When she woke that morning, Miss Elizabeth Bennet never imagined she would have tea with Lady Ellen Fitzwilliam, the Countess of Matlock, and her young niece, Miss Georgiana Darcy. Yet, there Elizabeth sat amid the richly-decorated surroundings which spoke of generations of wealth in particular awe of all she observed.
The second eldest of five daughters, Elizabeth was enjoying a much-needed holiday in London with her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. The opportunity to be away from her immediate family could not have come soon enough.
Late last autumn, Elizabeth had committed the ultimate sin, so far as her mother, Mrs. Fanny Bennet, was concerned. She had refused the hand of a so-called respectable, albeit utterly ridiculous, man: Mr. William Collins. Adding insult to her mother’s injury, the gentleman stood to inherit Longbourn, the Bennets’ home. Such an alliance would have secured her family’s future in case of her father’s death.
A woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper, who fancied herself nervous when she was discontented, Mrs. Bennet vowed never to speak to Elizabeth again, as a result. Amid the former’s constant complaints ever since that fateful day, Elizabeth almost wished her mother had kept her promise.
What a delightful reprieve from all the mayhem in Hertfordshire.
Elizabeth raised her delicate gold-rimmed porcelain cup to her lips. She breathed in the hot tea’s sweet, floral aroma. The steam tickled her nose as she took a sip.
How soothing. The last thing I should dwell upon is the goings-on at Longbourn. London is so diverting.
As for her being at the countess’s palatial Grosvenor Square home having tea that day, Elizabeth owed it to her aunt, Mrs. Madeline Gardiner. While her dearest uncle lived in Cheapside near his warehouses, he and his wife had escaped the censure inherent in their situation in life. An elegant lady of sense and education, Mrs. Gardiner could readily boast of having friends and acquaintances beyond her sphere.
As a courtesy to her aunt, Elizabeth had agreed to spend time in company with Mrs. Gardiner’s good friend, Mrs. Alice Hamilton, whose husband had passed several years prior. A very wealthy woman in her own right, Mrs. Hamilton rounded out Lady Matlock’s soiree that afternoon.
Having followed the thread of the conversation between Lady Matlock and Mrs. Hamilton most attentively, Elizabeth grew more and more aware that her ladyship’s niece seldom spoke anything beyond a monosyllable.
Sensibly adorned in a white linen gown with a light blue-ribbon sash, young Miss Darcy reminded Elizabeth of her dearest sister, Jane: the eldest of the Bennet daughters. Both ladies had angelic countenances, fair complexions, and long blonde locks.
Mrs. Hamilton had informed Elizabeth while on the way to Matlock House that young Miss Darcy was but sixteen. Hence, Elizabeth was quite surprised upon being introduced to one whose fully formed womanly features belied her youth.
Elizabeth had first perceived the young lady’s reserve as haughtiness. She was, after all, the niece of an earl: his favorite by Mrs. Hamilton’s account. Close observation persuaded Elizabeth that the young lady was merely shy.
She soon took it upon herself to draw the young lady out.
“Do you play, Miss Darcy?”
After glancing at her ladyship as though awaiting her cue and not catching her aunt’s eye, Miss Darcy nodded. “I do.”
The rather curt reply aside, Elizabeth persisted. “I suppose you play remarkably well. Do you enjoy exhibiting?”
“It depends,” the young lady replied.
By now, the countess’s attention was drawn. A regal woman who had kept more than her fair share of youthful beauty, her ladyship exclaimed, “My niece is quite modest, Miss Bennet. Let me assure you her mastery of the pianoforte is exemplary.”
The young woman silently demurred in the wake of such high praise. As if finding her voice, she asked, “Do you play, Miss Bennet?”
“A little,” Elizabeth began, “although, I fear my own mastery of the instrument is severely wanting. I have no one to blame but myself, for I rarely practice.”
“I practice copiously, especially when I am at Pemberley: my brother’s home. He recently had the most exquisite instrument sent up there for me. I can barely wait to play it.”
“It sounds as though your brother is very thoughtful.”
“Oh! He is indeed,” the young lady exclaimed with some energy. “He is the best man I know.”
Lady Matlock said, “Georgiana, perhaps Miss Bennet would like to see the pianoforte in the blue salon. Granted it is not so grand as the one your brother gave you, but it is a fine instrument none the less.”
Now rather animated, Miss Darcy turned to Elizabeth, “Shall we proceed to the salon, Miss Bennet? I must have you play for me, for I suspect you are modest as regards your musical acumen.”
Elizabeth looked at Mrs. Hamilton. Seeing in the older woman’s face tacit agreement with the scheme, she smiled heartily. “I accept your invitation with pleasure, Miss Darcy. And as for my modesty, it is incumbent upon me to say I have warned you.”
§ Chapter 3 Preview: The formidable introduction occurs. You won't want to miss how it unfolds.