The next day saw both the Gardiners and those at Netherfield depart for town. The General had a few letters for his mother, from both Mrs Bennet and her two eldest daughters. They arrived in time for dinner and almost all retired early. Elinor and Richard stayed up fairly late, talking quietly of their hopes and dreams for the future. The following morning saw the Dashwoods leaving in the carriage, after many parting tears from Marianne and Georgiana, with the Colonel and the General riding alongside. Elinor dozed for most of the morning, having slept little the night before. The three days to Barton were uneventful and Mrs Dashwood was thrilled to have her daughters back with her. Brandon and Fitzwilliam planned to spend the night at Barton Park and leave immediately after breakfast the next day. Mrs Dashwood managed to convince them to stay at the Cottage for dinner, which they did happily. Richard was pleased to get her consent to the courtship in person, though he had more to ask.
"I know you will think it very forward and presumptuous of me, but would you allow me to correspond with Miss Dashwood?"
"Oh, yes! Of course you must write! It is another four months till you meet again, how are you to court her if you have no contact at all?"
He was pleased to get his way, and Elinor's eyes brightened, which he considered a sign of her pleasure.
"I expect you'll be engaged soon anyway," Mrs Dashwood continued. "I suppose Elinor will not let us start planning the wedding quite yet, though I have had a few little ideas since your letter came."
"I am pleased to see you share my optimism, Mrs Dashwood. My friend Brandon here is as cautious as our lovely Miss Dashwood and has not even progressed to the courting stage with his Miss Bennet."
"A little caution never hurt anyone, Fitzwilliam. And before you get swept away with praises for Miss Dashwood, I shall ask Miss Margaret how her studies are progressing."
The conversation flowed from there and all too soon it was time for the gentlemen to leave.
"Oh, it is so good to be home once more!" Marianne cried. "I have enjoyed our time with friends immensely, but there's something so satisfying about home."
"I quite agree," her older sister said. "Perhaps you will forgive me for not being too eager to leave permanently."
"I confess, my dear, I do not understand why you are only courting and not engaged. I should think you know him quite well after spending two months in the same house."
"If it were only a matter of knowing him, Mama, I would not hesitate. But we were convinced we knew Mr Willoughby and Mr Ferrars and were proven mistaken. They are both proof that love does not always last. A separation, though comparatively short, will test our knowledge of and love for each other."
" I have no doubt of it!"
"Neither do I," she smiled, "but I should like to be sure all the same."
"And what of you, Marianne?"
"Me? I have no doubts either, I don't believe anyone could, except the ghastly baby Bennet."
"No, dear, I was asking if you had found someone for yourself."
"No, there was no-one there for me. And I am in no hurry for romance. My family and friends are enough for me."
When Colonel Brandon returned to Delaford, he found Edward Ferrars installed in the parsonage. He did not know Mr Ferrars well, but thought they would get along quite well. He was quite correct, as Mr Ferrars was an intelligent, educated man, for all his diffidence. Having grown accustomed to being surrounded by people he found Delaford rather empty, and so invited the vicar to dinner regularly. Edward felt rather awkward at first, convinced that the Colonel must know all about his ill-fated attachment to Elinor. He was swiftly disabused of that notion.
“I have some news of our mutual friends, that you will be pleased to hear,” the Colonel said, the first time they met at his table.
“You mean the Dashwoods, I presume?”
“Indeed. My dear friend, General Fitzwilliam, is courting Miss Dashwood.”
“I am very pleased to hear it,” Edward said, only partially surprised to find that he meant it. “I myself have recently begun a courtship.”
“And who is the young lady?”
“Her name is Fanny Price. She is currently visiting her family in Portsmouth, but she lives at Mansfield Park in Northamptonshire with her aunt and uncle.”
“Mansfield Park? Is that not Sir Thomas Bertram’s seat?”
“Yes, he is her uncle. Do you know him?”
“Only by reputation, though I believe my late uncle was a friend of his father’s.”
Edward threw himself into the work of the parish, grateful for Colonel Brandon’s guidance. The Colonel still rode over to Barton Park with some regularity, as much because he knew the General would be more inclined to write to Miss Dashwood than himself, as because he hoped for word of Miss Bennet. The Dashwoods had all been pleased to hear of Mr Ferrars’ courtship, though they might be forgiven for being pleased that they were unlikely to meet him soon. After one of these trips he brought back a letter for his friend.
“Ah, there you are, Ferrars.”
“Brandon! I had not expected to see you till the day after tomorrow.”
“Miss Dashwood received a letter from her brother that she believes was ultimately intended for you.”
He was surprised, but took the letter and then asked his friend’s advice. Brandon, once understanding the matter, encouraged him to reconcile with his family.
“After all, they may be inclined to aid you in some way, which could only benefit your Miss Price.”
“I am not certain I could write an appropriate letter, as Mr Dashwood suggests I do.”
“Perhaps a trip to Portsmouth for Miss Price’s assistance is in order?”
“Or maybe I should go see my mother in town.”
“That would probably be better, but you should be sure to spend some time in Portsmouth on your way up and down.”
Considering the matter quite settled, Edward began to plan his trip.
We are all safely arrived in town. I miss you already and have only left you a few hours ago. I have no doubt that the ladies will write of their plans to you, but it appears each house requires a Bennet at all times. Jane will come to us, Mary to the Gardiners, and Kitty to Anne and the drawing master she intends to hire. Half way through the season Jane will move to Anne, Kitty to the Gardiners, and Mary to us. Is this not a good plan? I think it excellent and would like to take the credit, but it seems Miss Dashwood was the one who thought of it. Apparently Kitty is a natural artist and will do very well with some instruction. Mary, of course, is required for Georgiana and Miss Marianne's musical endeavours. I need not explain Jane's appeal to you, who will suffer most from this parting.
I know you will soon be here to shop, but I wish to have you beside me as my wife already. Is it too late to make a quick trip to Scotland?
My dear Elinor,
I am safely arrived in town and have reported to the War Office. I begin training tomorrow. It's an important task, but not one I relish. Now that I have you, I should not wish to risk myself on the battlefield. I'm not sure that I could, after the horrors of my last campaign, but I no longer desire to. I have not yet decided whether or not to resign my commission. I know you said not to dwell on such thoughts yet, but I cannot help it. It would be an easy decision were I not based in London. Well, we shall cross that bridge when we come to it.
I cannot wait for January, when I will see you again.
Thank you so much for inviting Kitty to your drawing lessons. She has not stopped smiling since your letter arrived, save a few short moments when she feared our parents would not consent. Mama is so pleased to see her daughters spend a season in town, and Papa is pleased by Kitty's desire to learn something. He has taken to discussing some of his more precious illustrated books with her and she is blossoming under the attention.
Wedding plans continue apace and we look forward to next month's trip to town for the wedding clothes. I do hope you will join us for some of the shopping, and I know Lizzy feels the same. We were all very pleased to hear about your seeing Mr Darcy's doctor and hope that all goes well with the treatment.
Please do keep us informed!
I, too, was surprised to hear of Mr Ferrars’ courtin a young lady. I am very pleased, though. I think Marianne feels that he should have ended his days pining for me. I do think that with so much evidence to the contrary she will soon reevaluate her position on second attachments.
The Colonel seems to consider his visits to Barton somewhat spontaneous, and I know that those at the Park do, but I have noticed that he always arrives within three days of your letter to me. And, of course, he always takes care to ask after you particularly. He shows interest in news of our other friends from Pemberley, but he only asks after you. I do think you have reason to hope, and look forward to your meeting him in town.
Would it be presumptuous of me to write to Miss Catherine? I look forward to seeing her in the winter, of course, but thought that perhaps she might like someone to discuss drawing with in the interim.
My dear General,
I am very pleased to hear that all goes well with your new recruits. I confess I have never given any thought to the sort of training a soldier requires and find your accounts of the men most interesting. And then, of course, I wonder about how the men I know would fare in such conditions. Though I know he served with Colonel Brandon in the East Indies, I confess I cannot imagine Sir John as a soldier.
You have not yet met him, but I do not doubt that you will have as much difficulty discerning a potential officer in my brother as I do. Though perhaps with your wider acquaintance in the army you will know of men with similar temperaments who have acquitted themselves well.
I expect you have more recent news of Longbourn than I, but Jane is well and tells me all her sisters are likewise. The Colonel presents himself at Barton Park with regularity. He does not say it, but I believe he comes for news of her. My own family are also well. Margaret continues in her studies with greater enjoyment now that Marianne is here and determined to share her love of music and literature with her.
Do let me know how Aunt Helena’s plans for the ball go.
My dear William,
Every day I reconsider your proposal of making for Scotland. Thank Heavens I shall only be married once! With the days shortening rapidly and the temperature dropping, it becomes more and more difficult to escape the madness. If the woman you marry is not entirely sane, you have only yourself to blame! You should never have suggested an engagement in the first place!
Still, I am certain that time spent peacefully with only yourself and dear Georgiana will allow me to recover in time for the season. I am sure I will enjoy all the delights of London, but I confess I very dearly wish for the woods of Pemberley right now.
Your aunt’s correspondence with my mother has been a godsend and all I really wish for is the time to pass far more quickly than it does.
Thank you so very much for the book! I do agree with you that Wordsworth compares favourably with Cowper. It would have been an age before the book appeared in the local bookshop and even then I would probably have had to request it! The proprietor has rather antiquated beliefs on both poetry and what constitutes appropriate reading for young ladies!
Thank you again and again for this gift, which has spoken directly to my soul.
With everlasting gratitude,
My dear Mary,
Knowing how fond you are of Haydn, I thought you might appreciate this hard-to-find sonata. I openly confess to two ulterior motives. The first is that I struggle with the fingering in the second movement and am hoping you will provide me with a solution when you come to town in winter.
The second is that William wishes to give Lizzy some jewellery from the family collection, for her to wear at Mr Bingley's celebratory ball. We felt that if I enquired too closely on what she was wearing she would know at once what we had in mind. We thought of a rather lovely citrine hair comb of our grandmothers, knowing she favours yellow, but it all depends on what she plans to wear.
Please let us know as soon as possible!
Mary, knowing better than to involve either her mother or Jane in the task of keeping a secret, went instead to Kitty. Together they managed to contrive to send a drawing of the dress, as well as samples of the fabric, to Georgiana, with strict instructions not to let her brother see. She thought the comb would be perfect and he presented it to his fiancee when she arrived in town at the start of October.
Lizzy and Jane had elected to stay with the Gardiners, but the two weeks were a whirlwind of shopping and engagements. Mrs Gardiner was instrumental in obtaining the best materials, and Lady Matlock knew the best modistes. Town was still fairly quiet, with most of the ton still in the country. There was some gossip in the papers about the young ladies that the Countess of Matlock had been seen with -- two were indeed her nieces, Miss Darcy and Miss de Bourgh, but the other remained unknown, though reports stated that one was soon to be Mrs Darcy. The engagement announcement was not sent to the papers until the party returned to the country, so Lady Matlock dealt with all the curious callers who wished to know more. She did not disclose very much information that was not already known, except that yes, it was a love match, and yes, both she and the Earl approved whole-heartedly.
Edward Ferrars had stopped for a few nights in Portsmouth. He was, frankly, appalled by Miss Price’s family and the surroundings he now found her in. He was not pleased to hear that Mr Crawford had been there earlier that week. Given that he was responsible for her brother’s promotion, such a visit could appear innocent, but both he and Fanny felt that the man still had designs on her peace. Appalling though their situation and manners may be, Edward still found much to enjoy in his time visiting the Prices. She was pleased to hear that his family had made known their desire to be reconciled with him and encouraged him in the endeavour.
As promised, he stopped for another two nights on his return, in order to tell her all about his time in town.
“They were surprised, I think, that I was not engaged to Miss Dashwood but courting you.”
“They did not say so, but I believe it was rather heavily implied.”
“And what did they say of our courtship?”
“Naturally they wished to know all I could tell of you. Knowing your modesty, I will not repeat all that I said, but they were pleased by your connexion with Sir Thomas and that you would marry from Mansfield, should my suit be accepted.”
“Your mother and sister are much like Miss Crawford, I believe?”
“They certainly view the world in the same way, but I believe Miss Crawford has a far more pleasant disposition.”
“And what was their final verdict?”
“They are clearly inclined to approve of Sir Thomas’s niece, presumably due to the smallness of their current family. Mother has promised to do the same for me as she did for Fanny, which is to say she intends to settle £10 000 on me when I marry. Hopefully she will not have another change of heart in the interim.”
Edward left Portsmouth with mixed feelings. On the one hand, he was pleased to be his mother’s son again, but he was fully aware that her approval was conditional. He had the approval of Mr and Mrs Price, but Fanny was clearly suffering in the city. When he reached his parsonage he would have to write Bertram a strongly worded letter. How ill would she become if they delayed moving her to the country?
Georgiana and Anne were very pleased to be at Netherfield, far away from all of the speculation of town. The engagement ball was set for the beginning of November, with the wedding set for the middle of December. All of Meryton was aflutter with excitement, except for Lydia. She was utterly outraged that there was a ball that she would not be going to. She begged for a new gown for it, but was told that as she would not be attending and was not out, she did not require one. Being cunning, she soon decided that she could simply take one of Lizzy's new gowns from London and alter it for herself.
This turned out to not be possible as the wedding clothes were locked in Lizzy's trunk. Disappointed, she settled for using some of Kitty's gowns. They would look like new on her, given how little Kitty's dresses suited their owner. She settled on a lilac gown and began trimming it with lace, ribbons, and beads. No-one would ever recognise it. On the night of the ball she appeared in her finery when the family was readying themselves to leave.
"Come to see us off, have you?" her father asked.
"Don't be silly, Papa. I'm coming with you."
"You were not invited, Lydia," Lizzy said.
"Of course I was. And even if I weren't, Mr Bingley is so easy-going he won't mind."
"You are not coming with us, child," her father said firmly. "You will remain here."
The family left, leaving Lydia in the hall, sulking. She was determined, however, and decided to go on horseback. It made her late, the dancing had started by the time she arrived. When she attempted to enter, however, she was told that it was a private ball, unless she could produce an invitation she would not be admitted. Nothing she said had any effect on the servants, as all the neighbourhood knew she was no longer out. Eventually, they closed the door on her. Lydia, however, knew the layout of Netherfield, having played in the gardens with Lizzy as a child. There was a side door that was rarely locked -- Lizzy would never let her go in and explore, but she had done it anyway.
The door was not locked, so she went in, divested herself of her cloak and made her way to the ballroom. The General was the first to spot her. He was trying not to mope over not seeing Elinor till January, but was still less lively than usual. He gaped at her momentarily, having had the entire story from Darcy. He went to his mother, and explained the matter, though she knew part of it from Mrs Bennet's letters. She made her way straight to the other lady.
"My dear Mrs Bennet, who is that over-dressed child? I can't imagine how uncomfortable such gaudy taste must make her mother."
Mrs Bennet paled. "She's not supposed to be here. We told her she was not to come. How did she get here?"
"Do you mean that she is here despite being told she was not welcome? What a trial she must be to her mother. Who is she?"
"My youngest. Lydia."
"Oh you poor dear. You had best fetch Mr Bennet and deal with it. I shall distract Lizzy and Darcy, I know you wouldn't want them upset if she should cause a scene."
"Thank you, Lady Matlock. I shall go at once."
Having been told what to do, she did it. Lydia was most displeased to be pulled out of the ballroom by her parents. She hadn't even been asked to dance yet! On consulting the butler they were told she had been denied entrance. Hearing that she had ridden over, Mr Bennet elected to return her on horseback. On arriving at Longbourn, he informed the servants that she was not to leave her room until morning and not to leave the house at all unless escorted by one of her family. She did not take the news well, but as the servants were instructed to pay her no heed, her demands went unanswered.
The remainder of the ball passed uneventfully. Very few people had noticed Lydia and those who had were keeping it quiet. Jane and the General were rather melancholy, but did their best to hide it. Mrs Bennet was confused by Jane seeming to avoid Mr Bingley and tried to speak to her about it. Jane was also doing a fairly good job of avoiding her mother, though she did find herself cornered more than once. She tried explaining that she did not wish to marry Mr Bingley, but her mother declared that to be nonsense.
"I don't know why you're not engaged before your sister. You're far prettier, you know, and not nearly so wild. Well, Mr Darcy always was unaccountable. But you must give poor Mr Bingley your attention. Why he has not yet danced with you and it's almost supper! If you're quick I'm sure he'll ask you for the supper set."
"It will not matter if he does, for I am dancing that set with General Fitzwilliam."
"Him? I suppose you couldn't very well refuse him, but why is he asking anyone for the supper set when he's courting another?"
"I expect he wants to spend the meal talking of Elinor. And he is a dear friend, I would not see him unhappy."
"But what about Mr Bingley?"
"If he should ask me, I will dance with him. But Mama, I have no wish to marry him."
"No wish? Nonsense, child! Of course you wish to marry him."
Jane sighed and turned away, thankful that the next dance was beginning and she could escape. She was pleased to see that Mr Bingley had saved this dance for Anne and expected to enjoy the meal that followed. As Georgiana and Mary had sat this one out, they secured good seats for the three couples. Kitty had danced with the eldest Lucas boy and was seated with him and his sister Maria.