First, here’s a family tree for those who asked. Mr. Bennet married the former Mrs. Morland. Mr. Bingley’s widow married General Tilney. All of the characters were several years old when the deaths occurred so everyone has at least one dead parent. Does that make sense?
October 4, 1811
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 local 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. When only four women and five gentlemen, including the General, arrived, the crowd, unanimously gave up Mrs. Long as once again wrong in her information and before so much as a word was spoken had 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 a son and two 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, Charles Bingley, and it 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. and Mrs. Tilney’s sons, 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. Mr. Henry Tilney had just taken orders and was to take over for Dr. Harrison in a nearby parish. The ladies of Meryton, both sensible and romantic, sighed at the elegant 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 declared as much improved from when he was last seen. Town gossips determined him very much in love with his new wife who came from a good family but married into trade with her first marriage.
Elizabeth saw, with much joy, that Mr. Bingley had immediately sought an introduction with Jane at his earliest opportunity.
Jane smiled at her handsome partner. “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.” Mr. Bingley’s brown eyes danced in the surrounding candlelight.
“I believe I heard they married last year?” Elizabeth asked.
“Yes, and you may wonder at the delay for their taking residence at Netherfield again.”
Jane and Elizabeth nodded.
“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 completed his studies just before the marriage but then served as a deacon until he came of age. Frederick’s regiment was also stationed nearby.”
Jane smiled at the mention of the eldest Tilney son. “I knew him as a boy. He has joined the military?”
“Yes, a Captain in the Militia,” Mr. Bingley said. “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.” Mr. Bingley gazed out across the crowd as though to be sure his step-father had not heard the remark.
Jane furrowed her brow. “And have you had the same demands put upon you?”
Uncertainty clouded Bingley’s eyes. “I am charged with purchasing an estate as soon as may be.”
Elizabeth observed that although Jane’s expression did not change, disappointment momentarily flashed in her eyes.
“Oh, then you will not stay long at Netherfield?” Jane asked.
Bingley grinned, and his white teeth dazzled like diamonds. “I doubt I shall find anything until next Spring. The autumn and winter are hardly conducive to looking at estates.”
Jane blushed but did not reply. Elizabeth felt it necessary to say something. “I suppose so. We are fortunate, though, with our easy distance to London.”
“Indeed. My sisters enjoy that as well.”
This, at last, roused Jane to speech. “They seem like very elegant ladies!”
Elizabeth looked across the ballroom and immediately saw the women in question. Their delicate silk gowns and ornate headpieces with feathers stood out amongst the crowd of patterned muslins and fresh flowers as they lined the dark paneled walls. Mr. Bingley’s elder sister, Mrs. Hurst, toyed with a shining necklace of emeralds and sapphires. Elizabeth guessed it cost half her father’s annual income. Firm to believe in first impressions, Elizabeth perceived the ladies felt above their company and could not like them.
“Thank you. Caroline and Louisa do count themselves as such. I am afraid my newest sister, Eleanor, is more reserved.”
Elizabeth looked around the room and saw Miss Tilney, dressed not nearly as finely as her step-sisters, standing alone.
Jane smiled gently. “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. “Yes, I find new people and situations uncomfortable.”
The musicians began to strike up for a new set, and Mr. Bingley civilly requested Jane and Elizabeth as partners. As Jane was lead to the dance floor, Elizabeth overheard what she said to Bingley.
“I have never revealed so much to a new acquaintance before,” she confessed.