains at the far windows."
Mrs Bennet smiled and accepted the compliments graciously. In reality she had nothing to do with the curtains. It was Jane who had chosen that material and the new style. The curtains were up only the previous day.
On arrival of some fruit, Jane and Mr Bingley moved closer to the other group. Mrs Bennet turned her attention to Mr Bingley.
"We met at the ball very briefly Mr Bingley. So I don't really know anything about you. Are you from Derbyshire too?"
Elizabeth rolled her eyes at the question. She knew what was coming.
"Err, no, not quite. We lived in Berkshire when my parents were living. I met Mr Darcy at Oxford."
"I see. So Berkshire is where you are most of the time?"
"Umm, no. We don't really have any estate there."
"Mama..." Jane tried to interrupt. But her mother hadn't quite finished yet.
"Did you sell everything to move to London permanently then?"
"No Madam. My father always intended to purchase an estate but never lived to do so. I intend to do a purchase sometime soon."
"Oh". So he made his fortune in trade then thought everyone in the room except for the visitors.
Mrs Gardiner, sensing the awkwardness of the situation, was quick to say,
"Would you rather buy an estate in the country or live in London? I know I would love to go to the country, but my husbands business requires us to be here."
Mr Bingley seemed pleased with the question. Not everyone in this party looks down on trade
"I do love the country. But I wont give up London altogether. My sister Louisa & her husband Mr Hurst have a house in town. If I don't buy my own, I can always come over as their guest."
The awkwardness seemed to have melted. Slowly everyone started conversing,
"Miss Elizabeth, I notice a grand piano on the other side. Do you or your sister perform?" asked Miss Darcy.
"I do so once in a while. Jane doesn't. My younger sister Mary likes to perform more than anyone else."
"Do you have more sisters?"
"Yes, we are five altogether."
"You are so lucky" sighed Miss Darcy, "I have none. Only a big brother to keep me company at home". She smiled fondly at him.
Elizabeth felt herself growing a little envious at the affection displayed by the brother and sister. Sure she & Jane were close to each other, but she never really had a brother - or a male cousin - to be her confidante.
The visitors soon took their leave. As soon as they were gone Jane couldn't help herself and said to her mother,
"Mama, Mr Bingley is a fine young man. Is he not? His fortune may be made in trade but he attended Oxford. So he is a well educated and a rich man."
"Oh pooh pooh his education and riches. He is tolerably well off I guess. He seems like a well mannered person I grant you. But I don't know anything more about him. Wonder what kind of trade he was in..."
Mrs Gardiner gently reminded her sister-in-law, "You have a brother in trade yourself".
"I know, I know. But you are in leather and wool trade. That is the most respectable line of trade that we know of. And you do have a nice house in town. Who knows what Mr Bingley did for a living...And as to Mr Darcy and his sister, they seem like nice people, although don't have the title they so deserve".
The morning ended with Mrs Gardiner and her nieces going out to Bond street for some shopping. In the evening they were to attend a small dinner party at Lady Thompson's place. They were to meet the handsome Visounts and both the girls agreed in private that they were looking forward to meeting the Viscounts again.
Next morning Caroline got up feeling perfectly fine. She went down to breakfast. Louisa was already up and planning their visit to the Dembleys. They settled that they will leave right after Caroline's breakfast; both being impatient to make this important introduction.
They arrived at the Dembley's house rather early. To their disappointment the ladies of the house were denied to visitors at that time. They left their cards. Before leaving, Caroline talked to a footman and understood that the ladies were at a late night party the previous night at Lady Thompsons.
Back in the carriage, she said, "Did you hear that Louisa? A party at Lady Thompsons. I am sure Viscounts Winworth and Ogilvy must be in attendance too. Looks like the Dembleys know how to associate with the right people. Did Charles say anything about his visit yesterday?"
"Charles didn't come to us after his visit, as you know. He is staying with the Darcys this time. I wish he was with us."
"Let us go for a ride in the park and then return after an hour. I am sure we will be admitted at that time."
The plan was agreed on and they turned towards the park.
Having attended Lady Thompson's party last night, Jane and Elizabeth were tardy in getting ready that morning. They had had a delightful evening; Lady Thompson's house at Mayfair was beautiful indeed. The food was lovely and the company was wonderful. Jane was again sought by Viscount Ogilvy. And Elizabeth admitted that she enjoyed the attention and the conversation with Viscount Winworth. The cousins had asked permission to call on the sisters around 11 O'clock that morning.
"Jane,do hurry up and get dressed. The Viscount will be here soon. It is almost 10:30. You better wear your new pale blue silk." Their mother was all in a frenzy to make sure the girls were ready & looked their best. "And Elizabeth you too, please don't be too late. Although Visocunt Winworths worth is somewhat lesser than Ogilvy's he is quite a catch you know".
Elizabeth was thankful that no servants were present in the room to hear such a declaration.
Soon the ladies were ready, had breakfasted and waited in the parlor chatting amicably. There was a knock on the door. Their mother stood expectantly. The servants announced a "Mrs Hurst and Miss Bingley. Sisters to Mr Charles Bingley".
Mrs Bennets smile froze on her face as the visitors were showed in the room.
Jane stepped forward, "Mr Bingley did mention yesterday that you meant to call on us sometime soon. How nice that you could come today."
"We left our cards this morning. I hope they weren't lost."
Mrs Bennet replied that they had a very busy morning until now & she didn't have time to go thru the pile of cards left this morning.
The ladies sat down to talk. Mrs Bennet was quiet for a while, her disappointment in her guests was obvious.
Elizabeth was staring at the ladies. She knew she had seen them somewhere. She couldn't quite recollect where and when. The visitors showed no sign of recollection. They were admiring the house and its location with great vigor,
"What a lovely house. And you must have very nice neighbors in this street. I am quite intimate with Lady Alyson Barten whose father's house is two houses down from yours" purred Caroline.
Mrs Bennet looked at her sharply, "And pray where and when did you meet her to get to know her that well? I understand the Lord Bartens spend most of their time at their country estate".
Caroline looked ashamed of her name dropping & replied "Ah, yes that is true. But I met her last season when she was in town. Such a sweet young girl. Lady Jane, you know, you would definitely like her if you get to meet her"
But Mrs Bennet cut in with, "Lady Alyson was here only two days last season. They are already here this time & she herself told me that. Did you really get intimate in two whole days? My dear Miss Bingley, that is the difference between the gentry and the others. I am sure Lady Alyson (or the gentry in general) would not allow herself to be called intimate with anyone she has known for two days only. You of course are free to speak for yourself."
Elizabeth hid a smile. Miss Bingley was silenced.
Louisa spoke up now, "We are not quite your neighbors. But we are about five streets away from you. It's a convenient distance. I do so hope we will be able to meet often."
Jane took the bait, "Which street is that? We must have passed it many times"
"George street. It's a lovely neighborhood. Of course not as distinguished as yours. But we are really far away from Gracechurch street" she laughed at that, thinking it was a good joke. Everyone who knew town must know what a good location George street was.
But Mrs Bennet was livid. In all her previous visits to London, she had stayed at Gracechurch street at her dear brother's place. She felt offended by the comment, especially as it came from someone who had only made some money in trade!!
She used her most frosty voice to ask, "And what is so wrong about Gracechurch street? It is a wonderful neighborhood too. People in very respectable line of trade often prefer to live there for its proximity to their work. I think the childrens park near Gracechurch street is one of the best London has to offer."
Jane looked plaintively at Elizabeth. Their mother must be stopped . Elizabeth quite agreed with Jane but the mention of Gracechurch street accompanied by that malicious laugh had triggered her memory....
Just as she was about to say something, the servant entered to announce more visitors.
Miss Bingley held her breath as the handsome and dashing cousins Viscount Winworth and Viscount Ogilvy entered the room.
Each carried a large flower bouquet. Jane got an assortment of lovely roses in yellow, red, pink and white. "Roses for the rose" whispered Viscount Ogilvy as he handed her the bouquet.
Elizabeth was given tulips. Her face immediately lit up,
"Oh these are lovely. Thank you so much."
Viscount Winworth smiled his charming smile (Miss Bingley dreamt that night that the smile was meant for her),
"I saw you admiring the painting of Tulips in Lady Thompson's dinning room last night. The real ones are better than the painted ones, aren't they?"
Elizabeth smiled in agreement. He continued,
"I hope they find a good place in your room. Perhaps you could wake up to them everyday?"
"Everyday?" laughed she, "They wont last more than two, surely".
"But if you promise to keep them by your bedside, I will make sure you get fresh Tulips every single day for the rest of your visit"
"I make no such promise" giggled she, "I believe you are trying to flirt with me, my lord. And I shall not encourage you by making any promises"
"Who can blame me for trying to flirt with the most charming lady in all of London today?"
Miss Bennet watched the exchange closely. What wouldn't she give to receive such flowers every day! She sighed. She had never felt so ignored. Her hostess not only despised her (perhaps her own mistake to blatantly drop names) and was giving more attention to these gentleman callers. Lady Jane had seemed to be friendly. Lady Elizabeth had not said much until now.
The visitors were introduced to the Bingley sisters. The group sat down again and conversation began.
Jane, sensible of the neglect shown by her mother, soon turned to talk about Miss Bingley's health.
"I understand you were sick yesterday, Miss Bingley. The weather has been pretty bad these past few days."
"It has been awful. Louisa and I got wet while getting home from a friends place on thursday. It was raining so heavily that before I could get into the carriage I was all wet. I guess I caught cold at that time."
"We were caught in the same shower on Thursday. But luckily we didn't get wet"
Mrs Bennet suddenly turned towards Miss Bingley (whom she had completely ignored the last few minutes & whom she wished to go away) and said,
"Didn't your servant carry an umbrella for you in the carriage? I would think you of all people would have an umbrella."
"Umm, no. He didn't & we forgot to remind him. But ma'am I am not sure I understand the reference to me in particular carrying an umbrella"
"Why, was not your father Mr Gregory Bingley, makers of umbrellas? I love those umbrellas, they are very high quality ones and the B on the handle is engraved beautifully" This was said so smoothly and confidently that few in the party understood the implied sarcasm and insult.
Miss Bingley was so surprised at the content of the statement that she didn't quite understand its import yet.
"Madam, you must be mistaken. We do not know any Gregory Bingley at all. Our esteemed father traded in different kinds of inks"
"Oh, really? Sorry my dear. I was mistaken in the line of trade. That is all."
"Surely, there is nothing wrong in being in trade. Is there? I am sure my lord, you aren't among many others who look down upon trade, are you?" Caroline turned to Viscount Winworth for support.
"Oh no, not at all. I have many fine friends in various businesses. I'm sure Miss Bingley, Lady Dembley did not mean any insult to you"
"I sure did not." Boomed the lady herself. "You know there are so many good lines of trade. Why, my own brother is in the most respectable line of trade himself. Import and export of wool and leather."
However, Elizabeth noticed that her mother did not apologize for her comment.
"Indeed" added Viscount Ogilvy, "we did meet Mr & Mrs Gardiner at Lady Thompson's party last night. And I can easily say that I have not seen a more well read man than him"
"Pray, Lady Elizabeth why are you so quiet? You are not one to shy away from giving your opinion" said Winworth.
Elizabeth took in a sharp breath. She expelled it slowly & said in short measured words,
"I don't think I will ever look down upon any form of trade. What I will always look down upon is maliciousness, mean-mindedness and gossiping nature of quite a few people."
She looked directly at the Bingley sisters at that and continued,
"It does not matter who you were born to or if you have or do not have money. But if you cannot respect others and tend to run down people who may not be your equal, then you are no friend to me"
Caroline reeled back at this declaration.
What have I done to deserve such a look and such a lecture from her?
Suddenly Lady Elizabeth turned the topic by saying,
"That is a wonderful dress Miss Bingley. By any chance did you get it from Madam Gormer's warehouse? I do so love her clothes"
Slow realization hit Caroline. She turned white and purple. After sitting quietly for a few more minutes, she excused herself and urged Louisa to leave.
"Our visit has just begun Caro. I would love to get to know these lovely ladies more & I know so would you. Lets not hurry back".
She looked at her hostess for an invitation to stay more. But none came. Elizabeth and her mother had routine generic smiles for them. Jane's was the only genuine one.
"Of course, do stay some more time. We are yet to discuss the particulars of your dress, Miss Bingley" she smiled innocently.
But her companion Viscount Ogilvy stood up impatiently, then sat down near her and half whispered, "We had hoped to lure you & your sister on a ride to Hyde Park this morning. Of course Miss Bingley & Mrs Hurst can join us. But our carriage will only hold four, so perhaps they will have to come in their own carriage?"
For a second Miss Bingley was ecstatic...to be seen in Hyde park with the Viscounts!! But on glancing at Lady Elizabeth and her mother she took in their frosty looks and quickly changed her mind.
"Thank You for the kind invitation. But some other time perhaps?"
The Bingleys took their leave.
In the carriage Louisa Caroline explained her reasons to Louisa. The latter was speechless for a few moments,
"Are you sure Caro that Lady Elizabeth was the same lady we saw at Madam Gormers? Why would she remember two insignificant people like us?"
"My dear, she may not remember our faces, but she will not forget the remarks we made. I am sure it is her. They mentioned Mrs Gardiner a few times & I remember that name distinctly. And the sudden question about my dress and Madam Gormers warehouse was calculated to remind us of the incident. I think we will not have any luck with the Dembleys. The mother, I am sure, meant to insult us with the umbrella thing - we are not as respectable in trade as her brother is - and the daughters, at least Lady Elizabeth despises us for our remarks. I doubt if we shall be included in any of their invitations. Which is a pity...it does seem like they are being courted by the best circles in town"
Caroline sighed. The morning visit had been a disaster.
At least she would have the afternoon to look forward to. She was planning to visit the Darcys at such a time when Mr Darcy would have returned home.
Back at the Dembley's residence, as soon as the Bingley sisters were out of earshot, Winworth turned to Elizabeth and asked,
"What was all that about? The talk about mean-mindedness and maliciousness? Who were you aiming at?"
"You would have used even stronger words, had you been in my position" saying thus she narrated her experience at Madam Gormer's warehouse.
Mrs Bennet was indignant; the gentleman affected. Only Jane seemed to have her doubts,
"Are you sure they are the very same ladies Lizzy? They seem rather nice to me. They cant be capable of such remarks"
"My dear Jane. I am not at all mistaken. And you yourself heard them talk about Gracechurch street today."
"Perhaps there is some mistake..."
Viscount Ogilvy stopped her with, "There is no mistake I assure you ma'am. Miss Bingley and her sister do have a reputation of being malicious. Sometimes I wonder why people give so much importance to fluff as compared to the real person beneath it"
"What does that mean?"
"I mean why is title, or your street address more important than you? I would prefer to like a person for who or how he is rather than like him for his position in society".
Elizabeth could not agree more. She was glad to know that the cousins had an open mind and their thoughts on this matter perfectly agreed with hers. Her mother however had a different opinion but was wise enough to hold her tongue. She couldn't bring herself to contradict a Viscount as easily as she had done a mere Miss Bingley.
Miss Bingley's visit with the Darcys did not fare too well either. To be sure she did find Mr Darcy in the house. When she was shown in the spacious sitting room, he was sitting with his sister.
After exchanging greetings, Georgianna began with,
"My brother was giving me an account of the wonderful ball given by Lord Purvis. It's a pity you couldn't attend it Miss Bingley"
"Don't I know my misfortune? I heard Mr Darcy danced the night away with some charming ladies"
Georgianna looked startled. Mr Darcy displayed no emotion other than saying,
"As usual your account has been exaggerated, Miss Bingley. I am sure Charles danced more than I did."
"Oh brother I do hope you enjoyed yourself"
"I did Georgianna, I most certainly enjoyed the dances I did dance. But you know your brother - Do I look like someone who would dance the night away?"
Georgianna smiled at that.
"Perhaps brother, you may be tempted to do that if you found the right partner to dance with. I look forward to that in the future"
Miss Bingley preened. Is Georgiana referring to my absence at the ball perhaps? Her spirits raised at that thought and she said,
"Where is my brother? Mr Darcy it's a pity that he did not accept the invitation to stay at his sister's place this time. He prefers you over us, his nearest relations. Well, you are as good as a near relation to him I guess"
"Oh Caroline, do you feel his loss so much? William, perhaps you should persuade Mr Bingley to spend the remaining few weeks with his sisters? I know I would be lost if you were not with me in London."
Now Miss Bingley was in a fix. She wanted Charles to remain in the Darcy household, thereby giving her leave to call at any time she wanted.
"I am not really lost dear Georgiana. I do have my sister and brother-in-law for company. Its just that, you know I meant to say Charles (& now even I) consider you folks to be just like family". She smiled at the brother and sister. The brother didn't say a word but his little sister did smile back.
"How did you spend the morning Miss Bingley? It must have felt good to be outdoors after being sick the last few days."
"Indeed, it did feel good. We went for a ride to the park. Later we called at the Dembleys. It was but a short morning visit. But I saved the best visit for last & here I am now"
"We visited them yesterday. I believe my brother also ran into the Earl at the gentleman's club this morning"
"I did not get a chance to meet the Earl. But I did meet the countess and their daughters. I must say they don't seem to be well mannered ladies to me"
"What can you mean? I liked both Lady Jane and Lady Elizabeth very much. Our late father was a friend of the old Earl Dembley you know."
"Oh, I have never heard anything bad of the old Earl. It is this new Earl's family that I wonder about. You know what they say about new money versus old money and how people change with sudden money?"
The Darcy's did not offer any comment. After a brief pause Miss Bingley continued,
"After the ball I had such good accounts of the sisters and of their looks. They don't seem to be that beautiful after all. May be, as you say Mr Darcy, my account was exaggerated. Lady Jane is pretty of course, but Lady Elizabeth? I see absolutely no beauty there. Her skin is sallow, her nose is rather too upright and her eyes seem so shrewish. I don't know if I would like to continue the acquaintance with them".
Mr Darcy replied, "That is no loss to them. It would be your loss I guess. The Dembley sisters are being universally liked everywhere and have already formed a large acquaintance among very good circles. They would not lament your loss of friendship in any case. And looks like you are not lamenting theirs."
Miss Bingley could not think of any suitable reply.
Just then the servant entered with an envelope addressed to Miss Darcy. Miss Darcy read the senders name and kept it aside. But Miss Bingley catching the coat of arms on it urged her,
"Do open it Georgiana. Let my presence not stop you from that. Perhaps it may need an urgent reply?"
"I doubt it. It is from my friend Alyson Barten. She had given me notice that I would receive it"
"Don't be so secretive dear. Do let me know what you are planning"
The good natured Miss Darcy could not stall opening her letter any further. She opened it directly and let Miss Bingley know the contents. Lady Alyson Barten was giving a small high-tea party the next day to introduce her new friends Lady Jane and Lady Elizabeth to her old friends. And will Miss Darcy & Mr Darcy grace the occasion? And if Mr Bingley was still a guest in the house will he be good enough to accept the invitation as well?
Caroline pouted. She very well knew that she wont be invited to this party. She did not know the Bartens at all. She had met Lady Alyson only once at Georgiana's last year but had unabashedly used her name while conversing with the Countess of Dembley.
But she did not want Mr Darcy to spend any more time with that wench Lady Elizabeth. Could she have Mr Bingley accept on her own behalf as well?
She may not be able to go, but there was one thing she could surely do,
"I met the Viscounts Ogilvy and Winworth at the Dembleys. Viscount Winworth was flirting with Lady Elizabeth. It wouldn't surprise me if there is an announcement by the end of the season. Both being titled, it would be a good match I say"
She had the benefit of Mr Darcy looking up at her directly.
"And do you think Viscount Ogilvy was forming an attachment for Lady Jane?"
"Attachment may be a strong word to use. But he was bestowing a lot of attention to her"
"And how did she take it?"
"Umm, she seemed I guess happy to see him. Why so many questions about Lady Jane, Mr Darcy? I hadn't heard that you fancied her?"
"Nothing of that kind" said he & excused himself on pretext of some paperwork in his study.
Miss Bingley took her leave soon after. She felt disappointed, she hadn't learned anything of Mr Darcy's feelings for either sister. He seemed to ask about Lady Jane, but she had heard that it was Lady Elizabeth he had fancied at the ball. Damn I do so hope I can attend this tea party at Lady Alysons
It was early afternoon of the same day when Lady Elizabeth came outside her fathers house. She wanted to walk, and her destination was a neighborhood park nearby. She would allow no servant or maid to accompany her. She started strolling leisurely, admiring what she could see of her neighbors' gardens along the street and enjoying the beautiful day.
As she passed the Barten's house, she noticed a gentleman talking to his coachman. On seeing her, he touched his hat and came forward to meet her.
"Greetings, Lady Elizabeth."
"How do you do Mr Darcy?"
"I was just about to send my coach away. But we can be of use and drop you wherever you are going."
"No, I thank you sir. I am going for a walk to the park. Why were you sending your coach away?"
"I had some business with Lord Barten. It is concluded now and I was planning to head home. But the day is so beautiful that I thought of walking home instead of using the carriage. It looks like you do not have any use for it either. Stay here, I will ask the coachman to leave." So saying he turned to the carriage and signaled the coachman to leave.
He looked at Elizabeth again.
"May I accompany you to the park for a short while or will my company be a hindrance?"
"No hindrance at all, sir. It will be a pleasure"
"I can assure you, the pleasure will be all mine", smiled Mr Darcy.
(If Miss Bingley had seen that smile, she would have had another dream that night...!)
They walked side by side. He inquired after her sister and then she did the same.
"Georgiana is at home today. She was planning to practice on her instrument this afternoon."
"She is a sweet girl, Mr Darcy. Although on the shy side. Is she out ? I did not see her at the ball."
"She is out Madam but like you mentioned very shy. She does not have too many good friends and unless some of them are going to be present, she avoids big social functions like the ball. But you will meet her at the high tea party at Lord Barten's place."
"Oh good. I would love to get to know her better. It's a pity she doesn't mix more, it is the very thing that will help her overcome shyness"
"Indeed!! She is extremely uncomfortable among strangers. I don't see how mixing more will help her. On the contrary she will draw herself more in her shell"
"I am sure that is not always true Mr Darcy. If she finds likeminded people - even among strangers - she will have something to say to them. By opening up on the conversational topics she likes most, wont her confidence receive a big boost?"
"Perhaps you are right. But I have myself been in similar situations where the company of strangers is almost unwelcome. I have to be comfortable at an event to enjoy myself I attribute the same feelings to her and do not push her to attend events she does not want to."
"Why, then perhaps you don't like balls or parties too much either" exclaimed Elizabeth.
"Most balls and parties I do not like, I must confess. However I am most certainly happy that I attended the last ball and got introduced to some very agreeable company."
Elizabeth felt herself blush a little and smiled. He continued to talk about his sister,
"I do so hope my sister finds more good friends this year. Hopefully she will overcome most of her shyness by the end of the season."
Elizabeth mused, "If only she had an older sister or someone who could guide her smoothly into the right kind of society. She did mention having a lady as her companion. Excuse the question Mr Darcy, but do your parents not come to London with you?"
"Our parents are no longer living. They have both been dead these last 7 years"
"I am very very sorry to hear that. You must have gone thru hard times without them. Especially a girl at that age...."
"Yes, she did have a trying period. Perhaps that is what stops her from mixing more."
Elizabeth silently resolved to spend more time with Georgiana. She did not wish to pry more. She changed the topic with,
"Have you known Lord Barten's family long?"
"Yes, they are one of our oldest friends. My father and Lord Barten were the best of friends. Lady Alyson and Georgiana know each other from when they were babies. Georgiana would never refuse any invitation from Alyson"
"And the Bingleys? Do you know them long?"
"No, not quite as long. Mr Bingley and I met at Oxford. His family, I have known only this last one year or so. Georgiana does accompany his sisters sometimes but they do not have too many common friends"
"I should hope not" replied Elizabeth in short tones.
Mr Darcy was not sure he understood the remark. Lady Elizabeth does not like the Bingley sisters. I wonder what happened during their visit for both Miss Bingley & Lady Elizabeth to develop such an antipathy for each other
He changed the topic and remarked on the beauty of the park. Did she come here often?
"Yes, I try to come here as often as London weather allows me"
"I am afraid I must take your leave now, Lady Elizabeth. It is time for me to go home and get ready for my next appointment. I look forward to meeting you and your family at the Barten's place"
He bowed, kissed her hand and went off. Elizabeth strolled among the various walkways silently thinking about Georgiana for a little while. Then her thoughts turned to other things. After about one and a quarter hours exercise she came back home.
The tea party at Lord Barten's residence was in full swing when Georgiana, Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley arrived. They were greeted by Lady Alyson Barten, Lord Barten's daughter, near the entrance. She linked her hands in Georgiana's; smiled at the men and took them inside.
"I understand you have already met the guests of honor, Lady Jane and Lady Elizabeth. So no introduction will be needed" said Alyson.
They walked over together where Jane and Elizabeth stood talking to friends. Greetings were exchanged. But there was no time for more. Both the Dembley ladies were surrounded by others who wanted to be introduced or say hello.
Darcy and Georgiana sat near a low table with their refreshments. Mr Bingley was talking to Lord Barten.
It was generally known that the Viscounts Ogilvy and Winworth had begged to be excused due to a prior family engagement. But on pressing by Lord Barten, they had agreed to come late and only for a short duration.
After greeting all the guests, Elizabeth joined the Darcys. She sat next to Georgiana and offered her some fruit tarts.
"You must taste these Miss Darcy. Alyson had them today specially for me. I just love the way their cook makes these. She uses cinnamon"
Miss Darcy obliged and gave a delighted smile.
"These are fabulous indeed. It has cinnamon and nutmeg"
"That was clever of you Georgiana to discern both the tastes. I may call you Georgiana?"
"Yes of course you may. I love both nutmeg and cinnamon. There is a banana based dish I love and am generous in my usage of both spices in it"
"Do you like cooking then?"
"Love it. But I don't know anyone in my acquaintance who does so."
"Now you do. I like to try my hand at several things in the kitchen too. My great aunt Lucy is horrified by it"
My Darcy who was a silent spectator until then asked,
"Why is she horrified? Do you make such a big mess in the kitchen?"
"Oh no. She wouldn't be worried about the mess. But she has rather outdated ideas about you know, young girls with money never venturing in the kitchen. She would rather have the cooks do everything and be proud of the fact."
"I am thankful my brother has no such notion. He lets me do just what I want to do, mess in the kitchen or on the drawing board its all same to him"
"Ah, there you are wrong Georgiana. I have to taste the mess in the kitchen but the mess on the drawing board need not spoil my appetite in any way"
They were all smiles at this remark. Again, Lady Elizabeth's smile stirred something inside Darcy. He had great difficulty taking his eyes off her face.
As the party progressed, Mr Darcy noticed that both Lady Jane and Lady Elizabeth returned to Miss Darcy's side ever so often. They both, particularly Elizabeth was taking pains to put Georgiana at ease, converse with her and have her participate more in conversation. They often brought a few genteel girls to be introduced to her. Mr Darcy noticed again that his friend Bingley was spending a lot of time with Lady Jane. She seemed to like him too, and they were often seen laughing and talking together by themselves. Mr Darcys guard went up. He watched them from time to time as if to ascertain the feelings reflected on both their faces.
About half the guests had already left by the time the Viscounts arrived. Mr Darcy and company were thinking of going away, when there was a commotion at the entrance. The Viscounts came in & made straight for their hosts who were all smiles,
"We did warn you about our lateness. There was no way we could talk ourselves out of the family gathering."
"Better late than never my dear Sirs. I met your father this morning Ogilvy, and he gave me notice that your arrival here will be more later than you thought." Said Lord Barten.
His wife & daughter smiled & when they had exchanged suitable greetings with both, the Viscounts went in search of their objects. They found Jane talking to Bingley on one side of the room. Elizabeth was seated at a nearby table engrossed in discussion with Mr & Miss Darcy.
Mr Darcy watched as Viscount Ogilvy made a beeline for Lady Jane. He greeted her with familiarity and kissed her hand. She smiled and introduced him to Bingley. The two men greeted each other cordially enough. But soon, the Viscount started talking about events of the morning, his family gathering and describing part of entertainment that was arranged. Jane gave him her attention. She was not impolite to Bingley but it was impossible to talk to him any further.
Mr Bingley soon took his leave and joined his friend. Mr Darcy who was in full view of Jane's face saw her watch Bingley go away. Her face expressed disappointment for a few moments but Ogilvy at the same time, drew her to a chair and sat her down besides self. Mr Darcy could see no more of her face.
Viscount Winworth on the other hand was more subtle in his pursuit of Elizabeth. He came over to their group, shook hands with Darcy, got introduced to Miss Darcy and seated himself at the same table. He made himself agreeable to both the ladies at the table by trying to get into their discussion. They were talked about their riding skills (or lack of) & he offered to teach them. His offer was rejected by both and he made a comic face to show his disappointment. Georgiana giggled at that, Elizabeth laughed and even Mr Darcy (who was just sitting quietly at the table) hid a smile. The discussion turned to Georgiana's dress and then fashion in general. Georgiana was completely at ease with him and talked animatedly,
"Elizabeth, I do not quite profess to like all the latest fashions. Indeed sometimes I do not quite understand them."
"Not understand them. What do you mean?"
"I mean, when it is summer why should one of the fashions be extra long sleeves?"
"But Georgiana dear, the sleeves are of transparent thin material. They might as well not have been there"
"So if the purpose was to not hide my sunburned arms why have them at all? I would feel cooler with short sleeves, will I not?"
Winworth said, "Miss Darcy, the short sleeves will keep you cool and show off your arms for sure but they will not torture your male companions. The fashions this year are supposed to torture us"
"I mean a transparent sleeve will show just enough of a lady's smooth arm to tantalize us. With a short sleeve there is nothing to tantalize."
Georgiana giggled again.
"Your lordship must know he is only joking"
"Not at all Miss Darcy, I assure you. You see, the same can be said about neck fashions and hair fashions. Now if you were to *not* wear a headpiece no one will notice your hair. If you wear *too large* a hairpiece, they will notice it too much & think it ugly. But if it is just big enough to glitter once in a while and small enough to not be seen right away then we would want to keep looking for it (at it) for a long time."
Mr Darcy who listened in to this idle chat smiled,
"I did not know you knew so much about fashions Winworth"
Miss Darcy said,
"Now I will always feel like you are analyzing the fashions I wear & tying them to my thoughts."
"Oh no, Miss Darcy, I never set out to do that. I am just stating facts that I hear from my female cousins"
Mr Darcy watched Elizabeth and Georgiana both converse with him at ease. He was teasing them and being teased in return, and all three were clearly enjoying themselves. Mr Darcy felt a pang of jealousy. He wished in vain that he could think of something equally frivolous to talk about with Elizabeth.
Soon Bingley came to their table and it was time to leave. As the ladies said their goodbyes, Darcy found himself standing next to Winworth. The jealous feeling resurfaced for a moment and he said,
"So Winworth with all your tact about female fashions, let us hope you can find a lady who suits your fashion sense."
"No Darcy, the real tact does not lie in the knowledge of female fashions. It lies in looking beyond the fashion to discern a true lady with or without fashion. Nay I would say with or without a title, money or position". He looked at Lady Elizabeth as he replied.
Mr Darcy was astonished. "Oh come on WInworth. You cannot look beyond a title to be sure. Don't you wish for an equal match? Someone who is as fashion conscious, wordly, moves in the same circle as you?"
"Wrong again. I wish to find someone who has more sense than fashion, title or money demand. I know you yourself are almost engaged to your cousin, are you not? I have not had the honor of meeting your choice yet."
"I am not engaged to Anne, although our relations do wish that for us. But I will confess that I do not have as open an approach as you. I do not think I need a title, but propriety demands that I choose someone in my own circles over a sensible girl who may be genteel but beneath me."
It was Winworth's turn to be astonished.
"Do you indeed think that way Darcy? I had no idea. Here, ponder over this - if Lady Elizabeth did not have a title - I mean her father had not inherited the Earldom, would you consider her equal to your friendship at least? She would still be a gentleman's daughter, but he would be only Mr Bennet from Hertfordshire"
Mr Darcy was somewhat irritated by the question and said,
"No, you tell me. Would You Winworth?"
"Absolutely. Without doubt. I know a diamond when I see it. It would perhaps have been a less polished diamond, but a diamond it is. Ponder over it dear friend..."
They parted at that. Mr Darcy was very quiet on the return journey. Georgiana however was talkative,
"Elizabeth is such a sweet lady William. Do you know she offered to take me shopping on the morrow. I look forward to that. I may go with her, may I not?"
"Yes, you may. It will be fun for you to do that. Just don't let Viscount Winworths remarks about fashion bother you when you make your selection"
Georgiana smiled, "Of course I wont. Viscount Winworth was just trying to amuse us. He seems like a nice man, doesn't he?"
William did not reply & Georgiana repeated her question,
"William, I said Winworth is a nice person, is he not?"
"He seems to be that, yes."
Georgiana looked away and hid a smile. She had sensed her brother being jealous of the Viscount's attentions to Elizabeth. She sure hoped he did something about it. Tomorrow William and Elizabeth will have a chance to be together again. I must make sure William is at home at the time Elizabeth comes to pick me up
The next day Georgiana was anticipating Elizabeth's visit with great pleasure.
But the morning started with a visit from Miss Bingley.
She sailed into the breakfast room feathers and all when Mr Darcy, Miss Darcy and Mr Bingley were at breakfast,
"Good Morning dears. How are all of you?" She looked at Mr Darcy and then around the room.
Georgiana, the hostess, said smoothly, "Good Morning Caroline. Wont you join us for breakfast this morning?"
Miss Bingley twitched her nose, "No Thank you Georgiana. I had breakfast at Mrs Hursts. You know how the typical Hurst breakfast is."
Everyone smiled at that & Miss Bingley continued,
"Besides I need to take care of my figure" grinned she, knowing perfectly well that her figure was pleasing, and hoping the gentlemen would protest against her statement.
But Mr Bingley said, "Yes, for sure, you need to watch your figure Caroline"
"What do you mean, Charles? "
He grinned, "Sorry, sorry, I was just joking"
Miss Bingley turned to Georgiana, "I am sorry dear I could not call on you yesterday. You know my attachment to you is such that if a single day goes without meeting you I feel restless. So I decided to pay you an early visit"
"That is OK Caroline. I had a lot to do myself yesterday. What kept you busy?"
"Oh, I had to attend Louisa to a particular exhibition of silks and brocades that came to town yesterday. You know although she is my sister she is my hostess here and I need to oblige her from time to time in spite of wishing not to go"
The Darcys were silent. Miss Bingley sighed silently. She had dropped many hints to her dear friend Georgiana, but no invitation to be at the Darcy's house in town had come forward.
Mr Bingley, not catching her intention (or if he did, ignoring it) said,
"Oh Pooh pooh Caroline. Firstly I do not believe that Louisa or anyone for that matter can force you to do anything against your wishes. As far as I know you and Louisa always decide things together. And secondly do not tell me you did not wish to look at the silks yourself! You did not go just to oblige Louisa, perhaps to oblige your own shopping passion?"
Miss Bingley glared at her brother. The others were looking at their plate trying hard to hide their amusement. Miss Bingley now asked Georgiana,
"And what did you do yesterday?" She was totally aware that they had been to the tea party and wished to know more.
"Nothing much Caroline. I spent the morning helping my friend Alyson choose flowers for her party. And we were at her party in the afternoon. The evening we spent at home by ourselves."
"How was the party?"
Miss Bingley wanted to hear particulars but could not pursue the subject when the men were present. She decided to wait until they left.
Breakfast was soon over and all of them went to the cheerful parlor. Mr Darcy turned to his sister,
"Georgiana would you like me to leave the carriage for you today?"
"No brother, we are not taking our carriage. But surely you do not mean to go without greeting our guests?"
"I have business this morning but perhaps I should wait a little longer."
"Oh, are we expecting company today?" asked Miss Bingley.
Darcy did not like her using "we" and said pointedly,
"My sister and I are expecting some guests, yes. Then Georgiana has an appointment with them somewhere in the town I believe"
"Dear Georgiana, I could have taken you wherever you wanted to go, surely. You should have just asked. Where are you going?"
"I believe it's the same silk exhibition you mentioned earlier and then a few warehouses."
"Oh I would love to go to the exhibition again & with you dear. You would be glad of my choice I am sure."
"I am sorry Caroline. I am being asked out by some other friends today."
"No its Lady Elizabeth Dembley"
"The Dembley ladies??" Miss Bingley felt her temper rising and turning to Mr Darcy she said, "surely you do not want your sister to spent time in their company? Let me urge you to rethink on it. They are not the sort of people young Georgiana should be associated with"
Mr Darcy replied coolly, "On the contrary Miss Bingley. They are exactly the kind of people I want my sister to associate with. Both the ladies are well mannered, well read and accomplished. There is nothing in their way of talking, or dressing or in their polite behavior that I would want shield Georgiana from."
"I am not sure I agree with you there dear sir. And don't forget their pride. They are very proud of their title and money. I said it the other day and I say it again: theirs is the case of new money; new money which had gone into their head and they think they can behave as they please due to it. Their mother behaves rudely when she wants to and the daughters follow suit."
"I don't think their money is as new as you think Caroline. And even without it they would be sensible girls indeed."
"Oh pooh, pooh Charles. We all know that they were only the Bennets of Longbourne ten years ago - just a few years ago. The change in their position has made them proud and rude. Why, a few years ago I wouldn't have liked to form an acquaintance with them at all! Bennets of Longbourne, Hertfordshire indeed"
Mr Darcy was all attention. It was second time in as many days someone was referring to them as just Bennets.
But Charles was not done yet.
"Just a few years ago, they wouldn't have formed any acquaintance with you, dear Caroline. We were just Bingley's too. Without the fortune that our father has since made. And the esteemed ladies would still be our superior - a gentleman's daughters, as they still are"
Caroline bit her lips. Damn Charles for talking like that when the Darcy's are present. She changed her tactics.
"Exactly so Charles. We are beneath them & their pride definitely makes them behave bad with people who are not their equal. I have had to face their brunt and only because my fortune was made in trade and theirs wasn't."
Georgiana was not happy with what she was hearing,
"Surely you don't mean to say they insulted you Caroline, just because your father was in trade? Why, their most beloved uncle is in trade too."
Caroline ignored Georgiana & turned to Charles,
"I am sure their mother asked you about your income Charles. Or at least particulars about how it was earned. I was questioned minutely about the kind of trade our father was in. Is that not insolent? Is that not vulgar?"
"Lady Dembley did ask me a few questions. But nothing that was insulting."
"You are too good natured Charles. You wouldn't know an insult if you saw one" snorted his sister who very well remembered hers.
"To be sure" put in Mr Darcy, "even though he may have been questioned by the mother, the daughters were quick to stop her from being impolite. In fact I do remember Lady Jane taking pains to not let Charles be affected by her mother's questions."
"I remember that part with pleasure too" said Charles as he smiled.
Georgiana spoke up again,
"I was present at that time Caroline. And Lady Dembley's behavior was not really vulgar. I do know other Countesses who would behave similar. Why my very own aunt questions people with a similar - shall I say - attitude? But I saw the daughters being charming and nice to us throughout the visit. And then yesterday when I met them again. I should love to be given a chance to know them better. Perhaps then I may change my opinion, or perhaps I may not..." she said, looking questioningly at her brother.
Mr Darcy smiled at her,
"And you will get that chance my dear sister. Even if we agree that the mother is not quite what she should be, the daughters I believe are everything we would want in a friend. And do not we often tolerate less-then-perfect relatives of other friends? We can do the same in this case."
Georgiana smiled back. Miss Bingley felt herself grow hot. Is he talking about me here? she wondered.
She was quiet for a while, thinking about her next steps. If I cannot stop them I will join them.
"If you are resigned to go out with them Georgiana, pray allow me to accompany you. You can be sure I will not allow any harm to come your way. That way you will have your outing & I will be satisfied that you are in good hands."
"I am sorry Caroline. That cannot be arranged. Elizabeth has invited me but has no idea that I will be with a companion. It wont look good to have one at the last minute."
"Surely that should not be a problem? And I have my own carriage with me. If there is not enough space in theirs you and I can go in mine"
Georgiana looked at her brother pleadingly.
He said, "I am sorry Miss Bingley. Such an addition now will not reflect well on my sister. And now especially since I do not know on what terms Lady Elizabeth & you are with each other, it will not add to the general enjoyment of the party. Let me be the judge of who my sister should associate with. If there are other opportunities in the future, you will have your chance of observing them together".
Miss Bingley sighed. There was nothing she could do in this case. However she decided to not leave until they came to fetch Georgiana. Let the Dembleys see how she was intimate with the Darcys. For the next quarter of the hour she sat next to Georgiana and talked tenderly about her music lessons.
This was how Lady Elizabeth found her when she was announced.