“Have you heard, Mr. Bennet, that General Tilney is to return to Netherfield Abbey at last?” The newest Mrs. Bennet asked her husband.
“Is he? I suppose he has his reasons.”
“Indeed. He has married a Mrs. Bingley.”
“And does the new Mrs. Tilney have any grown children?”
“Yes, all of their children and a large party of friends are to come to Netherfield.” Mr. Bennet raised his eyebrows in silent question, and his wife complied. “They are to be here in time for the ball after Michaelmas.”
Mr. Bennet stroked his jaw line. “I suppose that will turn the neighborhood on its heel.”
“Will you call on him?”
“I think it better should I see him at the ball and allow him to settle in first.”
Their three eldest daughters exchanged curious looks with each other. Ordinarily their parents had far too much sense to care this much about a neighbor returning to his estate.
The second daughter, Elizabeth, mused to herself that her birth mother would have had many flutterings over a wealthy gentleman with available sons coming to the area. The first Mrs. Bennet had passed five winters before in an illness that swept the area and took her three youngest daughters and their nearest neighbor, Mrs. Tilney. The current Mrs. Bennet’s first husband, the Reverend Morland, also passed as they were visiting a relation in Hertfordshire.
Finding himself with two grief-stricken daughters of marriageable age, and Mrs. Morland with several children and very little pension due to her as the widow of a minister, the two married for necessity when their half mourning was complete. General Tilney had quickly left the area and took his children: two sons and a daughter, with him. They had not heard a thing from him or about him in all these years.
“Jane, Lizzy,” said the third daughter, Catherine, “do you remember General Tilney or his children?”
“We were very young,” answered Jane, “but they were all kind.”
“But did you play with them often?”
Elizabeth answered, “Eleanor is Jane’s age but the boys, Frederick and Henry, are four and two years older than her.”
“Eleanor was at school when her mother died, as was Henry. The eldest was at university. We had seldom been in their company for many years before Mrs. Tilney’s death. I know not being at home bore heavily on them all.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. “Yes, as much as I wish Mother would have agreed to send us to school, I am glad we were at home for her final hours.”
“General Tilney must have loved his wife very much if he could not stand to be home or remarried until now.”
“Perhaps,” Elizabeth said while shrugging. She had been fifteen and in little company of either elder Tilneys.
At the same moment, Jane said, “Of course!”
Elizabeth kept her thoughts to herself. Jane was too apt to trust and like people. There was no intimacy between the Netherfield and Longbourn families. Jane would only know what she saw on the civil calls and large dinners. She was predisposed to view everyone in a favorable light.
“Such romantic sensibilities must be passed on to his sons then,” Catherine continued.
“Kate!” Elizabeth chided. Her sister read too many romantic and gothic novels. “Life is not like your books. Do you suppose that your mother felt the loss of your father any less than General Tilney would have felt of his wife? And she remarried quickly.”
“My mother did love Father dearly,” she replied, evidently reconsidering.
“Life is not fair to women, Lizzy. Mama may love Papa now, but you know that was not the arrangement when they married,” Jane corrected.
Elizabeth merely nodded her head for there was much wisdom in Jane’s words. She wondered if the situation of their parents’ demise and remarriages colored both the outlooks that Jane and Kate had of romance and marriage. For herself, she was not easily pleased or impressed. A man would have to love her quite ardently to marry her with only fifty pounds to her name and yet that could hardly be sensible. She could never marry a man out of his wits.
Without much more fuss, the days passed until the next Meryton assembly. It was not the ladies’ first desire to get to know their prodigal neighbors at a public ball, but their father had been adamant in not calling earlier. As it happened, General Tilney had only been at Netherfield for a day or two before leaving for London. Mrs. Long, the circulator of all gossip, claimed he would be arriving with five gentlemen and five ladies.
The single women of the area pouted at the possibility that all the men were already attached. At last, the moment of truth came. The party was the last to arrive at the ball. When only five gentlemen total arrived and four ladies, the crowd, unanimously gave up Mrs. Long as once again wrong in her information and before so much as a word was spoken settled it in their heads that the four young gentlemen were unattached. One lady was surely Mrs. Tilney, given her age, and the others must only be sisters.
The truth was something to the effect. One lady was indeed Mrs. Tilney. She brought her son and daughters–one married with her husband in attendance. This left the two sons of General Tilney, but no one could claim to recognize the eldest. His age looked correct, but there was no family resemblance.
They were soon to find out, that it was not Frederick Tilney, heir of Netherfield Abbey of four thousand a year and houses in Town and Bath. Instead, it was a Mr. Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire. His reported income was ten thousand pounds; he was cried up as good as a lord! He was the particular friend of Mrs. Tilney’s son, Mr. Charles Bingley, and would have been the prize of the night to attain his admiration if his manners had not given a disgust. Compared with the amiability of Mr. Bingley and the General’s younger son, Mr. Henry Tilney, Mr. Darcy was seen as intolerably proud.
Mr. Bingley was without a house, although his inheritance was large, and he declared a desire to lease an estate in the neighborhood, and Mr. Tilney had just taken orders and was to take over for Dr. Harrison. The ladies, both sensible and romantic, sighed at the fine figures the two gentlemen cut and their dancing skill. Mr. Darcy was the most handsome and tallest, but no one could admire his way of staring critically at the crowd. General Tilney was cried up as much improved from when he was last seen and very much in love with his wife who had married into trade.
Elizabeth and Catherine saw, with much joy, that Mr. Bingley had immediately sought an introduction with Jane at his earliest opportunity.
Jane smiled at her handsome partner. Before he even spoke, his gentle smile put her at ease. “We were so pleased to hear of your arrival in the neighborhood, Mr. Bingley,” she said. “We have all missed General Tilney’s presence, and I am sure your mother and sisters will be welcome additions as well.”
“My mother seems most fortunate in her marriage.”
“I believe I heard they married last year?”
“Yes, and you may wonder at the delay for their taking residence at Netherfield again.” Jane nodded her head. “They met in Bath and chose to stay there until all their children finished their educations. I have just completed my master’s examinations at Cambridge. Henry finished his education just before the marriage but then served as a deacon until he came of age. Frederick’s regiment was also stationed nearby.”
“I knew him as a boy. He has joined the military?”
“Yes, a Captain in the Militia. There was talk of him going into the regulars, but he has not yet, and as heir to Netherfield I rather doubt that he will. His father insisted in some form of employment for his son, however, to keep him occupied.”
“And have you had the same demands put upon you?”
“I am charged with purchasing an estate as soon as may be.”
Regret seared Jane’s heart. “Oh, then you will not stay long at Netherfield?”
“I doubt I shall find anything until next Spring. The autumn and winter are hardly conducive to looking at estates.”
“I suppose so. We are fortunate, though, with our easy distance to London.”
“Indeed. My sisters enjoy that as well.”
“They seem like very elegant ladies!”
“Thank you. Caroline and Louisa do count themselves as such. I am afraid my newest sister, Eleanor, is more reserved.”
Jane looked around the room and saw Miss Tilney standing alone. “I know my sisters and I will enjoy getting to know her better. It simply takes some people longer to warm up to a crowd of strangers.”
Mr. Bingley cocked his head. “I think you speak from experience.”
Jane blushed. She typically wore a mask and did not allow others to see the anxiety she felt underneath her serenity, but it was as though Mr. Bingley spoke to her heart and encouraged her to let down her guard. “Yes, I find new people and situations uncomfortable.”
I understand, she heard him say just before separating for their part of the dance.
“I have never revealed so much to a new acquaintance before,” she confessed when they met again.
Again we are in agreement, he replied as the final notes of the song played. He led her to Mr. Bennet’s side, and he left to find his next partner.
“Did you enjoy dancing with Mr. Bingley, Jane?” her father asked.
“Yes, he was the most pleasant man I have ever met.”
“How interesting since he spoke so little.”
Jane thought it was a strange remark but then excused it away as her father merely teasing her. She knew he would soon joke she was already crossed in love having only had one dance with the gentleman. Several dances later, Mr. Bingley asked for another set. While she was flattered by his compliment, she admitted she found the conversation different this time. Perhaps it was because he spoke only about the beautiful landscape of Hertfordshire and not on such personal subjects again.
It was during this dance with her that Elizabeth saw Mr. Bingley turn to address his friend. Elizabeth had been forced to sit out the dance due to the absence of partners.
“Darcy! I must have you dance!”
“I loathe dancing with strangers. Save your sisters I do not know a soul here.”
Elizabeth found that strange wording but was too taken with the rest of their conversation to pay much heed to it.
“I have not seen prettier girls in my life!” said Mr. Bingley.
“You are dancing with the only beautiful one.”
“No, there is her sister just behind you. She is very lovely and quite amiable too. Let me call Miss Bennet to introduce you.”
“Which do you mean?” He looked over his shoulder and his eyes locked with Elizabeth. Perhaps it was just from the peculiar inspection, but she had the strangest feeling settle in her at that moment. First, she felt heat, then a chill. He quickly tore his gaze away. “She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me. Return to your partner and enjoy her smiles for you are wasting your time with me.”
Although she felt like a puddle after the riot of feelings meeting his eyes gave, Elizabeth’s courage always rose to every occasion of intimidation. She promptly left her seat and retold the scene to her closest friend, Charlotte Lucas.
“His eyesight must be poor for him to make such a remark! My mother and I have just the tonic which would help him…”
“Oh, Charlotte! He is too proud to want any of your homemade tonics or even to admit to such a deficiency at all. I daresay he is entitled to his opinion, and I could much easier forgive his pride if he had not wounded mine.”
“Was it your pride or your vanity, Lizzy? Did he affect how you think of yourself, or only what you want everyone else to think?”
Elizabeth scoffed. “As if I care what the neighborhood thinks of me!”
“Little more than you do what a stranger thinks of you? I am your dearest friend, and I know the truth. You desire to project the image of a quick-witted and lively, pretty girl. You dislike close examination.”
“You would not understand, Charlotte. I’ve always felt so…different than the other girls.”
Miss Lucas was saved the trouble of replying by the arrival of Jane. She was astonished at Elizabeth’s report of Mr. Darcy.
“I cannot believe he meant it in that way! Mr. Bingley is the nicest man I have ever met, surely his friend must be as kind. No, you shall not laugh me out of my opinion no matter how much you roll your eyes at me, Lizzy. You must have misunderstood Mr. Darcy.” Jane could be firm where she believed herself right.
Mr. Bingley approached, ending the conversation. He asked Elizabeth for a dance but spent every other possible moment talking with Jane, ensuring he was in the same set as her. Elizabeth was too happy for her sister to feel slighted.
Across the room, Catherine was enjoying the dance. She had only entered Society the summer before and had attended a handful of balls. There was some debate between her parents as to if she could enter Society with two unmarried older sisters and if not for the concern of cost, than for chaperonage. Luck would have it that one of their closest neighbors, a Mrs. Allen, had offered her duties to attend Catherine as often as possible. Mrs. Allen was amiable and kind, but her passion was for fine dressing. Such it was that she gave Catherine a new gown specifically for this ball, insisting she could not possibly wear a remade one from Jane or Elizabeth.
The newness of the gown—made for her figure and in the latest fashion—did wonders for Catherine’s looks. She believed herself actually pretty for the first time. As the night wore on, Catherine began to fear it was all for naught for there were more people at the assembly than usual, to see General Tilney and his family, and yet still there was a shortage of gentlemen. She stood in the back of the room for the first several sets while Mrs. Allen chatted on about muslin. Catherine began to doubt if she would have a partner at all for the entire evening. Unexpectedly, Sir William Lucas, master of the ceremonies, approached with a tall gentlemen of about five and twenty.
With amazement, did she follow Mr. Henry Tilney to the dance floor. He had asked only to be civil, she was quite certain, but impressed her with his gallantry nonetheless. While dancing, they had little chance to speak much and instead broke for tea between the sets.
They had been observing the people around them and talking about the differences between public and private balls when Mr. Tilney suddenly changed the topic. “Pardon me, but I have only now recollected that I did not begin with the usual civilities one asks with a new acquaintance. I should ask if you like music or the theater?” said Mr. Tilney.
“Yes, what little I have seen of them.”
“You have not seen much of either?”
“No, my family seldom goes to London.”
“Really!” he said with feigned surprise.
“Why should you be surprised? I know I hardly give the air of a sophisticated lady.”
“Why, indeed!” said he, in his natural tone. “But some emotion must appear to be raised by your reply, and surprise is more easily assumed, and not less reasonable than any other. I ought to ask if you enjoy dancing.”
“Now I must give one smirk, and then we may be rational again.” Catherine turned away her head, not knowing whether she might venture to laugh. “I see what you think of me,” said he gravely. “I shall make but a poor figure in your journal tomorrow.”
“I know exactly what you shall say in your journal. After recording what good looks you are in you shall call me a half-witted man and say I plagued you half the evening.”
He leaned a little closer to her, “Then shall you write that you danced with an uncommonly handsome man who was an extraordinary genius and you cannot wait to know more of him?”
Catherine’s heart began to thump wildly at his flirtation, but she held her own. “Perhaps I do not keep a journal.”
“Of course, you do! I have found young ladies are always journaling when they will not say too much in company. I daresay it lends itself to letter writing—which we all know women dispense with better care and precision.”
This at last animated Catherine to speak more. After declaring she did not believe women were strictly the better letter writers, Mr. Tilney agreed that among skills which depend upon taste, both sexes were evenly divided in their abilities.
Before more could be said, they were interrupted by Mrs. Allen. “Catherine, do take this pin out of my sleeve. It has stuck me already! And I hope it has not torn my gown for it is a great favorite especially at nine shillings a yard.”
“That is exactly what I should have guessed it to cost,” said Mr. Tilney.
“Do you understand muslins?” asked Mrs. Allen and so began an ardent discourse on Mrs. Allen’s side on the subject of muslins and shopping and how happy she was now to live closer to Meryton than in their previous home. Mr. Tilney amused himself greatly with the discussion and Catherine hardly knew how to make him out. Nonetheless, she enjoyed her next set with him and left the ball with her head full of him. She was certain she would even dream of him.
In fact, each of the young ladies at Longbourn was certain they would have eventful dreams that evening of the gentlemen they had met. Their estimations could not quite prove true, however.