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Meeting Elizabeth - Pride and Prejudice Inspired by R. J. Weinkam

The unusually hot and sunny weather had done wonders for the garden. So many plants had burst into bloom; it had never looked better. ‘Jane, will you come and help me cut some flowers?’ The sisters walked into the sunlit garden of the Steventon Rectory as Cassandra pulled on her leather gloves. ‘The yellow rose is in full glory and I wish to take some buds to Mamma. She has implied another ailment and taken to her bed. I do not wish to see her ill by evening.’
Meeting Elizabeth - Pride and Prejudice Inspired
Meeting Elizabeth - Pride and Prejudice Inspired by R. J. Weinkam
‘Our mother is well enough, Cassandra, and in high spirits no matter what her complaint. Another grandson just born, the eldest daughter advantageously engaged, what mother would not be delighted?’ ‘Well, whatever her state, I proclaim that freshly cut flowers will always do some good. Oh Jane, have you not heard. Mother has received a note from Ashe. Mrs Lefroy will visit us tomorrow, in the afternoon, at her usual time.’ ‘That is most timely, Cassandra, I was hoping that she would come. I have just finished reading her Emmeline and must talk with her about it.’ Before Jane could expound on the dubious merits of that work, her sister, who knew what was coming, interrupted. ‘I am happy to hear that you have finished your book and may at last have your nose free for a moment. Of course, you will just pick up another. I only wish that there were no more books about that were worth reading, and we had more of your attention.’ ‘There, you see, that is exactly why I welcome Aunt Anne’s arrival. At last, a woman with taste and discernment.’ ‘And the only person I know with her head higher in the clouds than yours.’ ‘How can you say such a thing! I am decidedly brought down. I had thought my head to be ever so far into the vapors.’ ‘No, Jane, you do not yet compare, you do not go about writing to every author in whom you take an interest, nor do you spend weeks selecting a style of wig for next season. So you still have some height to attain before achieving the elevation of Anne Lefroy.’ Anne had married the Reverend Isaac Peter George Lefroy, a clergyman, who had been given the rectory at Ashe by his Uncle Benjamin Langlois. She was a charming, intelligent woman who had written poetry in her younger days, was very well read, and kept up with the latest literary trends almost as closely as she followed fashion. Mrs Lefroy, however, should not be mistaken for a frivolous woman, for she has performed serious works of charity and benevolence. She opened a neighborhood school for the poorer children where she taught them to read. She also personally vaccinated people in her husband’s parish against smallpox, and has performed many other acts of generosity large and small. The Lefroys, in spite of the fact that they were far better off, had become great friends of the Austens. The families were near enough neighbors and visited as often as could be tolerated. On that fine summer’s day, the Reverend Lefroy’s old coach creaked its arrival at half two, not a minute before it was expected, and Mrs Austen was out the door to greet her great friend, eager to hear of the proposition that had been mentioned. ‘Anne, Anne, welcome. Are you to stay for dinner? We have a large roast if you will. Come inside. Mr Austen is in Deane, but the girls are waiting. The boys are all gone away as you know.’ It was Mrs Austen’s frequent lament. ‘It still seems strange to me, to be missing them rather than having them about. You will see my meaning when your boys have grown and gone their way.’ Anne did not mention that it had been almost a year since Charles, the youngest Austen son, had left for the Naval Academy. But five sons gone, it must give one a turn. ‘No, my dear, I may only stay for a few hours so that I can be home before dark.’ As the two women walked arm in arm toward the house, Anne said, ‘It is Jane I have come to speak about. I shall be spending some weeks at the Harting estate, you see, and I would like to have Jane accompany me, should that be acceptable to Mr Austen, of course. I expect that it will be for he will still have Cassandra with him.’ The Steventon rectory had a small, but well laid out front parlor about which Mrs Austen was justly proud. Miss Austen was ready with tea and, with Jane perched in the window seat, the venerable settee was left available for the two women. It was an uncomfortable straight-backed thing and a puzzle to Jane how something so painful had been allowed to reach its great age. They settled in as best they could in order to hear what may be of interest, or at least somewhat new. Ashe was almost as small a village as was Steventon, so expectations were limited, and since most of their friends were held in common, their activities were already known. Still, there may be something of interest, and indeed there was. Anne continued. ‘Evangeline Harting has invited me to visit for the summer, and I have arranged to do so. She is my friend from long ago as I am sure you recall. She married dour old Harting with all his money. Well, he is only six years older than my Evangeline, but he seems an old fossil to me. They always stock their big house full of summer guests, so I expect it should be a jolly time. Of course, I shall not know any of them other than Evangeline. She is a dear woman, always with the best intentions, but nary an idea of her own, so you see why it would be desirable if Jane were to travel with me. Their house is vastly big, so she will have her own room, and their daughter, Susan, is only a year older than Jane, so she can be a companion. She is a flighty chit of a girl and likely to have little sense, but I trust Jane will not be severe with her. Well, it has become entirely clear to me that I must have Jane. If Jane were not with me, I do not know where I will find any intelligent conversation.’ Cassandra cut short her laugh to an unflattering snort that Jane noticed, but did not comment upon. She was keen to go, and did not wish to have the question deferred by a sisterly row. ‘I should like to meet Miss Harting and to visit Penriethe,’ Jane said. ‘I always find visits to those large estates to be very diverting and shall try to be good company for Aunt Anne.’ The Austens had stayed in a number of large houses, for some of their relations and friends were very well off, but Jane had never been to Penriethe, nor had she met the Hartings. She had heard about both from Mrs Lefroy’s young children, for they employed every opportunity to make her jealous of their travels. Anne was not a true aunt to the Austen children, but there were family connections and the rank fit her role, so the title was employed. Jane Austen, seventeen during that part of 1793, was many years younger than Mrs Lefroy, but each had a lively mind, and they shared an interest in literature that led to lengthily discussions of the day’s novels, plays, and poetry. Jane had attempted some writing during her childhood years, and she shared her work with Mrs Lefroy. Anne became something of a mentor to the young girl who was always in want of encouragement. ‘I hope Papa will agree,’ Jane said and thought that he would. Agree he might, but it was Mrs Austen who was inclined to resist. Her house was too empty for her taste, and the thought of Jane’s lively presence being absent was not to her liking. ‘That would surely be nice, and it is a compliment to Jane that you should invite her, Anne, but I rely on her for so many things. I do not know.’ She added ‘I believe that Jane may not have enough dresses for a summer in society. That would hardly do at all.’ Mrs Lefroy also noticed that Jane often lacked proper dress, which was a grave concern since it did not seem to bother the girl. But perhaps that was then, when she was indeed a girl. Mrs Lefroy hoped that she was now grown sufficiently that she would find her appearance a matter of some importance. Whatever the case, she was a lady of means and Anne Lefroy considered the deficiency to be neither here nor there. Dressmakers abounded, and with her guidance and a suitable bolt of fabric, Jane Austen would be properly attired. As it transpired, it was not until Mrs Lefroy mentioned George Harting and how his mother was concerned about his marriage prospects, or the distressing absence of any prospects, that Mrs Austen saw some merit in Jane’s going. Anne knew her friend well, so she expressed the additional thought that there would certainly be other young men about that could put in front of Jane, and she thereby secured Mrs Austen’s favor. Anne held the opinion that it was rather early to be concerned about Jane’s prospects, but with Cassandra’s engagement recently announced, Jane was Mrs Austen’s last child to be got rid of. Mrs Lefroy considered Jane’s list of acquaintances for the first time, and could not help but mention another possibility that came to mind. ‘My nephew Tom has recently completed his studies at Trinity College in Dublin. We are very proud of him. Such a handsome young man he has become. He will begin to study law at Lincoln's Inn, London, you must know, and he has promised to visit us at Ashe before long,’ she dangled. With Mrs Austen’s vigorous appeal fresh in his hearing, Mr Austen consented to Jane’s absence. He, for one, liked the sound of a quiet house and having raised seven children, it was a too-rare sensation. So, with his blessing, plans were made to have Mrs Lefroy collect Jane two weeks hence for the long day’s drive to Penriethe. Jane was to make two new dresses before they left, that would help, but Anne was concerned if there were a real ball, well, Jane might not have anything quite appropriate. I shall bring some material along in case we must have a gown made, she thought. Chapter 2 – More spirit than his sister It was a sunny day; the roads were dry. The old coach made as good a time as possible along the narrow winding roads, which were the only passageways between the country villages. Maybridge was several times the size of Steventon, and while by no means a city or even a town, it had three inns, some substantial public spaces and, importantly, several shops that tried, as well they might, to follow London fashion as soon as they could make out what it was. The public part of town stretched out along Bridge Street for a considerable distance, making the village seem larger than it was. The good-sized church and rectory were on the top of a low hill, a half-mile beyond and, like most of the houses around Maybridge, it had some land attached complete with a garden and small barn. There were several grand estates nearby, and some of that wealth found its way into the village, so Maybridge had grown more prosperous than its neighbors. Evangeline Harting had been a girlhood friend of Anne Brydges, as she was then. Both were well-off, spoiled girls who followed fashion and the affairs of the notorious members of society, but Evangeline married the wealthy Winslow Harting in spite of the questionable way his father came into his money, and Anne married George Lefroy, of more modest fortune. Marital circumstances did not inhibit either woman in her way of life. Anne Lefroy was known to all as Madam Lefroy, as much for her fashionable dress, powdered wigs and flair for gay society, as for her notable works within her husband’s parish. Mrs Harting matched Madam Lefroy in all things save intellect and beneficence, and surpassed her in her desire to attain the highest rank in society to which she could aspire. On that summer’s day, her aspirations were centered upon her son George, already twenty-four, and her pretty daughter Susan, of nineteen years, and neither of them married. The sun had set by the time Jane and Mrs Lefroy finally arrived at Penriethe. Two broken spokes slowed their progress and they were hours late. Only the hounds were there to greet them, having heard the horn even though the coachman could barely make the tin squeak. Their barking had the effect of rousing the servants and the normal mode of welcome, slightly delayed, soon commenced. Penriethe was a fine, large two-story house, orange brick, eight windows wide, with stately porch columns, several outer buildings, a stable, and two barns. The obsequious Fimbel, with multiple bows, ushered the two ladies into the entry hall where Mr and Mrs Harting stood waiting to greet them. Susan arrived a moment late, which drew a frown from Mr Harting. She had been in her room changing for dinner, and that always made her a little behind for things. She had a fetching smile and a curtsy for the guests, but no speech. Mrs Harting, who was in a state of slight agitation caused by the late hour of their arrival, hurried Mrs Lefroy and her companion to their rooms. They would have only a half hour to prepare for dinner if they could manage. Her husband would not wish to have his meal put off any longer than that. Jane followed the two women up the curved stairs and down one corridor and then another. The hallways were carpeted, and some small, old pictures hung on the dimly lit walls. She waited outside as Mrs Lefroy was shown her room and was then was given her own. Jane was amazed at its grandeur even though she was told, without apology, that it was one of the lesser guest rooms. It seemed very large to her, with its high wood beam ceiling and tall windows that could be swung open onto a narrow balcony. The drapes trailed several feet onto the floor next to a quite substantial fireplace. There were several wall sconces, not yet lighted, a tiny vanity table, and three dark wide armoires. All of that amazement was dwarfed, however, by the centrally placed four-poster bed. It was so tall that a small ladder was required to climb into it. The mass of down mattresses, comforters and pillows promised to swallow her up so that she might never make her way out if she did ever succeed in gaining entry. Jane, whom all her life had shared a bed with her sister in a tiny room that could hardly accommodate their two small cabinets, liked the change. She had entered strange and unknown surroundings. Some masked intruder may be prowling the balcony seeking entry, or might have at one time, she imagined, or a secret diary may be hidden in the footlocker. The large, dark armoire in the corner looked especially promising. There was nothing in the two lowest drawers, but the high shelf might hold something. It was too tall for her to reach, and before Jane could drag a stool over to stand upon, a maid came into the room to unpack her belongings. The trifling nature of that task gave Jane a moment of concern. Her few dresses could easily fit within only one third of one cabinet, but at least the endeavor’s limited nature had the advantage of being quickly completed, and the girl was soon gone. Jane wanted very much to luxuriate and explore this vast expanse that was hers alone, but that indulgence would need to wait, for already she had too little time to wash and dress. The Austens did not change for dinner unless they had been outdoors much of the day, but Jane’s aunts, Ladies Knight and Brydges, certainly did, and so she was accustomed to the routine. Jane’s dark brown curls had been cut rather short, so they were easy to pin up. Her dark blue muslin was not overly wrinkled. She examined herself in the full mirror and was sufficiently satisfied with her appearance; she was still slightly taller and more slender than she thought ideal, and though she felt her cheeks were too rounded whenever she got sight of them, nothing could be done about that. All in order, Jane started the wrong way down the hall, but soon turned about when she came onto an unfamiliar set of half-open double doors and eventually found the stairs to the entry hall. No one was there to show her the way, and she needed to try three more doors before she located the grand dining room. Jane felt guilty for she was the last to arrive and, since serving had already been delayed, she was seated immediately. Jane sat next to Susan and across from Mrs Lefroy, who had been placed next to George in the middle of the table. A long way to either end sat Mr and Mrs Harting. Jane suppressed a giggle for Mr Harting looked overly pompous in his high collar and an old-fashioned powdered wig that seemed slightly off-center. He was not very tall, so his head occasionally disappeared behind the ham so that his wig appeared to be sitting on the shank end. For some considerable time after they were seated, only the most polite and circumspect conversation took place. Jane supposed that they were following some rule of proper etiquette that she had not previously heard of, but after the first course serving was complete, Susan seemed suddenly free to begin a stream of bright chatter on how pleased she was to meet Miss Jane Austen and all they might do and see in the weeks ahead. Susan was indeed a lively, pretty girl and seemed determined to keep Jane entertained. Both girls expressed the certainty that they would become true friends. While Susan was holding forth, Jane discreetly examined her brother, as he was doing the same in regards herself. George Harting was an older man, being four and twenty, and recently returned from Oxford where he had excelled in his studies. A cautious inquiry determined that he had known her brother Henry, who had also studied the classics at St Johns. George was engaged in a lengthy discussion with Mrs Lefroy, who was telling him about modern authors that he might consider. She was acquainted with a number of them and held sound opinions on their merits, while George’s taste seemed rooted in the dim past. He preferred those who wrote in Greek and some who employed Latin were as modern as he chose to consider. Jane attended to Miss Harting as she prosed on, but her conversation paused long enough to hear George mention that two gentlemen friends had been invited to Penriethe and were expected to arrive someday very soon. Jane was pleased to hear it and wondered what they might be like. Susan had heard it as well, and the girls shared an expectant smile. Mr Harting kept to himself and did not speak often, which he knew to be prudent, for at the other end of the long table, Mrs Harting needed to shout to make herself heard. She spoke mostly to Mrs Lefroy. They reminisced about their childhoods through most of the four courses and then the pudding and cake, all of which was sufficient to have Jane’s head nodding. Mrs Lefroy noted this with amusement, and was sufficiently charitable to ask that they be allowed to retire early after so long a day. Jane slept late; the wallowing soft bed and the drone of a light summer rain made it so. It was hard to tell just how late it was, for the sky was overcast, and there was no clock in the room. She feared that she had committed some gauche blunder that would render her a rough country girl or a lazy slugabed for the rest of her stay, so she quickly put on one of her older dresses, she wished to save the better ones for better times, and ran down to breakfast. Fortunately, this table was situated in a comfortable, modest room, and Susan was still there. Everyone else had come and gone, she said, but she had waited for Jane. Thick slices of ham, potatoes, eggs, bread, coffee, and cake, Jane feared she would gain a pound a day while she remained at Penriethe and her trim figure was her best attribute. Susan was bouncing in her chair, eager for Jane to finish. ‘I had hoped we could walk about. The grounds are so beautiful with the flowers in bloom; there would be so many things to do, but not in this dastardly rain. I hope that it stops soon, but it would be too muddy even then, I suppose.’ The village was a possibility, there were some fine houses about that were open, two castles long destroyed, scenic overlooks, but alas, all for some other day. Susan was only mildly put out by the wet as she had another fond desire. ‘You must come to my room, Jane. Mama and I have just returned from London, and I have so many new dresses to try.’ Susan’s rooms were well appointed, though the wallpaper seemed dated to Jane’s eye and the furniture did not match. But clothes were the order of the day, and Susan had an abundance. More new ones than I have altogether, Jane counted with dismay. Jane and her sister Cassandra were very interested in dresses and followed the season’s fashions in the magazines, but they could often do no more than modify their old gowns to appear presentable. Susan’s trousseau, however, was sufficient in number and in the detail in which it was presented so that Jane’s attention soon wavered. She had little appreciation for the subtle fillips that Susan thought so significant, or the merits of one unknown dressmaker over that of another. That was so until she displayed a special little dress obtained from the esteemed Madam Ami. ‘It is the very latest Paris fashion,’ Susan said. ‘Mother did not wish to buy it because it was French, or so she claimed, but actually it was because of its daring look. I must try it on to learn what you think, Jane. Is it really too revealing?’ Susan stepped out of her morning gown and folded the cloth at the top of her chemise into her corset, which puzzled Jane. Was the gown cut that low? It was, but that was not the most notable aspect. The dress was of the finest muslin and cut so narrowly that one could make out the shape of her leg, and while the neckline was exceedingly low, and the waistline was exceedingly high, that was the extent of it. ‘Its simplicity is in revolt against the excesses of the Queen, Madam told me. Madam had just hired a new girl who had come away from the revolution, and this is the first gown that she had made in London.’ ‘It is so narrow, almost straight up and down,’ said Jane. ‘I do not know how many girls would like it. It has no waist at all.’ That is what she said, but she was thinking how prominently the breasts were displayed and how clearly the rest of her figure was revealed. ‘It would be very shocking to wear such a gown.’ ‘I know it. Mother said I must agree to wear a fichu, but even so I am not sure I dare. It was very expensive. Mother was so amusing. She asked why she need pay so much for so little. I thought that was the cleverest thing.’ Jane examined the dress closely. What was shown in Paris often became the new thing in London, though with the revolution as it is that may no longer be true. Alas, it was not the end of the demonstration and Jane’s interest again flagged as even more dresses were brought out. When her lack of attention began to show, Susan began to notice that Jane was indeed a bit young and rather more of a country girl than she had hoped. Well, that was unfortunate. Jane seemed to be much like the Tennet girls, Susan figured, and she liked them well enough, even if they were not as genteel as she would prefer. ‘Tomorrow we should walk to Maybridge,’ she announced. ‘You must meet my friends they-’ Suddenly there was a loud knock on the bedroom door. ‘Well,’ Susan said, ‘that can be no one but George. Mathews would never bang so hard.’ ‘I have come to show Miss Jane around the house,’ he said rather loudly. ‘I am sure that you have bored her silly with all your draperies. You must know that a girl cannot look upon another’s possessions without feeling some degree of resentment.’ So true, thought Jane. ‘I will have Mathews come to help you put all that away, Susie, while I rescue Miss Jane. That is correct, is it not, Miss Jane Austen; you have an older sister, but may I call you Jane? You shall be with us for weeks and weeks.’ Jane nodded her assent. George Harting was taller than she had first believed and more strongly built than her brothers. He had light brown hair and an often serious demeanor from what she could tell, but it was clear that all held him in regard for he was said to have a great deal of sense. ‘What do you wish to see then, Jane? We have all of this dreary day to look around the house.’ ‘Do you have any old parts? Shut up wings that have not been used for centuries?’ ‘We do, the oldest of the old, but not here. Penriethe has genuine ruins, not those newly-made pretty piles that are the rage in fashionable gardens, but an old monastery that half fell to ground with the Tudors. You will need to wait for a nicer day to see them, I am sure Susan has planned an outing. Here I can only display parlors, bedrooms and hallways aplenty with a library and solar thrown in.’ ‘I should love to see the library, and might we visit the stables and barns. They are not so far away. I have brought my boots.’ ‘Wonderful, my sister would never say such a thing. There is hope for girls yet,’ he said with a laugh. ‘The library is beyond the main dining room, which you have seen. That room is all too grand, I fear, but Father would have it so. He wished it to be like Lord Lester’s manse, you see. The library, however, has been stuffed into a too-small room. You must learn to manage the ladders or make out the titles at a distance when you go in there.’ Jane was excited to see the stacks rise to the roof. They were built around a skylight that left in plenty of light even on a cloudy day. The Harting’s library had a great expanse of agricultural books, more military volumes than she expected, and far fewer sermons than her father’s library. George explained that their family had a long tradition in the military, artillery, for the most part. The new cannons display the most exciting advances, he said, they may change the way warfare is conducted.’ ‘Were you in the military? You seem quite knowledgeable.’ ‘Yes, I was, for a few years, but I had to give up my commission. My father wanted me here to help manage the estate, or to learn how to do it, so I entered University instead.’ George was a steady, level-headed sort of fellow who generally gave a good deal of thought into matters, so that when he spoke people tended to listen and follow his direction. Even so, Jane paid little attention to his reply for she was searching, almost beyond hope, for some modern novels. Her spirits leapt when she found them, not a huge pile, but several shelves near the floor. George noticed her delight in locating the popular books. ‘Are you a reader of the Gothic, Miss Jane? These are my mother’s books, though Susan has read some of them.’ ‘Oh yes. I am afraid it is my greatest vice, and I receive such grief from my sister for doing so. She says that I live in another world at times, and that may be when I find one that is well written. So few are, you know, but I read them anyway. Do you Mr Harting?’ ‘George, you must call me George, but none of the other names my sister has for me. I have read a few, but they are not in Latin or Greek, so my interest flags.’ ‘You are so like my brothers who go on in Latin when they do not wish me to know what they are talking about.’ Jane, whose experience in men was rather limited, considered all young gentlemen to be some variation of one brother or another. She was sorting through the titles that she had not yet read and those she had not heard of, while thinking of how she might beg permission to borrow one or two, when George told her she might use the library whenever she wished. ‘It is not likely you will encounter anyone in this part of the house,’ he said, ‘although Elizabeth Tennet does come around every now and again. You have not met her, I suppose. She is the vicar’s daughter and has an odd interest in maths.’ He pulled her away from the shelves to explore the rear of the house. ‘It is not raining so heavily just now. If we stay on the gravel, we will not pick up so much mud.’ Jane had almost forgotten her request to see the stables. They were making their way through the creamery when George asked her if she rode. ‘I assume that is why you wish to see the horses,’ he added. ‘No, not at all,’ she answered, but quickly amended, ‘I ride of course, but only to get from one place to another, not for pleasure. In fact, I do not find it pleasant at all. It hurts my back and my bottom.’ Jane rather wished she had not mentioned the last part. George laughed. ‘Well, do you have horses at home?’ ‘We have only old Molly and a small dog cart that she pulls at a walk. No one has gotten her to move any faster since Edward left.’ That was the truth. Mr Austen did not have the funds to keep horses, but Jane felt that she had not made an adequate response. ‘My brothers all ride, even Frank and Charles, who are in the Navy. Henry is always on a horse. He is in the Militia. They are frequently talking about horses and so I have taken an interest. These seem especially large. Why are they so tall?’ ‘Not at all, Jane, these are typical cavalry horses. My father and grandfather have bred them for years. They have size and their share of courage as well, will run straight into a rank of cannon if you are fool enough to ask it of them’ ‘I shall not ask anything of them, I should think. I would need one of your library ladders to get on top of one. The barn is right close, let us go there and no, we do not have much of a barn either, but my Aunt Catherine has several at her houses.’ The Harting’s barns were large, but not constructed with the massive beams of the Knight’s buildings. Still it was a large expanse. Jane had rarely been in a building so big, and she loved the feeling of space that it provided. George was intrigued by this young girl. She had more spirit than his sister and went tromping around in the splashing mud without the least concern. She seemed to have thought about things and formed her own opinions, which George found attractive. Jane steadfastly maintained her preference for walking, so the horses had limited appeal. They ran toward the kitchen entry as the rain suddenly picked up. Fishing rods leaned in the corner, which gave him and idea. ‘As you do not ride, Miss Jane, could I interest you in some fishing. We have some excellent streams.’ Jane gave a girlish squeak, ‘I should love to. When can we go? I have not been at all since Charles left for the Naval Academy. Father says he has no time anymore and I do not like to do so alone. I am sure Susan would be excited to go.’ George laughed again. He was sure that Susan would neither be excited nor have any other favorable emotion on the subject. ‘My sister has never gone fishing in her life and she would not wish to begin now.’ This sounded very peculiar to Jane. ‘Have you never taken her, George? My brothers always brought me along once I learned how to bait my own hook. I should think it your brotherly duty.’ Truly, she was a different sort of girl. George began to feel sorry that he did not have any secret passages to show her. The gray skies and damp did not trouble Mrs Harting on that day. She had tea brought into the rear sitting room and had a nice little fire set in by the time Mrs Lefroy arrived. ‘Now that you have seen George, perhaps you can advise me. He is four and twenty already, as you know, but you may not know that he has settled on no favorite and seems to have little interest in any of the girls that I bring forward. In no time at all he will be twenty-eight and beyond the desirable age. I must ask your help in this, Anne. He must marry a girl with some standing; of course, Mr Harting would have it no other way. He could be persuaded to accept a girl from a titled family, even one with a modest fortune, should I urge him to do so, but who might it be, I have no idea.’ ‘Dear Evangeline, George is an eminently eligible young man. I am most impressed with his education and sensibility. His speech shows a great deal of common sense and thoughtful consideration. You should be very proud of him.’ ‘Oh yes, all of that, but he must be married Anne, and he will not listen. I am sure his talk of Greek philosophers has no attraction for any girl I ever heard of. It just puts them off. I swear I saw Emmy Winford’s eyes roll back into her head when he spoke of Epictetus something. Nothing came of it; you may be sure, and she was so pretty.’ Anne was quite amused by her friend’s anxiety. Her own sons were much younger, and she had no need to be concerned by such things as yet. George would make up his own mind: she was sure of that, but Evangeline wanted her help, so she must try to think of something to keep her occupied. ‘George seems to like Jane Austen well enough,’ she noted. ‘Perhaps you should forego the London beauties and settle for a country girl.’ ‘Of course, it would be quite acceptable to find someone from the grand estates hereabout, but we have not received as many invitations as I had wished. That has become a disappointment. There is only Eleanor Roswell close by. She is in London for the season, and I had assumed she would have found a beau by now, but Mrs Roswell writes that she has turned down a perfectly good offer. She seems to have assumed an attitude.’ ‘Does her like her at all? I do not know the girl.’ ‘Oh, I do not think so, but what is that to consider. The Roswells are as rich as may be, and she is the prettiest thing. She is always swooning over some young man or another. I cannot imagine why she is not engaged. But of course she is not, so we should arrange for them to be together. The Roswells are still in London at present, but will return in time.’ ‘It does not seem a likely prospect if he does not like her,’ Mrs Lefroy mentioned. But this did not seem to be a weighty matter to Mrs Harting, and they were going about deciding how an association might be arranged when Jane came into the room. Neither of the women paid attention to her talk of a fishing expedition. Chapter 3 - They must very dull At precisely half past nine, Susan and Jane left Penriethe on their way to Maybridge. ‘It is still damp,’ Susan said as she stepped carefully off the porch, ‘but Father had new gravel spread on the drive this spring so we should be able to avoid most of the dirt.’ Jane did not particularly care about mud. Her shoes were much sturdier than the slippers Susan affected. Their high soles kept her hems out of the muck, which seemed to be everywhere when it was wet. Susan needed to lift her skirts to keep them clean, but that was never successful for long in Jane’s experience. ‘Mr Tennet does not permit the girls to receive visitors before ten,’ Susan went on. ‘He requires them to perform their lessons and do some chores every day. He is a very nice man, you must know, but very strict with his children.’ ‘They must very dull in that case,’ Jane said and feared. She knew well the trials of being a vicar’s daughter. Her father was also rather strict, but he had five sons who had been the focus of his sermons and Jane was the youngest daughter so that she was able to maintain certain imperfections. Mr Austen was traveling about his parish on many days and her mother had a frivolous nature, which enabled her to avoid the curse of dullness, or so Jane believed. ‘Andrew Tennet is indeed very dull,’ Susan agreed, ‘he is the eldest, but he has married and taken a vicarage in Histon, which is near Wales, so we do not see him often any more. Edward is another matter. My Aunt Margaret said that he was an untethered spirit. He was forever causing some form of trouble, though he has grown quite handsome and is away in the militia now. Little Lucy is another silly one, she is the youngest, but my friend Elizabeth is very sound. I am sure that you will like her.’ Jane was not so sanguine. Mrs Tennet saw the two girls turn into the garden and rushed to meet them at the door. ‘Do come in Susan. Is this the visitor you have for the summer?’ Before she could answer, Mrs Tennet ushered them into the sitting room and called for Givens to tell the girls that they had guests. She needed to remove some sewing in order for them to sit, and Jane noticed that the room seemed busily used. She could not help comparing the gray stone house to her own. It was larger than the Steventon rectory, but a good deal older. The arrangement of the small rooms was old fashioned and the ceilings were low and dark. She could see that the grounds were extensive, which was unusual in her experience, and the Tennets had a gardener who tended both the vegetables and the wood. She supposed that the bedrooms were on the first floor and beyond hearing. No one would need to come tell her of visitors at Steventon. Lucy was the first to arrive, if running into the room could be named such. She seemed to be in a tizzy, so excited was she by the arrival of the summer’s first visitor. ‘So pretty a girl,’ she exclaimed, ‘we will have such a good time.’ There were, apparently, a great many things to do in Maybridge, if Lucy’s rapid burst of conversation were a guide. Elizabeth was next to come in, properly greeting Susan and Jane, as was expected. Jane was immediately impressed. Elizabeth had a fresh glow about her, with dark sparkling eyes and brown curls, darker than her own. She was older, twenty she was to learn, not so tall and with a more robust but still trim figure. Jane found herself envious of Elizabeth’s appearance as she has often wished herself to be slightly less upright. ‘Welcome again Susan, and you must be Jane Austen. Susan told us so much of your coming.’ The four girls were ushered into the dining room where they could talk alone. There was much to plan and decide upon. And of course, the new girl, they must learn all about her. Elizabeth was a bright happy young lady, with more intelligence and opinion than her mother wished. It had not helped that Mr Tennet thought so highly of learning. He had his eldest daughter attend three years of schooling at Mrs Festerling’s academy for women, but when it became clear that was to little effect, he had brought her home intent on doing the job himself. Lizzy had learned too much of mathematics, French and history, and not enough of the social graces in her mother’s opinion. Her piano had not progressed at all, though she was a good dancer. ‘I understand that we have certain matters in common’ Elizabeth mentioned. ‘I have heard that you are a great reader and if you are, I am sure that we will be friends.’ Susan went on to explain the unusual circumstances surrounding Elizabeth’s reading. Mr Tennet did not approve of romantic novels and required that Elizabeth not bring them into his house. Books were not brought in, of course, but she was not made to promise that she would never read such books. It transpired that Elizabeth had an invitation to use the Harting’s library at any time; she could enter the window off the terrace. Mary Winthrop, the young wife of the village milliner, passed along all her novels and, of course, there was the lending library whose books could be read in widow Spencer’s unused rear parlor, provided that she read occasionally to Mrs Spencer, whose eyesight was not as it should be. ‘So you see, Jane, I am not deprived and I hope we have the time to speak of our favorites.’ ‘Does your father not know of your reading, Miss Tennet. I should not wish to sneak about.’ Elizabeth rather liked Jane’s burst of candor. It is something she was like to do herself, but she said, ‘No. I rather think that he knows well enough what I am about, but he has never said or asked anything about it, so that there is no occasion for daughterly rebellion. I believe my father decided long ago that it was prudent not to openly forbid his flock to do things that they were only too likely to do.’ Mrs Tennet smiled at this telling, for she well knew the truth. At that moment, there was a knock on the door and Mrs Lancaster helloed, as she did almost every day. Mrs Lancaster was a widow of some years who went from house to house in Maybridge, at least those houses that were likely to have anything to say, and so she knew all there was to know. She had adopted this course as her duty and was at present very pleased, for this was a day of plenty. ‘The Roswells,’ she revealed, 'were soon to return. They are coming home before the season is over. Eleanor has turned down a most advantageous suitor and Mrs Roswell is upset with her, as she should be. That, you must now understand, is not the only reason that they are leaving town early. Fitzroy had gotten himself in some scrape, and Mr Roswell is dragging him home in a tower of rage.’ Mrs Lancaster had not yet ascertained the nature of his transgression, but it was only a matter of time until she did so. There was some speculation about Fitzroy’s mischief, but none was near the mark. The ladies were more accurate in their assessment of Eleanor’s willfulness, as they were to learn. The Roswells lived at Merit Hall, the largest house in the vicinity of Maybridge. They were very wealthy, all knew, but an unfortunate family. Mr Roswell’s grandfather had some scandal and so the family was suspect. The village always expected them to behave in some way that was somehow improper, though they never had, perhaps that too was only a matter of time. Mrs Lancaster allowed the conversation to dwell on the Roswell’s as she examined the new girl that Susan Harting had with her. She must learn as much as possible for it would be good coin, all the village girls and their mammas would be interested. She allowed the conversation to progress while she held back her latest news. It would stay fresh, as no one else was likely to arrive with it. Inevitably, however, she blurted it out. ‘Two young gentlemen have just this morning come to town. They had driven recklessly through the village,’ she said. ‘They appeared to be racing as each had his own little cart and they hardly slowed on their way through. One of them was seen to have knocked a chip from the corner of Seaward’s apothecary. They were well dressed,’ she had heard, ‘one with a tight red jacket and the other in a longer green coat. Mr Hutchens said their horses were very fine. No one knew who they might be, but they were on their way to Penriethe,’ she said looking at Susan. Susan thought that perhaps she should defend the gentlemen’s behavior if they belonged to Penriethe, but she knew of no way to do so. ‘They must be George’s friends from Oxford,’ was all she could muster. She was somewhat relieved when Mrs Lancaster said that they were both handsome men, no matter how reckless, and that all knew how the Oxford men went wild at times, so that their unruly behavior was not ascribed to Penriethe as it otherwise would have been. Mrs Tennet and Mrs Lancaster left the girls to themselves where they talked for some considerable time. Jane was required to explain at length the nature of her family including their distant connection to the Hartings and all there was to say about Steventon, which did not compare well to Maybridge, no matter how she tried. Jane had revealed a preference for old castles and even abandoned houses that might be explored. So the four girls decided that tomorrow they would meet to walk to Penriethe ruins and to bring a lunch for it was expected to be a pleasant day. As the afternoon drew on, Susan and Jane became increasingly restless, and though they dare not mention it even to one another, they were anxious to return to Penriethe and see the wild, handsome gentlemen that were there. Susan and Jane did not come upon anyone as they entered Penriethe. There were no carriages in front of the house and the horses must have been taken around to the stable. The parlor and library were empty. Mrs Harting was taking a nap and Mrs Lefroy was nowhere to be found. Susan asked Fimbel where George and his friends might be, but he declined knowledge only saying that they were away at the moment, and she must know that dinner was to be served early. She thought that perhaps the Gentlemen had not had lunch, for her father did not often make an exception to the preferred schedule. Whatever the reason may be, that left her only two hours to prepare and she insisted that she must immediately go to her rooms to change. Jane had not taken two hours to put on a dress in her life, so she went off to the library to select a novel and look about on her own. Dinner, when it came, was most disappointing. Susan, after extensive consideration, decided to wear an informal ball gown. It had a pale pink crepe de chine overlay and a rose satin dress. One might consider it too fine for dinner at home, but it complimented the slight bit of color that her cheeks acquired during the afternoon walk. She had waited to the last moment to enter the dining room so that everyone would already be present, which they were, but neither George or the two gentlemen were there. Jane had been disappointed when she learned that they were not at the house, but her sprits were lifted in a slightly perverse way, by the sight of Susan Harting impatiently searching the expanse of the large dark hall only to find frustration. Neither girl ate much of what was served; but noted from Mr Harting that the young men had gone into Maybridge for the evening. He was in high spirits for he greatly enjoyed his time with them that afternoon. ‘They were very lively chaps, enough to enliven even our George,’ he claimed. Mrs Harting and Mrs Lefroy had also met the gentlemen and thought them to be well-mannered and handsome men. They said how unfortunate it was that the girls had not been there when they arrived, such a flurry that was, and then they were away almost as quick as they came. This conversation did nothing to lift the girl’s mood and neither was paying much attention when Mr Harting mentioned that the young gentlemen had arranged some type of wager for the following day. Chapter 4 – Bottoms up in the shrubbery Jane retired to her commodious room satisfied that her visit to Maybridge was off to a promising beginning. Susan was a very pleasant girl, if a little toplofty. Her bedroom was magnificent. Cassandra would be jealous, especially if she knew that the window seat possessed a secret chamber large enough to conceal a French spy or a bold lover. She longed to take her books and sit there reading in quiet, without interruption, in her own space. She would do that one day when activities were not planned, whenever that should be. George was most pleasant, and his attentions were as pleasing as they were unexpected and now there were wild gentlemen who offered much to look forward to. The Tennet girls were lovely, especially Elizabeth, who had a witty sort of conversation that Jane herself aspired to achieve, and only Aunt Anne had mastered in her acquaintance. She was looking forward to their day at the Penriethe Ruins. She hoped that they were not too broken down so that there would be some rooms still standing in which a vile murder or romantic transgression might be imagined. There were no such places around Steventon, and she was looking toward the coming day as an exciting prospect. Jane saw Elizabeth and Lucy waiting near the entry gate to Penriethe. The Tennet girls waved and ran a few steps to greet them. They had been waiting some time already and blamed Susan for her lateness, as she was often thoughtless of others whom she did not consider her equals. Susan had little to say to that as they knew one another well. After taking a moment to decide who would carry what, for they had packed for a picnic and had a blanket and a large umbrella in case of sun, the girls started on their way. Susan led them to a narrow road that turned off a little way into the property, ran across a flat meadow to the south, and wound up a forested hill to the site of the ancient monastery. The way was dry at least, and the length of grass on its surface indicated that road was little used. Lucy carried the lunch basket, though what state it was in became suspect, for she spun around whenever she had something to say. ‘Did you meet the two gentlemen?’ Elizabeth asked. It was the subject of most immediate interest. ‘No, we never saw them at all, they were not at dinner and must have come home very late for I did not hear them, and then they went out early in the morning before we were up. Mama said they were very pleasing, but her opinion can mean many things, so I do not know.’ ‘We know why they were not at the manor,’ Lucy giggled. ‘They were at the White Swan ‘til all hours last night, but why they might have gotten up early, I do not know. I suspect they are very wild; Mamma believes so.’ ‘Thank you Lucy, but they do seem very energetic. Perhaps it is what Maybridge needs to enliven the summer.’ ‘Well, it is not at all like my brother to go racketing around this way. Those friends of his must be a bad influence. I may not like them after all.’ None of the other girls believed this declaration, but it did put a temporary end to the talk of unruly gentlemen. ‘Is it far to the ruins? I cannot see any sign of them from here.’ ‘It is about a half mile, just over the top of Monastery Mount,’ Jane was told. ‘There will be a good view of Maybridge and Merit Hall beyond once we get there. Mr Harting has allowed goats to graze on the hill, and they have kept the field at the summit free of brush and trees.’ The hilltop had long been a favorite site for picnics and outings, and the Tennet girls had often gone there as children. It was a remembrance of these times that led Elizabeth to begin a familiar marching song. She was walking backwards up the road leading the chorus when Lucy’s eyes went wide. Jane saw it too and flung up her arms. A tall brown horse suddenly appeared, running, skidding around the bend, just a few feet away, heading right for them. The narrow road, cut into the steep hillside, left no room to pass. The red-haired driver pulled savagely on the reins forcing the horse to pull up, dark eyes glaring down at the bodies at its feet; the girls fell away, eyes averted, the man jumped down grabbing at the bridle hoping to keep the horse from kicking out. Two other high carriages rounded the bend close behind, but their drivers had sensed the commotion ahead, seen some wild flash of alarm. With great effort and shouting, they struggled to stop in the midst of the frightened girls. A light two-wheeled cart was wrenched around the bend with its left wheel hitting the rocks off the side of the road; some spokes cracked, and the wheel collapsed. The force off the crash and the twisting wreckage caused the horse to fall, hooves flashing toward a girl cowering inches away. The driver was thrown free, long green coat flapping wildly, he sprawled headfirst sliding down the steep slope as the phaeton crumbled to a stop on its side. A gray mare stepped in a panic over the fallen horse, became tangled in the wreckage, and bumped against Susan, who was standing frozen in fear of the sudden screaming and yelling. She was knocked into the gully next to the road; her ankle twisted on the edge, and she fell against a beech tree banging her head. Her brother George, who had been driving the last of the carriages, looked on in surprise and horror. He leapt to the ground, almost falling, and went to his sister. Jane and Elizabeth were unhurt, though both had dropped to the ground in fear. The two girls arose hugging one another, brushing away dirt, assuring each other that they were all right. They repeatedly glanced toward the frightened horses that were so near, still a danger, as a man tried to calm them and keep any further harm from occurring. They looked around at the mess just as George ran by. When Jane saw that Susan had been knocked about and was lying motionless near the road, she left Elizabeth to go to her. Lucy had turned and ran down the hill to avoid the crash, and was in no danger though her basket had been flung away. Elizabeth had not seen much of the crash, only the rearing horse with its wild eyes and the flight of the man as he jumped from the toppling carriage. She was worried about him; he might be badly hurt. She walked to the edge of the road where the rocky ground fell away steeply into the trees. The tall man had slid headfirst down the grade after he fell. He had avoided the rocks for the most part, but was caught awkwardly, his head much lower than his feet, with one arm pinned against a tree and only his black boots sticking out of the thick shrub in which he was lodged. Elizabeth could see that the man was moving, struggling, but he seemed unable to get free. Her nerves somewhat intact; she carefully made her way down to him grasping at broken saplings and tall weeds to maintain her precarious balance. The man was still fighting to get up, but was unable to get any leverage to do so. ‘Let me help,’ she said, and grabbed his boot in an attempt pull him free, but he continued to struggle causing her feet to slip in the loose gravel, and she fell staining her skirts. Elizabeth had managed to move him some, but he was not free. She braced herself and gave another yank. The fellow continued to resist her efforts and twisted away. It may have been the shock of the near collision, or the ungainly position in which he landed, or his determination to help himself, but he resented her interference. Without looking, he called out. ‘Lay off I say. I am able to care for myself without any aid from you.’ He temper was up, and he continued to berate his unknown helper as he worked to separate himself from the shrubbery. He then saw that he had been helped by a lady, which he did not expect, he stepped back and might have apologized, but when he recognized who it was that had come to his assistance, his tirade took a new turn. ‘What kind of dunce walks backward in the middle of a public road,’ his face not inches above hers. ‘Look at what you have done with your complete lack of common wit,’ he said taking in the general tumult. He felt himself quite a sight. He had lost his hat. It was nowhere around. He pulled away some of the leaves that stuck in his hair and was generally chagrined at what had happened. He knew his anger to be justified; he might have been killed after all, really, blocking the road in so foolish a way. He knew however that this was not the thing, and he tried mightily to regain his composure. He at last realized that this girl had ventured to help him at some risk to herself, and it had been good of her to do so. He finally achieved some semblance of propriety. ‘Here now, we must regain the road,’ and he took Elizabeth’s arm and the two struggled up the hill. The slippery grass made footing difficult, and Elizabeth almost fell again. He put his arm around her waist, at times almost lifting her up, they were finally free. Elizabeth was not at all appeased. She did not think the wreck was in any way her responsibility and the act of being so falsely accused on two fronts simultaneously, ignited her temper. As soon as she regained level ground, she turned and talked back at the dark haired man, standing on her toes to give herself some needed height. ‘You, you, what do you mean racing so recklessly through our picnic. Moreover, and you could not have gotten unstuck without my aid. I, I, well I should have left you there.’ She continued to sputter, and did not always make very much sense though her meaning was clear. Her bonnet was slightly twisted, her cheeks pink from her exertion and two dark brown curls had fallen across her bright eyes. He looked at her clearly for the first time; he might have been struck by how her disheveled anger had made her quite attractive, but no, it was as if Elizabeth’s righteous charms made no impression on the tall gentleman, who looked right over her head, raised his arms and exasperation, and turned away leaving her alone in her frustration. He quickly inquired after the red-haired man who assured him that he was unharmed, then looked to George, who was still tending to his sister, neither seemed much hurt, then to his fallen horse that had just then kicked free of its equipage and regained its feet. There was a cut on its right foreleg, not too bad, but otherwise unharmed. Jane watched as he spoke to the beast in a kind and soothing manner making sure that it was as well as could be, quite the opposite of his demeanor with Elizabeth, she thought. His curricle was another matter, with one wheel broken to splinters and the left shaft cracked where a horse had stepped upon it. Jane saw that Susan was knocked about. She bent over her crumpled body and lifted her head to help her regain her breathing. She may have been unconscious for a brief moment after Jane reached her, but now needed only to collect her wits as she continued to cry, while all the time keeping her eyes closed to avoid the sight of the imagined tragedy. Susan had an abrasion on her forehead that Jane cleaned with her kerchief. She did not look so badly hurt once her hair was put right. George even thanked her, perhaps because he was relieved to have someone else deal with Susan’s moods. Lucy had turned at the sight of the plunging horses and stood there in mild shock as the crush was sorted out. Now she was tromping up the track, stick in hand, with the intention of telling the dark-haired man to leave off her sister and mind his manners. The shorter man in the brown coat had mastered the frightened horses and was now leading them away from the scene. What a mess this day turned out to be, George thought. He had spent the past three summers with his two friends, Henry Forrester and William Darby, ever since they left Oxford. They had been serious students there, treading the middle road between the excess of the rakes and the pious divinity. Now they each had significant responsibilities for most of the year, but their summers were for fun. Forrester and Darby had argued over the merits of their horses as they each drove their own curricles to Penriethe, their grooms sitting back, agreeing with them at every turn. The turnpike had been too crowded for a contest, and they were still determined to settle the question in a proper way. The matter had been put to George Harting soon after they arrived. This naturally started the whole argument anew with the added complication that George obviously had a horse that was superior to both, as could be clearly seen by anyone with a practiced eye and an ounce of judgment. The only solution was to settle the dispute in a race and so the three men rode off toward the village to examine the route George proposed. As his friend’s horses had been driven for some hours the day before, George felt that a run along the deserted winding road over Mission Hill would be a manageable, but challenging four-mile test of driving skill rather than all out speed and endurance. That must wait for another day. George did not have a two-wheel curricle like his friends drove, but he did have a light high-perch phaeton that was his pride, though it was so dangerous that his mother trembled in fear whenever he took it out, and Susan refused to ride in it. The three men had spent the evening at the inn in Maybridge that, as Forrester insisted, had superior wine, another question that could only be decided at some length. No matter how little sleep that night held, the grooms began preparing the horses at an early hour and so it would begin. They would start toward the west, through some flat fields, over the hill then down to the main drive into the estate. Darby had a big brown mare that could run all day, George thought, but lacked true speed. Forrester had a fine black that he had recently purchased. He did not know her true merits, but had high hopes. George’s gray was top flight and knew the roads, though his carriage was heavier than the racing curricles. The three started at a fast pace and stayed close together as they sped across the low fields. George saw the hill ahead and allowed himself to be passed. His two friends pulled ahead as they ascended the steep hill determined to be the first to the top. Darby was in the lead as they went by the old ruins, closely followed by Forrester. George trailed, but he thought both men had driven the assent at too hard a pace. The horses would have no rest on the tight winding road down, he knew so he would be in position to get by them both on the flat stretch through the valley. Now Forrester was trying to pass, foolish, he would be off the side if he were not more careful. Then George saw Henry swerve abruptly as he entered the tight bend. Had the road washed away? He was surprised to see Darby’s horse rear up and lurch to the side, but he was too close behind; he was in trouble. Why had that fool Forrester pulled up? Suddenly he saw a whorl of skirts beyond as he wrenched his horse up. Darby was down; his carriage tipped, Forrester had done a masterful job of stopping his curricle, which teetered on the far edge of the roadway. He was still struggling to keep it upright. George had to go to the inside, against the hill; his horse had to squeeze past the wreckage trying to stop and stay clear at the same time. He almost made it when the horse stepped over the broken curricle and slid in on the loose scree, scrambling awkwardly, George tugging with all his strength, crashed into the group of women. One was hit, his sister he realized as he stood in his high seat. He backed his horse away from Jane and Elizabeth and jumped down to do what he could to help. Both sides of the crash barely held their feelings in check once the outright shouting had ended. Formalities were forgotten as the young people sorted themselves out, assured one another that they were not hurt, perhaps some dirt, a tear, a scratch, physically intact, but shaken. It could have been so much worse, they all said. The tall, dark man returned from settling his horse and his own temper, he inquired after Jane and Susan, and then sought out Elizabeth. ‘Excuse me Miss, but are you all right? My apologies for coming up short with you, of course, you had no way to know that we would be using this roadway.’ ‘How can you be so rude to my sister, Sir, it was not her fault that you have wrecked your cart, is it? You ought to have cried out before bursting around a curve in that way. I should have done so in any event.’ Lucy was angry with the tall man for he had clearly upset Elizabeth, though she could not help but notice that he was a trim strong-looking man and very distinguished. He looked down at her in a rather imperious way and she grew afraid that he would give her a rude set down for standing up like she did, but he did not. He might have, actually, but Elizabeth intervened. ‘Lucy, be still. You must know that the gentleman has reason to be upset. He has broken his toy; his horse has suffered an injury; his coat is torn at the shoulder, he has fallen awkwardly, and gotten stuck bottoms up in the shrubbery, in short, he has suffered a considerable embarrassment. You must see that his dignity has been wounded and so he needs to be excessively haughty in order to compensate. We must tolerate his pompous behavior and make the necessary allowance.’ Lucy giggled, and the dark haired man looked upon Elizabeth in stunned surprise. Was she making fun of him? He had never expected such from this disheveled country girl. ‘My apologies Ma’am, I was only trying to be civil.’ ‘At last,’ Elizabeth said. ‘At least,’ Lucy added. With his temper sourly tempted to rise again and not trusting himself to offer a tolerable reply, he bowed and excused himself to attend to the other young ladies. The red-haired man tied the horses to a tree and joined George and the other girl to help Susan. She had banged her head rather hard and was a bit groggy; there was a good deal of blood on her face and dress, but she suffered only small cut to her scalp, not so bad, but it bled a great deal. It was only when they tried to get her on her feet that they discovered that she had injured her ankle. Jane said it was not broken and, after some crying, Susan was able to hobble around. It was some time before all regained sufficient civility to allow some elements of polite society to emerge. George made the introductions. The tall, dark man was a Mr William Darby of Westerly Manor in Oxfordshire, and the red-haired man was Henry Forrester, who had a small estate in Somerset. Each offered the necessary repeated apologies and encouragement. George and Henry helped Susan into his phaeton, its high seat and long step up made this painful for her, but she had her wits again and protested that Jane must be brought as well. There was some confusion as to what to do. Darby offered to walk the Tennet girls to their home, but his offer was refused. Jane must stay with them, they insisted, and she could wait at the rectory until George had a proper coach sent for her. Darby tied his mare to the back of Forrester’s curricle, and the two men followed George as they walked slowly, at Susan’s insistence, back to Penriethe. Darby’s carriage was a shambles at the side of the road, a broken reminder of the day’s scuttled plans. The three young women watched them leave then turned toward Maybridge rectory. Lucy talked excitedly, irate at the dangerous game the men played, disturbed by the rude speech the tall man had with her sister, angered that their day had been interrupted, all the things experienced from that rough encounter. Then, to Jane’s surprise, Lucy added how she wished that she could drive a curricle. ‘They are so light and sporting. I could go ever so fast, not with Papa’s horse of course, but with George’s grey gelding. He is a smacking beauty. I suppose that it would be quite dangerous to be so high in a two-wheeled cart, but I should not mind. I would give our mother quite a fright, would I not Elizabeth?’ Elizabeth had grown quiet as the walk progressed and did not answer as Lucy chattered on with yet another fantasy. Something was not right about her confrontation with that man. It seemed fair that they would be angered by the reckless driving and equally sure of the propriety of their being on the road in midday. But Elizabeth was logical in her own mind, and she knew that the very unused nature of the road that justified her walking backward in the middle of it, also made it suitable for racing the length of it. Certainly, he would have been startled by the sudden crash and dazed by his fall, that would explain his temper, but that was not exactly right. His distress was with her as she helped him out of the bushes. It was rather funny to see him stuck in the hedge with only his legs wagging about. And his insistence that he did not need her help was not at all right. He would have had the devil of a time to get up, being head down on the steep grade. It must have been his embarrassment in finding himself nearly helpless in so awkward a way. Too proud to accept assistance, she decided. And her own feelings, what were they about? Her first impulse was to reach up to wipe the blood from his forehead to see how badly injured he was. Her urge to help him was replaced in a trice when he showed his hostility to her presence, and she had her own temper to thank for her intemperate reply. She was embarrassed by her behavior. It was not at all how she should have acted. Elizabeth shuddered at the thought of meeting him again, as would surely happen. Jane remained at the Tennet’s for two hours. Lucy had managed to get Mrs Tennet overly excited, and the thought of her girls endangered sent her to her rooms to settle her nerves. George arrived in the landau with a coachman and footman. He insisted on offering his apologies to all the Tennets and assumed responsibility for the entire incident. He was relieved that no one in the party received a serious injury and vowed that nothing of that nature would happen ever again. When some doubt was cast on his friends’ character, he offered assurance that they were admirable men, and he was confident they would become well regarded on future acquaintance. He was so gracious and well spoken that Mr Tennet admired him excessively, and by the time George left, he almost regretted that his daughters had gotten in the way. Jane would have stayed longer with Elizabeth, as she had come to enjoy her company and commonsensical way of thinking about complicated things, but she was committed to go away with George, and there was Susan to be looked after, although the scrape on her forehead was not so bad. George was most accommodating all the way to Penriethe. He treated Jane as the hero of the day for the calm competence she displayed in the face of the uproar, which was very flattering, but rather how she imagined herself. Courageous or not, she was not anticipating any favor on meeting those two men at dinner. On that night, Jane decided to wear the best dress that she had that was appropriate. It was not a time for half measures, as her father often said, and she felt that she should look as well as possible and create a favorable impression, if she could manage one. The evening began with all mode of propriety being observed. Jane was introduced to the two gentlemen as if she had never seen them before. Mr Henry Forrester was most pleasant and had a friendly and welcoming nature. He was fair complexioned with curly red hair and blue eyes, as often went together. His bright smile was a constant presence, and he was most anxious that everyone be on the best of terms. The other man, Mr William Darby, was in all ways his opposite. Mr tall dark Darby spoke little and scowled a lot. He clearly saw Jane as a too-young girl of little account. He had a much younger sister who he looked after, and must have felt that Jane was someone else’s younger sister and theirs to deal with. However, much he slighted Jane; Mr Darby went on about Miss Elizabeth Tennet. ‘She was,’ he proclaimed, ‘completely lacking in civility and the mores of society. When I declined her assistance in regaining the road, it set her temper alight. I half expected her to begin cursing, I had to withdraw from the contest, least I be bettered,’ he said with a slight laugh. He clearly held Miss Tennet to be a rough vacuous girl lacking education and society. Why he spoke of her such length and how he formed so many opinions from so brief an encounter were things that Jane could not fathom, but Elizabeth had created a formidable impression no matter how unfortunate. Mr Darby could hardy credit the protests of George and Susan that Elizabeth Tennet was a bright and charming girl, not at all as he described her. Poor Mr Forrester, Jane thought. He was in the middle of the table and the midst of the discussion and pressed to defend both positions, as he felt obliged to do. Jane believed that she had admirably resisted all temptation to say exactly what she thought of this Mr Darby and the gentlemen’s reckless racing, and though she said little, all seemed to know her feelings. Well, no matter. Thoughts of the day’s events flew from her head when Mrs Harting had the card table arranged. Jane longed to play cards, especially whist. Mr Austen did not play at cards and so the three remaining Austens could not form a table as often as they wished. Mr Forrester seemed to know a great deal about cards and Jane was on him to teach her some of the games of chance that had not found their way into the Steventon rectory. Chapter 5 – A most amiable girl The gentlemen’s apparel had suffered some damage during the events on Monastery Hill, and they wished to have their driving coats repaired or replaced. Susan did not think it likely that they would find anything to their taste in Maybridge; nevertheless, she arranged to take Jane and the two visitors to the village that very afternoon to see what might be accomplished. Mr Harting took excessive care of his reputation and reports had reached his ear of a disturbance in Maybridge, that and this latest exploit, led him to declare that their travel will take place in the landau and at a sedate pace that the coachman was instructed to maintain throughout. The top was let down and the four young people were driven, as directed, to the nearby town. Mrs Tennet and Lucy had already been in the village for some time collecting the news of the day and critically inspecting any goods that had recently arrived. As was often the case, there were few objects of interest in the shops, so the bulk of their time was spent in talk. On that day, in addition to the expected arrival of the Roswells and various rumors about the misadventures of their children, the conversation was about the brash young gentlemen that had come to visit Penriethe. Bits and pieces were becoming known about the fellows, little of it may have been true, but it was exciting nonetheless. One gentleman was said to be very rich and the other most amiable. All were shocked that George had friends that were so wild, even to racing about frightening the dear Tennet girls, because he was known by all to be a serious, level-headed sort of man. Susan’s injury was not yet known, for if it was their opinion of him might have required a change. There was much discussion on how long the visitors were to be staying, some weeks to be sure. The limited society of Maybridge could not afford to shun the probably wealthy and definitely interesting gentlemen so that arrangements must progress toward an assembly or perhaps a dinner to welcome them. Mrs Tennet was not pleased with the paucity of new information about these men, who were already notorious personages within the Tennet household. She had been expected to provide more information than she could acquire, which was never a satisfactory bargain in her opinion. As they were leaving the last but one shop, Lucy tugged at her mother’s sleeve and directed her attention toward the black coach moving slowly down the road. Both were surprised to see Miss Harting with Jane and that two men were sitting where they expected to see Mrs Harting and her lady’s maid. Lucy assured her that those were the very gentlemen in question. Mrs Tennet was determined to meet them and instantly devised a plan to do so. She judged correctly where the coach would stop and urged Lucy to move quickly in that direction. Their progress slowed, however, when she saw that Mrs Lancaster was already in position to greet the young people. It would not do to join that party, so they dawdled. After a short while, Mrs Lancaster moved off and Mrs Tennet moved in. Miss Harting, Miss Austen, and the gentlemen had turned to enter the clothiers when Mrs Tennet issued a hello loud enough to interrupt their progress. ‘Dear Susan, I am pleased to see you and looking so well,’ she said ignoring the scrape at the top of her forehead. ‘It must be the summer, which is always so healthful as long as you avoid the direct sun. Miss Jane, it is so nice to see you again. You are also looking well. Are these gentlemen your guests?’ she asked in order to obtain a proper introduction. Miss Harting made known Mr William Darby, who bowed with no expression of welcome, and Mr Henry Forrester. At least Mr Forrester was a pleasant man, and said how pleased he was to be in Maybridge. No one was to mention the previous unpleasant encounter with Lucy and her sister, which was understood. Mrs Tennet’s mind was in a whorl comparing her new impressions against what she had heard from her daughters. These were fine, upstanding gentlemen, appropriate in every way to engage in society. As the interview continued, they displayed a refined manner and admirable discernment, all Elizabeth’s representations of their reprehensible behavior dwindled away in Mrs Tennet’s estimation, and she sought some opportunity to engage them further. ‘I have just learned, Miss Harting, that Mr Liversedge is planning a dinner party for Friday next. I do hope that you and your guests will be free to attend.’ Mrs Tennet knew no such thing at the time, only that some other people thought that Mr Liversedge ought to have a party, but she was confident that she could make it be so. Jane was pleased to hear it, though she made no immediate reply for it was not her place to do so. Miss Harting and Mr Darby likewise gave no response for their own reasons, but Henry Forrester said he would be delighted to attend, should he receive an invitation. ‘I should so like to make the acquaintance of all the people here about. I hear that they are ever so many pretty girls to dance with.’ He said this with a slight bow in Lucy’s direction and a wink at Jane. Lucy, who had been ill-disposed to meeting with these men again, changed her view and suddenly saw how pleasant it would be to dance with someone new, especially the elegantly dressed Mr Forrester. With her business done and farewells complete, Mrs Tennet stayed in town long enough to mention that the Penriethe gentlemen would receive with favor an invitation from Mr Liversedge. She was confident that all arrangements expected and otherwise, were on their way to being set in place. Horace Liversedge and his wife Clarinda had all the joy and generosity of unexpected wealth. Mr and Mrs Liversedge have lived in Maybridge these thirty years and had a comfortable living from a modest property that they managed carefully. They were quite content with their lot when their lot changed considerably. Both of Horace Liversedge’s older brothers and then his father died, one after another, one each month, for three months consecutive, so that Mr Horace Liversedge, against all odds and expectations, became the last of the Hampstead Liversedges and the heir to all of his family’s considerable fortune. Horace and Clarinda were expected by all of Maybridge to move to the grand estate in Kent that was now theirs, but, no, they said, we know no one there, all our friends are here and here we shall remain. With more funds at his disposal than he could ever spend, and his good nature nothing if not enhanced, Mr Liversedge was eager to host a dinner or a dance whenever an occasion could be found. At Clarinda’s urging, Horace had his already large parlor enlarged until it became a small ballroom, and the party for the Penriethe Gentlemen would be its unveiling. Paddy Harbow arrived in Maybridge about the same time as the Penriethe Gentlemen. He made his living in the musical profession, as did many in his family. Paddy played violin and cello with a small, but fashionable, London orchestra. It was his custom, when the summer season came to its end, and his London engagements dwindled away, for Paddy to spend some months at his brother’s house in Maybridge. John Harbow was also in the music business in addition to selling farm goods. He had a small ensemble that played for their own pleasure at all the local assemblies. John played whatever instrument was lacking for the evening and generally made what arrangements were needed. Paddy joined this local orchestra when he was in his brother’s house, but this year he insisted that they learn some of the newer dances that were popular in town. ‘We have been playing the same old and out-of-fashion music for years past.’ he said. ‘We must attempt something different for the sake of my well-being.’ John had some inkling that this might not be right for some unformed reason, but since he did not insist, they became busy almost every evening practicing the new dances they would play, for the first time, at the Liversedge engagement. It was a decision fraught with tearful consequences. Henry Forrester was in high spirits. He had decided that it was most fortunate that they had chosen to visit George Harting. The days were clear and warm, the hunting had been excellent, and he was greatly taken by the lovely Miss Harting. Indeed, his affection for her had grown to become a distraction, and he would have been happy to stay around the house in hopes that he could be with her. He would have done so, but Darby expected him to ride out, and he agreed to go. They had taken a wrong trail in the maze of low hills, and were picking their way through a small wood, when his feelings burst out. ‘Miss Harting is a most amiable girl, do not you think, Darby? She has every grace and elegance that a girl ought to have and her conversation is agreeable in every respect.’ ‘She is indeed, Forrester, and by far the prettiest girl we have seen hereabouts. I believe her family is well off, which you should take account of. Your circumstances are in need of some assistance in that respect.’ ‘It is true, Darby, as well you know, but I find her such a pleasant companion that her fortune hardly merits my concern. She shows me some favor, I believe. Have you noticed Darby? I hope it is more than my wishful thinking.’ ‘I believe it so, Henry, but you should find out at the dinner dance. I dread the thought of attending myself; country-dances are not to my liking, especially when I know so few of these people and regard even fewer. But I see that I must accompany you and support your suit.’ ‘It is hardly that, at least not yet, and I am not sure that her father would look favorably on any such intentions from me. He seems very intent on making an advantageous match for her. He has a great desire for respectability and his wife even more so. They would hardly credit a second son, I fear.’ ‘Your family is an old and honorable one, Forrester, you need have no concern in that regard though some people are prone to measure respectability in pounds rather than position.’ Darby did not say so, but he thought the Hartings would be among that set. Susan had long since noticed the attentions of Mr Forrester. She was very attuned to such things, and had occasion to imagine them even when they were not present. But no longer. He was the first older man to pay her any true regard, and she was most taken. He was so very pleasant and the best of company. She had set aside entirely the awkwardness of the picnic encounter and decided that she liked these gentlemen, but perhaps one more than the other. ‘You do agree Jane? I much prefer fair men, though I had never before considered a man with reddish hair. That should not be held against him, should it? He is handsome even so, is he not?’ Jane had already replied to these questions several times and, indeed, had reached her fill with Susan’s feelings regarding Henry Forrester. He was all things desirable in Jane’s mind, so she agreed with Susan’s many assertions though it was also clear that she had little choice in the matter. She had once taken exception to his wearing brown boots instead of black ones, but Susan would not allow that to stand and she continued to exclaim the superiority of the more natural shade for the better part of a half hour. Jane wished Mr Forrester had not requested the first two dances with Susan. Her excitement had been heightening ever since and it had now reached an annoying degree. She wanted to point out that it was only a neighbor’s dinner dance and not a Royal Ball, but that would be mean and so she held her tongue. While not reaching the height of rapture that Susan excelled in, Jane had her own expectations. George would ask her to dance, she was sure of that. He had been out walking with her, two times already, and promised to take her to the ruins, since he held himself responsible for ruining her visit to that place. She knew that he was very much older than she was, but he seemed to enjoy her conversation. He told her that she said the most surprising and delightful things and those were the very same opinions that her brothers had often called patent nonsense or girlish notions. Elizabeth Tennet did not look with favor on the party as she normally might have done. She was rather put out by her mother’s enthusiastic praise of Mr Darby and Mr Forrester, and she claimed to have no desire to meet either of those gentlemen again. There was some hope that her brother Edward would be home by that time, but his letter was vague as to dates, so she could not make out when he would arrive. For some reason that she did not fully understand, Elizabeth felt that she must have a new gown. She had worn her old ones so often that it would be a scandal should she do so again, or so she maintained. Lucy said that it was no concern, as neither of the Penriethe Gentlemen had seen any of her dresses, and the neighbors would take no notice. It was not common for Lucy to exercise common sense, that was Elizabeth’s virtue, but on this occasion the sisters thinking was reversed. Elizabeth purchased four yards of India muslin printed with a tracery of tiny pink roses and set about making a new dress. Neither her mother nor her sister thought she would finish it in time for the dance, for she was not a noted seamstress. She did, however, though at the expense of the household supply of candles and considerable help from her friends. It looked well enough, though more new than notable, and required some pins to get the fit right. When the day arrived, she even went so far as to beg Mrs Withorby to allow her to pick some of her famous miniature pink roses to put in her hair. Elizabeth did not get on with Mrs Withorby, who was very prim and disapproving, so this initiative caused some amazement, as did the tedious half hour she spent arranging and rearranging the buds while all thought they looked fine from the beginning. By Mr Tennet’s reckoning, all this fiddling about had caused them to become uncomfortably late. Elizabeth was still not settled on her roses when Mr Tennet brought the rearranging to an end by issuing an ultimatum. ‘We leave within this minute or not go at all,’ he said. It was not the first time that he had recourse to this particular threat, but Elizabeth had never before been the cause. Jane was in the second Penriethe carriage to arrive at the Liversedge party. They passed several of the town’s people who were walking to the place, and she waved to those she already knew. George was in good cheer and said how much he looked forward to the evening. Mr Darby said little and did not look particularly pleased by the evening’s prospects, though his appearance was of first rank as far as Jane could tell. She knew that certain London tailors were highly esteemed and George, who greatly admired Mr Darby’s coat, said that it was from a famous shop. Indeed, it was hard to see where the fit could be improved. The second Penriethe party arrived at the same time as the Tennet family, which caused a small stir. Jane and the girls hugged one another and admired each other’s gowns. George agreed with all that was said, and even told the Tennet girls that they had never looked so well. This was sufficient to win smiles even from Elizabeth, who did not otherwise seem in the best of moods. Jane would seek her out and determine what was the matter. The Liversedges did not hold a reception line. ‘We all know everyone, invited them didn’t we,’ Mr Liversedge exclaimed, ‘needn’t pretend we don’t.’ He was a jovial informal man who paid excessive attention to Jane, for she always greeted him with a smile. Because of the hour, the dinner was begun shortly after everyone arrived. Jane was seated with the Harting party and at the same table as their hosts. She sat between Mrs Liversedge and her nephew. There was little conversation of interest, as that was not to be expected from Mrs Liversedge, and her nephew still suffered from disappointed hopes, a designing Worthing ingénue, in his aunt’s terms. The courses were the basic fare that Mr Liversedge preferred, roast beef, trout from his stream, then ham and pheasants from his field. It was a pleasant enough meal, Jane thought, but over long and she, and many others among the young people, became noticeably restless after the orchestra was heard to prepare. Mrs Liversedge, who was ever so attentive to the feelings of others, decided to forgo the second dessert and immediately retire to the ballroom. All the Maybridge people were eager to see it, twice the size and with a raised dais for the orchestra, most pleasing. Henry Forrester was bright with smiles and good wishes as he led Miss Harting into the room. They were a handsome couple and all eyes were upon them as they entered, especially those of Mrs Harting. Jane took George’s arm and followed them in. The Tennets were already there, and even George remarked that Elizabeth’s new dress appeared very fine, for he knew it was new. It was not a large party, not like an assembly, but there were many who wished to dance. The orchestra began the first of two country-dances with only Lucy without a partner. She was still considered to be too young, though she did not agree. Mr Liversedge walked about the room encouraging all to have a good time, to drink some punch, or sit down to cards if they preferred. Jane was slightly out of breath as George bowed himself away leaving her with Susan and Mr Forrester. ‘Thank heaven the orchestra has finished,’ she said. ‘Your brother is a most vigorous dancer.’ ‘I had never noticed him enjoy dancing more. I believe that this will turn out to be a most pleasant evening,’ Susan said, smiling at Henry. ‘I was worried that your ankle might still be sore and you would not be able to dance. I am very pleased that you have recovered.’ Susan smiled even more, though if truth was known, it still pained her some. Mr Edgar Gage approached Miss Harting as she was speaking to Mr Forrester and Jane. He requested the honor of the next dance, which Susan declined, saying that it had been promised to Mr Harting. ‘But you have completed your two dances with Mr Harting,’ he said. ‘Be that as may be, Mr Gage, but I have promised the next.’ ‘I am quite certain that you have had your dances already. I observed you quite closely. These are not ancient times, Miss Harting, three dances are most irregular.’ Susan persisted in not caring what Mr Gage had to say and walked off with Henry. Mr Gage was not the only one who noticed this breach. Mrs Harting certainly did, and she looked around for Mr Harting to make certain that he did as well. William Darby had not yet danced and for a while it appeared that he might not do so. There were several young ladies who took a concern in this matter, for it would be to their great credit to be seen with this handsome stranger who was well rumored to be vastly rich, though the exact amount varied. Several notable ladies were introduced to him along with their daughters, but to no avail. It was the polite thing to ask these misses to dance after they had been presented, for they would not have been brought forth if there were not an opening on their card, but he did not do so and it was beginning to be talked about. At last, and to the surprise of many, Mr Darby approached Miss Tennet. Elizabeth was among those most taken aback. She was momentarily at a loss, for she did not intend to dance with him even if he asked her, which she did not expect in any case. She did accept, however, when he almost smiled at her, though she later wondered why she had done so and fervently wished that she had not. Several eyes were on them as he walked her to the floor and Mr Harbow announced the next set. ‘I could not hear what dance this was to be, Mr Darby, do you know?’ ‘I believe that he announced the dance to be ‘The Token’ Miss Tennet.’ That did not seem correct to her for she knew all of Mr Harbow’s dances and that was not among them, but as Mr Harbow began the music, Elizabeth was stunned and to see the couples arrange themselves side by side rather than in a line or a square. She suddenly felt faint. ‘Oh, Mr Darby we must sit down at once. This is a dance that I have never heard of before and I should not know how to proceed.’ ‘Nonsense, this dance has been played for three years at least, and is nothing so complicated as your old country squares.’ But Elizabeth had never seen it done and when the music began she fumbled and tripped often enough for people to notice. Darby lost his patience. He stopped, and with some pique, led her across the floor and had her sit in a chair. ‘Please have the courtesy to decline an invitation if you do not know how to dance Miss Tennet. It is an embarrassment to all concerned.’ ‘I am ever so sorry Mr Darby. I did try to beg off. I am sorry that I did not know the dance, I do know most of them, but this, I doubt that this music has never been played before, it is not yet known in this part of the country.’ ‘You may blame the country for all of your deficiencies, Miss Tennet. They are not my concern.’ With the slightest of bows, he turned his back to her and walked away. Elizabeth, who had stood up, sat down again with a thump, mortified. Jane finished her dance with young Roger Seaward, very satisfied. The newer inventions were not new to her, as she had learned all the latest dances. She had many cousins that liked to dance and her brothers insisted on practicing with their sisters, so she and Cassandra kept up as well as they could. Being the first to learn a new set was always a coup. Jane was light on her feet and was much admired for her dancing. She had greatly enjoyed this lively arrangement, but her joy was set-aside at the sight of Mr Darby so abruptly turning away from Elizabeth Tennet. She gave Mr Seaward her curtsy and hurried off to investigate the matter. She could not ask Elizabeth directly as she sat alone in a state near tears, so she asked Mrs Spencer who had heard all. By the time Jane decided what to do, Mr Darby had put it about that Miss Tennet danced as though she were tromping through the mud. This could not be permitted to stand, Jane thought, and begged to pull George away from his conversation with Mrs Liversedge. ‘What is the nature of this urgent request Jane? Are you going to ask me to dance again?’ ‘No, or I mean yes, but it is Elizabeth Tennet you must dance with. Mr Darby has treated her very rudely because she did not know the steps to the last piece, and he has now put it about that she cannot dance at all. She is very distraught, George, and you must rescue her.’ ‘Ah, a rescue is it. But I know Elizabeth very well, and she is an excellent dancer. This is not at all right.’ George did ask Miss Tennet for the next dance and insisted she do so when she attempted to decline. ‘If you fall off your horse, Elizabeth, you must immediately get back on,’ he said, although it was not very appropriate. Jane watched closely as George and Elizabeth began their dance. Elizabeth stood upright, head high, and moved with grace and eloquence. Indeed, she had never seen anyone dance as well. It took some spirit, Jane thought, for she must know that everyone was talking about her. Jane turned to find Mr Darby, the other party in this shambles, and was surprised to see him looking toward Miss Tennet, several times in fact. He had an odd expression on his face that Jane could not decipher. She felt as though she should go up to him and say something, but she could not think of anything remotely suitable. Chapter 6 - A paragon of local society Mrs Tennet existed in a state of anxiety ever since last night’s disaster. She wrung her hands in agitation as she waited impatiently for Elizabeth to finally arrive at breakfast. She had all but chased her daughter home from the party the night before, but Elizabeth had deliberately kept ahead of her and went immediately to her room refusing all conversation. Mrs Tennet had suffered a coincidence of facts that was bound to have the maximum effect on her nerves. In the midst of the dancing, she had received two bits of information at almost the same moment that at once raised her expectations to the sky and then dashed them to pieces. Mr Darby had, she learned from Mrs Harvey, who had spoken to Mrs Harting’s housekeeper, an income of ten thousand per year and was heir to a grand estate in Oxfordshire, and, of the utmost, he was at that moment without prospects of marriage. Mrs Tennet thought this to be of the highest import, and wished tell Elizabeth at once so that she could seek him out. As Mrs Tennet stood on her toes to find where her daughter may be, she was amazed to see that Mr Darby was already standing before Elizabeth and was offering his arm. For a moment, it appeared as if she might refuse him, willful girl, but finally, to her Mamma’s relief, she accepted. Mrs Tennet’s moment of pure joy flew to the boughs, but then she saw Elizabeth begin to bumble about. What was that foolish girl doing? She could see that Mr Darby was greatly put out. He noticed others take notice, and his face took on a dark look. It was most distressing for Mr Darby had been embarrassed. How could she be so awkward? Mrs Tennet was struck dumb but only for a moment. She attempted to make her way across the room to make her thoughts known to her daughter when she was held back by the firm hand of Mr Tennet, who kept her in check for the remainder of the evening. At last, she has arrived. ‘Elizabeth, how could you have been so clumsy to embarrass dear Mr Darby? It is a girl’s duty to cover up for any misstep a young man may have for how is a gentleman to have the time to learn all those things. It is no wonder that he became angered by your stumbling about. I believe that you even stepped on his toe. Have you any idea how rich he is? And now you have lost your chance.’ ‘Chance, Mother, what chance would that be? Do you think that he had any regard for me? I would not be surprised if he intended to hand me the bill for the repair of his gig. What difference does it make that he is rich? It means nothing to me. I never intended to dance with him and I am only sorry that I agreed to do it. Have no hopes Mamma; I shall not do so again.’ ‘Well, he will not have you, that is certain. Not now. How was it that you did so poorly, Elizabeth? You have always been admired for your dancing, but I suppose standing up with so great a man would be unsettling.’ Sometimes Elizabeth could only wonder at what her mother might say. She was a loving woman and had only her children’s best interest to heart, but she could be so unfeeling. ‘Mother, did you attend to the music that was being played?’ ‘How could I do such a thing as that, may I ask, when my daughter was dancing with a man of great fortune. I have never dared to dream of such a thing and there it was.’ ‘Well, if you had, you would have exclaimed at its novelty. I had come to learn that Mr Harbow’s brother brought the music from London and insisted that it be played. How he could do so without telling the girls who lived here is something I shall speak to him about. That dance had never been done before and no one knew it. Well, the girls who have been to London or Bath knew it, for it has been played there for some years, but it was very upsetting Mother, you should have some appreciation for my feelings.’ ‘I do not, how I can do that Elizabeth. I was wit-struck at what happened and so fast.’ But the pique was come and gone, like many of Mrs Tennet’s moods. ‘Well, I suppose that we are no worse off than before and we were content with that, were we not daughter.’ Mrs Tennet may have her share of faults, but she had a resilient nature so after her complaints had run their course she was always able to move on. ‘Yes Mama, and you still have Lucy, who may make a good match.’ ‘Yes, I must be content with that, I suppose, but she does not have much sense you know. You have sense Lizzy, but what good it has done you I cannot tell.’ Elizabeth thought that neither of her mother’s daughters had much sense that day. What troubled her was not that dance, oh, she would have speech with Mr Harbow soon enough, but it was a new dance and she did not know it, and since she had no way of having learned the steps, she had nothing to bring against herself. That was not it. When she had asked herself, and she had, if she would agree to dance with Mr Darby, she told herself most certainly not. But her resolve on that question was never completely set for she never expected he would come lurking about and so there was no need to consider it in a definite way. So why had he approached her, and why had she consented? Those were mysteries that she would think on someday, but why had she felt such pleasure in his company when he led her to the floor? She knew people were watching and that her gown had twisted about her knees when she stood and that his arm had brushed against her before he held out his hand for she was alert to every sensation. What had happened to her? It was something that she had better understand as quickly as she could. Jane would hear Elizabeth’s tale some time later, under happier circumstances, but on that morning she heard only from Susan Harting. It was necessary that two girls discuss all that happened at any recent dance, but Susan was able to speak only of Mr Henry Forrester and would hear of little else. ‘He had shown such attention, had he not? Jane, I cannot tell you why I turned away poor Mr Gage, it was not proper was it, but I wished to dance only with Henry. He is everything I wish a man to be. He is so kind, everyone is his friend, and he makes me feel so special. I never thought that I should meet his like. Oh, what am I to do? This is so dreadful.’ While dear Henry met all of Miss Harting’s desires, he met none of Mrs Harting’s. She had learned that Henry Forrester was his father’s second son, that he had nothing beyond a comfortable living on a small country farm and that he had managed to bring that meager income into question through a rumored partiality for gambling. Many young men had their wild ways and gambled more than they should, Evangeline had a fondness for such men in her younger years. But whatever her partiality may have been, she had been compelled to put it aside. She had done her duty when Mr Harting made an offer and Susan must do the same. Well, Susan has no offer at present, but she will need to obtain one. ‘What must I do Jane?’ Susan asked. ‘Henry is from a fine family. That ought to sit well with my parents, but I know it is not sufficient. My father is adamant that our position in society be maintained and has told me that I must honor my responsibility. I have often thought of myself as some poor princess to be sent off to marry some dotty king like Marie Antoinette, if stories be true, and look how that turned out. Now Mother is telling me that I must turn my back on poor Henry and find a better match. It makes me so sad. How am I to be unkind to dear Henry? ‘I never imagined such a dilemma,’ said Jane. ‘Our mother would be pleased for us to marry a clergyman, or any other good sort of man, as long as he had a fixed living. Surely if you loved him, Susan, your parents would relent. I think love is essential in such matters and should be valued above all else.’ ‘Well in an ordinary family it may well be so, but ours is a special case. I have obligations to everyone, you know, and feel very ashamed about being so selfish. I should very much like to make Father proud of me. I always saw myself doing so, and I have little else to contribute to our standing but marriage to the right person.’ Parental obedience was a fact that must be acknowledged, and social standing was something that Jane understood though it did not apply to herself. Her family and their near relations were all about position and consequence. The Knights had adopted her brother after all. So however much Jane believed in love, she sought to find an acceptable alternative. ‘Is there anyone about that you might consider Susan? I have not seen any except for Mr Darby, and I should not wish to see anyone fall into his dismal hands. You could not like Mr Darby could you?’ Susan had thought about Mr Darby. He was tall and handsome though dark. No one was sure how rich he was, rich enough certainly, but he showed her no partiality and she had no idea of how to attract a man who did not already like her. There were not many eligible, well, even acceptable men about. She had rummaged through the list of possibilities often enough, and it was a dismal quest. She had heard interesting rumors about Fitzroy Roswell, however, some affair with an opera dancer that her mother would not speak about, so it might be true. Perhaps he had grown into someone more interesting than the pasty-faced, spoiled boy she had known all her life. ‘Well, I think that young Mr Roswell may have a fondness for me,’ she said as if that made it so. ‘You have not met him for he has been in London for several months, but the family will be returning soon. I am sure you will like him, and his sister Eleanor. She has a great many ideas about things.’ Jane was wrong-footed by the sudden appearance of the Roswells in the conversation. She had not previously heard them mentioned with any regard, only that they lived on the large estate that you could see from Monastery Hill. For some reason, she got the idea that they were not very close, but perhaps she had it wrong.


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