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Ignorance and Irony - Chapter 4 (Part Two)

May 10, 2017 04:42PM
Chapter 4 (Part Two)

Christmas at Longbourn, 1811

The next few weeks brought a great anticipation to the Bennet household. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were to arrive one week before Christmas and were to stay until the New Year. Everyone in the Bennet family enjoyed the holiday visit by their favorite family members and this year was proving to be no exception.

Elizabeth found herself in a whirlwind of activities. She was participating in everything from helping the servants decorate for the festive season, to helping her cousins shop for materials for their Christmas creations. Even though the days passed quickly, Elizabeth felt the absence of Jane’s companionship most keenly. As busy as Elizabeth was, Jane was equally busy; tending to the sick on their estate, and preparing Christmas gifts for each of Longbourn’s tenants. Neither cousin could find any time to spare. As she watched Jane move from task to task, Elizabeth could see how unhappy every mention of the Bingley party was making her. Unfortunately, Elizabeth was at a loss as to how to cheer her cousin up.

The morning of the Gardiner’s arrival, Elizabeth found herself in her uncle’s study. She was going over his ledgers and making notes. Soon I will need to pass this completely to Mary, maybe in the New Year. A fit of melancholy overtook Elizabeth as she sat in the office. She got up and, lost in her thoughts, moved toward the window facing the driveway. She was so lost in her thoughts on all the changes coming in the next year that she, Elizabeth did not notice the carriage pull up until she saw the footman open the door and the youngest Gardiners bound outside.

A small smile formed on Elizabeth’s face as she heard Mrs. Bennet yelling from outside the office, “Oh my dear Madeline! You must be so tired and worn out! I myself am feeling quite the same,” By this time, Elizabeth had made her way into the hallway and was watching the Gardiner family being greeted by the Bennets.

For the next half hour, people were reunited, nerves were calmed then ignited again, and much laughter was to be had as the Gardiners were shown to their rooms and the youngest children were fawned over by all the young ladies. Elizabeth was unaware that her movements were being watched by Madeline. For the first time in Elizabeth’s life, she felt lost and did not feel comfortable joining in on the revelry. This was not her home to welcome them to. But where is my home? Oxford? London?

As she allowed her thoughts to continue, Elizabeth became even more uncomfortable. She felt fortunate when Hill approached her about an issue with dinner and used it as a means to escape.

Madeline watched the emotions cross Elizabeth’s face and became worried; a closer inspection was certainly warranted. It was not until later that Mrs. Gardiner found her chance to observe her honorary niece. It was after dinner, and her husband and brother-in-law were appreciating the port that Mr. Gardiner had brought, Madeline Gardiner could be found listening with what looked like rapt attention to her sister-in-law. Only the most observant of family members realized that she was only half listening to her sister. None of the information Mrs. Bennet was informing her of was news. Her eldest nieces were quite diligent correspondents, and she had noticed an increase of late in the correspondence from her middle nieces.

“I do not blame Jane,” stated Mrs. Bennet, “If she had been able to, she would have been planning her wedding as we speak! But Lizzy! Oh sister! It is very hard to think that she might possibly have been Mrs. Collins by now. In this very house, she refused him! Oh! She could have been the future mistress of this house but now Lady Lucas will have a daughter married before I do! However, you coming here now is the greatest of comforts, and I am very glad to hear what you have to tell us of the latest fashions!”

Jane had written for a few months regarding the newest neighbors. However, her last letter was almost completely devoid of any mention of them. From the letters she had received from Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth, and even Mary, she had been expecting to come for the Christmas holiday to Jane being engaged. When they had arrived, she was astonished to find out that not only would that event not be happening, but she would not even get to meet the Bingleys due to their removal to London.

“Aunt,” interrupted Catherine shyly. She knew if she wished to speak with her aunt, she would have to stop her mother from commandeering the conversation. “I hate to bother you, but were you able to acquire another drawing pad for me? I have almost used up my last one, and Meryton did not have anymore. Mr. Brown will have to order me one from London. He said that it could take up to a few weeks to get here.”

Smiling at her niece, Madeline said, “Yes. It is in my trunk. See me tomorrow and I will have it liberated for you.”

Catherine’s smile was so large and genuine Mrs. Gardiner was surprised she did not hear a normal squeal attached to it. She frowned when Lydia spoke from across the room, “What are you speaking of? Your art Kitty? How droll!”

Catherine only responded, “You need not care for it.” and went back to her sewing and speaking quietly with Mary; both ladies seemed to be immersed in their embroidering.

Realizing that Mary was working on a rather large square of cloth, she asked, “What are you working on Mary? That is quite a strong fabric.”

Mary blushed, something Madeline had never seen before, “I am embroidering the Reverend’s initials on some handkerchiefs for him for Christmas.”

Madeline’s eyebrows raised and she almost made a comment only to be forestalled by another long-winded exclamation from Mrs. Bennet. “Yes!” Smiling hugely, Mrs. Bennet’s happiness could be seen and heard, “The Reverend Forsythe is most definitely a favorite of ours. We have invited him for dinner before the Christmas Eve service, and also to join us after church Christmas day! One daughter married, even though he has yet to propose! Mary you must put yourself out there more.”

Mrs. Bennet started fanning herself as she continued, “To think: we could be planning two weddings if I did not have so many obstinate girls! Do not smirk like that at me Miss Lizzy! You had your chance! And now what? You are probably hoping Mr. Wickham will favor you enough to bestow his favors on you? I think not! I heard it from Mrs. Long just yesterday; he is to become engaged to Miss King!”

“Miss King? Why ever would he want that mousy girl?” exclaimed Lydia, who had bolted upright at Mrs. Bennet exclamation.

Dryly, Elizabeth stated, “I assure you aunt, I have not entertained any such thoughts of Mr. Wickham,” a fact that caught Elizabeth quite off guard. With everything that had been happening at Longbourn since the ball, Elizabeth had completely forgotten about the man. She was gratified; Elizabeth had finally come to the conclusion she had absolutely no feelings for him.

“As well you should not! A decent man such as him, attaching himself to you! Why, you will not even get anything upon my death! What could you offer him? What could you offer anyone? No one will offer for you again! How my nerves shatter at the thought of Mr. Collins’ proposal!”

“If the thought of my refusal causes harm to your nerves, dear Aunt, simply do not think upon it! For I assure you, I will be fine, even without marrying Mr. Collins!” proclaimed a laughing Elizabeth. As she spoke, the men had decided to return to the ladies and Mrs. Bennet’s attention was then redirected toward her brother.

After quietly greeting her brother-in-law, Madeline made her way to the sofa where Elizabeth and Jane had been sitting quietly conversing for most of the evening. She had detected an annoyance in Elizabeth’s countenance earlier when the Netherfield party had been mentioned. Since then, she also detected a melancholy in Jane’s usually serene face. Madeline had her suspicions about Jane but could not account for Elizabeth’s attitude.

Seeking a few private moments with Elizabeth, Madeline asked Jane if she would be so kind as to retrieve the present they had brought for the family from her maid and peek in on her children, “For if I do it, they will surely wake and want at least three glasses of water each before going back to sleep! I do not know how you do it, Jane, but you are always able to sweet-talk them into slumbering. After our trip this morning, they need as much sleep as possible.”

“She has all the sweetness in the family! It would make sense that she could sweet-talk children!” Elizabeth responded cheekily.

With a smile not quite reaching her eyes, Jane rose to comply with her aunt’s wishes, “Of course, Aunt. Is there anything else you need for your comfort?”

“No dear. That is quite enough.”

As the ladies watched Jane move from the room, Madeline heard Elizabeth say, “That was extremely subtle Madeline. In Jane’s recent attitude, she probably did not even realize you were trying to remove her from our company. However, I did.”

“Good.” Then with a concerned look, Madeline asked, “I can guess the reason for Jane’s depression. But I wish to hear it from you: was Jane much in love with Mr. Bingley?”

“She has never openly admitted it to me, but yes. Her preference was very marked. His departure has marked it even more.”

“From what I understand, it would have been a good match for Jane. I am sorry he did not propose. But it is probably better that he did not; a young man, such as both you and she have described, so easily falls in love with a pretty girl for a few weeks. Then when circumstances cause a separation no matter the duration, this inconsistent type of love is easily forgotten.”

“I do not believe him to be inconstant in his affection for her, only in his confidence in himself,” replied Elizabeth tersely.

Madeline realized that Elizabeth was completely serious in her statement. “Elizabeth?”

Shaking her head Elizabeth explained, “The circumstances that have caused this separation happened, I sincerely believe, due to the intervention, and persuasiveness of his family and friends. It was most definitely their interference that caused Mr. Bingley to rush out of our society.”

“How strongly was Mr. Bingley attached to Jane? You make it seem as if he was already in love with her. I can hardly rely on Fanny’s description of him to be accurate. Jane herself spoke often of him in her letters but she also spoke quite equally of his sisters.”

“I never saw a more promising inclination; he was growing quite inattentive to those around him. He even slighted a few young ladies by his reticence to speak with them over Jane. When Jane was around or being mentioned, the rest of society simply fell away. He even ignored me on numerous occasions because he was focused on her. Of course, I can forgive him that fault. Who could not love Jane?”

Madeline hesitated slightly before responding, “If Mr. Bingley felt that strongly toward Jane, I am heartily sorry for her! It would explain her melancholy disposition. I am concerned; her personality is not one that she will be able to get over it quickly.” Then smiling she teased Elizabeth, “It should have happened to you, dear Elizabeth! You would have laughed yourself out of a gloomy mood much quicker than she will.”

Laughing louder than expected in such an intimate setting, their conversation momentarily caught the attention of the rest of the room. Not wishing for their privacy to be interrupted just yet, Madeline lowered her voice and questioned aloud, “I wonder, would she be amenable to returning to London with us? I would love to have her visit, especially since Benjamin and Alexander will be returning to school in January. Emmaline and I will simply be beside ourselves with boredom.”

Realizing this would put Jane in the very city Mr. Bingley was residing, Elizabeth hesitated, “Madeline, I am sure the change of location will be extremely beneficial to her recovery. I am not sure Jane will wish to be so near to Mr. Bingley after his obvious abandonment.”

“I hope this to not be the case. We live in such a very different part of town. Since I had never heard of the Bingleys until you and your cousins’ letters, I do not believe we have many if any common acquaintances in London. We also go out so little. Although, I imagine now that the boys are old enough to be in school, Mr. Gardiner and I could take in more society. I really think it highly improbable that we will meet Mr. Bingley by chance.”

“You are quite right. With Mr. Bingley being firmly under his friend Mr. Darcy’s regulation, there is no fear of either gentleman calling on Gracechurch Street. Mr. Darcy may have heard of Gracechurch Street but will not allow himself to be polluted by visiting someone in trade; and Mr. Bingley never stirs without Mr. Darcy.”

“Careful Elizabeth, that bespeaks of bitterness,” Mrs. Gardiner cautioned, “What about Miss Bingley? Jane equally spoke of her friendship with Miss Bingley and Mrs. Heart, Harst,….oh dear! What was the other sister’s name?”

“Hurst. Jane will certainly wish to call upon the sisters. However, I firmly believe that Caroline Bingley has no wish to further a relationship with, and pardon me for saying it, someone whose only connections are in trade. Unless Miss Bingley was to find out about Grandfather, I am sure she will most certainly drop the acquaintance.”

“Surely not! Jane’s letter spoke of a growing friendship between them.”

“Miss Bingley was never interested in actually befriending Jane; she only sought to find reasons why her brother could not make a match with her. His attention was marked from the very first moment he met Jane. Miss Bingley has never liked it.” Then with some confusion Elizabeth added, “It is Mrs. Hurst’s behavior that has me puzzled. When we stayed at Netherfield while Jane was ill, Louisa told me she approved of her brother’s choice. However, Caroline has been the only one to write. Jane spent as much time in Mrs. Hurst’s company as she did Louisa. I had not expected her to simply drop the acquaintance.”

Mrs. Gardiner nodded and offered, “Well, there seems to be more to the situation than meets the eye. However, I am a little hesitant to believe that anyone would simply refuse to be Jane’s friend.”

Elizabeth’s playful nature was coming out now and she teased, “A wager then? Say some chocolates from the little confectioner’s shop near your home?”

Smiling, Madeline only said, “Elizabeth, you know I cannot resist those temptations and avoid them at all costs!”

“Avoid what, Aunt?”

Neither lady realized Jane had returned, but both welcomed her back. Elizabeth started to speak with Jane and thus removing the need for Madeline to respond. She was quite astounded by all that she had heard and felt the need to reflect on her conversation with Elizabeth.

It was much later that night that the family decided to go to bed. At some point in the evening, Jane had been asked to stay with the Gardiners and had consented. As Madeline watched her middle nieces interact and her youngest niece looking more bored than normal, Madeline was pleased to see the changes in her middle nieces and grew concerned by the youngest niece’s apparent boredom with company.

However, as she listened to those around her the rest of the evening, she realized that Elizabeth’s opinion of Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, and even Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham were generally known and remarked upon. This caused as much concern for Madeline as Lydia’s increasing fascination with red coats. Her remark earlier in the evening about becoming bitter had been a small warning, not meant to be taken seriously. However, as Madeline watched Lizzy, she wondered if she should be having a serious conversation with her niece..

However, as Madeline watched Elizabeth, it became apparent that more than Jane’s heartbreak was weighing on Elizabeth’s mind. Madeline had always viewed Elizabeth as one of her nieces’ even though she was aware that she was not related to the future duchess. Ever since she had been informed of the young girl’s kidnapping and then subsequent removal to the country with her extended family, Madeline held a unique soft spot for Elizabeth.

As the evening wore on, Madeline has convinced that Elizabeth was worried about more than just Jane’s disappointment. She watched as the young lady, without her usual enthusiasm attempted to join in conversation with her cousins. She did not fail to notice Elizabeth’s use of her and her husband’s first names instead of her usual “aunt” or “uncle” appellation; Madeline was not offended, by any means, of the less familial name. However, as she watched Elizabeth, Madeline wondered if she needed to have a quite word with Elizabeth. As she heard, Mrs. Bennet, once again lament on Elizabeth’s refusal of their cousin, Madeline thought, After all, it is not as if Fanny is lending a comforting or encouraging ear, at the moment.

Unfortunately for Mrs. Gardiner, she was unable to speak with Elizabeth privately for more than a few moments for the next few days. Christmas came, and the family attended holiday parties all over Hertfordshire. Mrs. Bennet had outdone herself arranging events during the Gardiner’s visit. Each night, they dined out. Each day, there was something planned to do. Madeline was enjoying herself, but as she continued to watch her family, she realized that Elizabeth was not participating as much as she normally did. She was always joining and contributing, but it seemed to Madeline that her laughter was not reaching her heart.

Madeline was not completely wrong in her observations. Elizabeth could not help but feel as if something was not quite right. Normally Christmas was her favorite time of year, a season her grandfather had always told Elizabeth had also been her mother’s favorite.

Each year, Elizabeth, knowing Faith used to love the season, would embrace the festivities with all of her energy. This year she found herself allowing Mary and Catherine to have more involvement. Jane followed her own traditions, and Lydia would always do exactly what Lydia wanted. Elizabeth, unable to embrace the energetic spirit of the season, found herself confessing her melancholy to her grandfather.

Longbourn, Hertfordshire
December 12, 1811

Grandfather,

I hope you are enjoying your wintery season at Heythrop. I can assure you of my envy; seeing those lovely trees draped magnificently with a blanket of clean snow and ice skating on the river next to the stables… Yes, I am quite jealous.

But then perhaps you will be jealous of the festivities here. The first of which being the celebration of Mary and her Michael finally coming to the point! Yes, they became engaged last evening and have not chosen a date. It will be a long engagement period. Both parties wish for more time to get to know each other and the good Reverend’s family will hopefully be able to travel late next fall to see the two married. I do so wish to be here for their wedding!

Mary has informed me that she also wishes for you to attend and that was also a consideration in the length of their engagement. I informed Mary, in no uncertain words, I assure you, that she is NOT to worry about that. You will be there. As soon as they have set the exact date, I will inform you.

Aunt Fanny is beside herself and very put out. She does not understand their wish to wait to be married and Uncle Thomas had to intervene at one point. Apparently, the final decision to wait is due to the Reverend’s sister coming out in London. Neither Mary or her good Parson wish to detract from his sister’s season and also have no wish to cut it short. Since Reverend Forsythe has accepted a parish near his brother’s home after that parson retires next year, Mary seems to feel the good Lord is guiding their steps.

Catherine and her unofficial beau are quite an item Sanderson comes and sits in the middle of all the Bennet and Gardiner ladies and then speaks only to speak quietly with Catherine in a corner. Thankfully, Aunt Fanny has been keeping Lydia away from the two of them.

It is Jane I am worried about. I know that the Gardiners have invited her to London, but her depression is worrying me. She sits with Catherine and her lieutenant diligently; she helps Mary and her Parson often, encouraging the relationships to grow. I have overheard her many times encouraging her sisters to share their feelings with their beaus. She says these things so calmly, but I can tell: she is hurting.

Jane’s pain is my own. I feel greatly for her. She is such a sweet natured person; how could someone so cruelly separate her from her love? I completely lay all the blame at the feet of his friend and sister. May I never repeat their mistakes!

Ignore my melancholy. I have no idea what is wrong with me this year. I simply cannot get into the Christmas spirit. Mary and Catherine have been practicing some Christmas duets so the house is full of music. The Gardiner children are here and a delight to both Jane and I, so laughter abounds. I have had quite a hard time keeping them from the presents already under the tree.

Lydia and Maria have spent many hours making and remaking their dresses for the New Year’s Assembly that happens every year. Mary and Catherine, to my surprise have opted to use older dresses that they have already re-made. Not that you care much for talk of lace and fabrics. It simply seems that everyone around me has the spirit of St. Nicholas, and I cannot seem to find it. I find the snow too cold to be out in, which is unnatural for me. I found Christmas cookies too sweet, Christmas music too…cheerful. Even Aunt Fanny has gotten into the spirit and placed Mistletoe all around the house hoping to force an engagement between Catherine and her soldier.

I should warn you, while I am thinking about it: I have written a letter to Mrs. Comstock. You are NOT to open any of your presents until Christmas Day. She will inform me if you do. I have been thinking about Mother, Father, and Grandmother and realized, you have never told me what Christmas was like with any of them. Did you have any traditions? Special ornaments?

I love you and miss you Grandfather. Next Christmas we shall be together and maybe we can resurrect some of those long lost customs.

Your Granddaughter,
Elizabeth Bennet Talbot

Elizabeth hoped that her grandfather might have some insight into the holiday spirit. As she posted her letter and waited for the reply, Elizabeth could not help but wonder how she had never asked her grandfather about his past Christmases. Unfortunately, Elizabeth found herself waiting almost a full week for a response. It came as quickly as it could, and she received it one afternoon while practicing her Italian. She quickly set aside her studies and opened the letter.

Heythrop Park, Oxford
December 16, 1811

My Dearest Elizabeth Evette,

I would not have you believing that my Christmas this year is lonely. Robert has come to stay with me and partake of the holiday season. You have asked about traditions we have here at Heythrop, and I believe I will start with the current ones. You are right that I am not normally here during the winter. It is much easier to stay in Town or with friends most of the time. However, I have always instructed Mrs. Comstock to make sure Christmas is a lively affair for the servants.

It seems they, for the past few years, have held a ball for the servants and their families. Nothing extreme, but a lovely dinner followed by dancing with music provided by the servants themselves. They use the grand ballroom and everyone comes in their best. Apparently, since I was to be here, they were going to cancel it. I put a stop to that nonsensical idea and cannot wait to do some good old fashioned country dances in a few weeks.

I have also had Anna and Maria, two of my upstairs maids, shopping for all the servants. Those two were quite shocked when I gave them the new task. I am looking forward to surprising my cook and housekeeper as we are keeping it from them. Jones is helping them and I believe he has more than a little Christmas spirit this year. I am glad to be of some sort of help to the man healing from his past. He and Anna have been a boon to me; and Anna’s little boy Peter is quite a delight but rambunctious child. He has started to walk and Robert has commented that it is almost like having great-grandchildren or great-grandnephews and nieces at his knee.

That was not a hint. You are not allowed to marry until after I am gone.

Speaking of my wayward brother, he showed up with a snow white beard. I think it is in defiance of someone in his office. It has never been against the rules of conduct and deportment; however Robert has never liked beards. He has always found them to scratch terribly. He is welcome with or without the beard, of course. I simply found it amusing. He showed up, completely unannounced, sporting his beard, and in his uniform. One of the servant’s children, who had never met Robert before, saw him and stated that he had not known St. Nicholas was in the military.

My Evette would have loved children. One of her and my favorite things to do during Christmas, when she was alive, was to dress up as St. Nicholas and deliver presents to all the children around Heythrop Park. The last year we did it, Evette even found one of Father’s old wigs from the attics-I do not understand how he could have worn such a thing! It itches too much for my taste.

Robert found it hilarious. He had just separated from his wife that year; divorces are still not seen with a friendly eye amongst the ton. Unfortunately for him, his wife was much loved by that particular set. Evette invited him to come and visit his niece. He had such a grand time with her. She absolutely fell in love with his red coat. In fact, she had Robert play the part of St. Nicholas in his military jacket every year after that. Robert for all of his bluster found it amusing.

Your mother loved Christmas. I cannot fathom why we have never spoken of this before. It was her favorite holiday. That is probably one of the reasons it was so easy for me to stay in London during this time of year. She would decorate the halls with holly; she would have the smell of cinnamon all around the house. When she turned fifteen, she held her first ‘party’ and invited all the servants’ children to the main dining room where they made gingerbread houses. Between her and Evette, Christmas was always festive.

The year your grandmother died, Faith made a point to continue all of her mother’s traditions. She even dressed up like St. Nicholas’s wife. That year, I had to be St. Nicholas as your uncle was off attending to some battle or other military matters. It was a somber year because St. Nicholas had a black arm band.

The year Faith died was harder, however. Neither I nor Gregory knew how to celebrate the season. Thankfully, we already had removed to Heythrop and Mrs. Comstock, whom I had just hired, was a blessing. She made it seem as if the spirit of Faith and Evette lived on even though she had never met either lady. I knew I had a treasure then.

I think, however, the hardest year yet was the first year you were gone. Thomas’ letters were a boon to my spirit but I felt so alone. Bea would not let me dwell in my own pity, and moved her entire family to London that year. We had a marvelous time; the following year, we all went to their country estate. By the time you were able to write back to my letters yourself, Christmases of past were not forgotten but rather, simply not as lonely.

But here I am depressing you when I should be lifting your own spirits. I am quite happy for Mary. Do you know where his living is located? How is Catherine’s “unofficial” courtship going? Do we need to get him moving along or is he only playing with Catherine’s emotions? I cannot abide laziness, as you know, and I certainly will not abide his toying with her.

When Jane is in London, I will make sure to keep an eye out for her. Surely, if this fellow left her he is not worthy of her devotion?

I hope the basket of trinkets and presents I sent made it to Longbourn in good condition. I sent it via post since Jones is reluctant to move from my side. Although he promised me he personally packed the extra fragile items. I am going to be anxious until I hear of their safe delivery.

Give my love to the rest of the Bennet clan, I will see you in a few months and am counting the days.

Your, Not Lonely, Grandfather,
James Talbot



New Year Assembly, December 31st, 1811

The evening before the Gardiners were planning to return to London, Madeline approached her brother-in-law who was hiding with her husband, yet again, in the study. “Thomas! Here I find you!”

“I hope you were not looking for long!”

“My dear! I take it we are packed and ready to leave in the morning?”

“Only that which we are planning on using tonight and tomorrow remains. We should be able to leave shortly after breakfast.”

“Good! Good!”

“Madeline, what did you need to see me about?” queried Mr. Bennet.

“Elizabeth.”

Sighing, he put down the book he had been reading and spoke, “You have seen it as well.” Madeline simply nodded. By the look at Mr. Gardiner’s face, he was clearly at a loss as to what the two were talking about.

“I am concerned Thomas; she is not as lively as she normally is. I can understand it in Jane, but Lizzy?”

“I cannot grasp it. At first, I thought it because she was unhappy about Collins. She was quite upset by how I handled that one. After letting the matter rest a few days, I conceded to her point. I should have spoken up sooner. Neither she nor Collins should have been put in that position. Now we have Fanny to deal with. She seems to be over that situation and even has congratulated Mr. Collins and Miss Lucas in public to show her support.”

Mr. Bennet sipped his drink in contemplation, placed his glass down and added, “Then I thought maybe Elizabeth was unhappy about the engagement of Mr. Wickham to Miss King. She laughs that off and proclaims it to be a ‘good joke’ just like Lydia. I do not know. Females are still as much of a mystery to me as they ever were.”

“What does the Duke say about it?”

Surprised at the comment, he replied, “Nothing. I do not believe he has noticed or knows.”

Shocked, Madeline asked, “Have you told him about Collins’ proposal? Has Elizabeth? Surely her letters show her downheartedness.”

“I personally did not write him regarding Collins,” he replied candidly, “But I know that Elizabeth did. I received quite a reprimand through the mail. If he had been sitting where you are now, I believe all Meryton would have known of his displeasure. As for Elizabeth, I believe she just wants the whole event to wash away. From my own correspondence with James, I do not believe her letters are showing her melancholy or I am sure he would have asked me about it. She probably fills them with stories of Jane, Mary, and Kitty; even possibly Lydia.”

“Thomas! Should he not know?”

“Know what Madeline?” Holding his hands out in exasperation he asked, “Elizabeth is depressed and we do not understand why? That could be said of most of my female acquaintances; you included at times!”

Unhappy, but realizing the truth in the statement, Madeline conceded, “You are right of course. I simply wonder what it could be. Elizabeth has always been able to laugh her way through life. Whatever is bothering her is extremely concerning.”

Seeing the pure love for his niece that Mrs. Gardiner was displaying, Thomas could not help but remind her, “Madeline: Elizabeth will speak about whatever it is when she is ready. Not before. As history has proven, it will probably be to you first. I only hope you will let me in on the secret when you find out.”

“Depend upon it, Thomas, if I can, I will.” Then Mrs. Gardiner asked suddenly, “Thomas, are you aware of this Lieutenant Sanderson’s attentions’ to Catherine?”

Waving off his sister in law again, he replied, “I have seen her interest but do not believe he has any.”

Madeline Gardiner shook her head in frustration and replied, “Have you actually watched him? He seeks her out and spends entire evenings monopolizing her attention. Surely, that is enough to be concerned.”

Mr. Bennet simply shook his head, “Catherine may not be as silly as she once was, but her mother would never allow her to marry a military man of a lower rank. Mrs. Bennet may encourage the flirtation but would never stand for a lieutenant as a son in law.”

“I think you underestimate how desperate Fanny has become –” started Madeline.

At that moment, Mrs. Bennet burst into the room unannounced and cried, “Oh dear! We are all ready to go, and here you all are! Chatting! Mr. Bennet! You take delight in vexing me!” Mrs. Bennet fluttered. She was bundled up completely, and as the occupants looked out to the foyer, they saw the rest of the family ready to depart.

“Ready then, dear? Oh! Well, why do you not take the carriage with Mary, Kitty, and Lydia? Jane and Elizabeth may ride with us in the Gardiner’s carriage. It will be quite a crush but then theirs is larger.”

After a few more moments of flutterings, Mrs. Bennet conceded and bundled the youngest of her brood in the Bennet carriage. After all, it would not do to arrive late to a Lucas party. Meryton and Hertfordshire might not believe her when she wished the engaged couple happiness that evening. The Christmas Assembly held by the Lucas’.

It was not as much of a crush in the Gardiner carriage as Mr. Bennet teased. However, the short trip to the Lucas’s was extremely quiet. Mrs. Gardiner and Mr. Bennet were still contemplating Elizabeth’s mood, and Jane and Elizabeth were lost in their own thoughts. For Mr. Gardiner, he was still confused as to what his wife and Thomas had been speaking of and felt it was best to be silent.

Upon being greeted by the Lucas’, Elizabeth could hear her aunt’s effusions from across the room. She was in rare form. Still not wanting to be too near her to remind her of her displeasure and the Lucas’ happy situation, Elizabeth traveled to the side of the room where she saw Mrs. Long leaving Charlotte quite alone.

“Dear Charlotte! Here we all are, to celebrate your engagement! It is too bad that Mr. Collins is not here to partake in this revelry!”

Curious Charlotte inquired, “Do you mean that, Elizabeth?”

Before Elizabeth could respond, the Reverend Forsythe and Mary approached the duo. Mary calmly stated, “Elizabeth! You made it! Charlotte, your dress is very pretty. Is it new?”

“Mother insisted I obtain a new gown. I will not have much use for it in Hunsford, but I do enjoy nice things.”

Elizabeth laughed and said, “Not have use for it! Charlotte, from some of the stories Cousin Collins told us, you will need a few, not many, more formal gowns simply for bi-weekly or monthly dinners at Rosings Park, the home of his Patroness Lady Catherine De Bourgh!”

She said this with a teasing air, only to see Charlotte become somewhat cross at her. Charlotte then made her excuses to go and mingle the rest of the guests.

As she walked away, the Reverend was called away by another parishioner, and Elizabeth turned to Mary and said, “Did I say something wrong?”

Mary hesitated only a minute, Elizabeth had recently been so honest with her she felt comfortable criticizing her behavior in return, “Elizabeth, let us say you accepted a man, for any reason, who had obvious faults and a good friend, whom you wanted to encourage you only made fun of him, how would you feel?”

Elizabeth started to look uncomfortable, but Mary would not relent, “Add to that fact, that this good friend has always been prettier, livelier, and more sought after by men, even though you were older. Now you have a chance at happiness with your future husband. However, this good friend was proposed to first by him and instead of encouraging you, she makes fun of him and by inference of you. How would you feel?”

All of this was said with the lowest and most sympathetic of voices; however, Elizabeth was unused to such censure from her cousin and did not know how to respond. Before she could, she heard Mary add a soft “That was badly done, Elizabeth” that almost broke Elizabeth’s heart.

Mary led Elizabeth to a nearby sofa and continued, “You need to apologize.”

Realizing her cousin was right, Elizabeth responded, “I know.” Then with an eyebrow raised, added, “When did you become so wise without quoting scripture?”

Mary just smiled, “Reverend Forsythe and I recently had a discussion about the use of quoting scriptures in real life. I find, and he agrees, that people tend to lose focus and stop listening to you if the only words that come out of your mouth were from someone else. We have agreed that is what studying is for: learning what to say and learning how to incorporate it in our lives rather than mimic our life to it.” Then with a large smile, she added, “I have found more people are willing to listen to my opinions since I have adopted this technique.”

Hugging Mary, Elizabeth responded, “Indeed, you are very wise, I shall listen to you more often.” She rose and said, “There is no time like the present. Aunt has captured Charlotte. Maybe if I go extract her from Mrs. Bennet’s clutches, she will be more apt to forgive me.”

As she approached her aunt and Charlotte, she overheard part of the conversation and thought, Out of the frying pan with me and straight into the fire with Aunt. Oh Charlotte!

“Charlotte you have much to be thankful for! If you have a son, you will never know the heartache and stress that is placed upon you and your nerves! For if you do, there will be no entail –”

“Aunt Fanny!” Elizabeth interrupted, “Charlotte has not even married Mr. Collins yet and here you are advising her on birthing children?” Without giving Mrs. Bennet a chance to respond, Elizabeth turned to Charlotte, “Charlotte, would you take a walk with me around the room? There are a few particular things I wish to discuss with you.”

Simply wanting to get away from Mrs. Bennet, Charlotte quickly responded, “Of course.”

The two ladies walked in silence for a few moments. Finally, when Elizabeth could not take the silence from her dear friend any longer, she guided them toward an isolated part of the room and started, “Charlotte, I must apologize. I carelessly made a comment a while ago that I regret. You must know that if you are happy I am happy. If Mr. Collins is your choice and your heart is set upon him, I will support you.”

Charlotte turned to Elizabeth and said, “Elizabeth, I know that Mr. Collins has tried your patience for a while. I also understand you find his devotion to his patroness very…enthusiastic. I do not understand this need not to tease but rather mock him. That is what your comment made me feels like: mocked. I have told you before: Mr. Collins is a respectable, honest, and good man. He does not deserve such treatment.”

“I know. I am sorry, Charlotte. The only explanation I can offer is that at times, I still find it unbelievable that my good sensible friend has fallen in love with him; and we have not had a chance to talk since you became an engaged person.”

Charlotte thought for a few seconds, and then said, “I see what you are feeling. You must have been very surprised when informed of our engagement; only a day after he proposed to you. In truth he proposed to me the same day he proposed to you.”

Charlotte could see that Elizabeth was interested and explained, “Oh yes! He came over for dinner and supper remember? We spent a good deal of the afternoon together. After dinner, we were all in the sitting room, and for various reasons, none coordinated I assure you, I found myself alone with Mr. Collins, who proposed.”

“But why would you accept after so short a courtship; if you could even call it a courtship?”

“Courtship?” laughed Charlotte, “No, there was no courtship, unless you count dinner and supper with my family and a short walk in the gardens a courtship. But Elizabeth, courtships are for the romantic, which you know that I am not. I never was. I only ask a comfortable home which Mr. Collins has offered. I believe that I will have the same chance at happiness with him that most people can say they have when they are married.”

“I see.”

Shaking her head slightly at her friend, Charlotte replied, “I do not believe you do. However, I have every faith in you and our friendship that you will reconcile yourself quite tolerably to this match. Indeed, I hope you are able to do it before March.”

“Why March?”

Charlotte hesitated, “I was hoping that you would come visit me in March and April. My father and sister are to visit me. You will be as welcome as either of them. They are not staying for very long, and from what I understand, I will not be leaving Hunsford for quite some time. I shall depend upon your correspondence and hope you will be part of the party in March. Indeed, I hope you could stay for at least a month or two.”

Elizabeth was all of a sudden forced to admit she had very little time left before she would make her way to London and start to live with her grandfather. “I will ask, but I have a very tight schedule this upcoming year. As you know, I come of age, and have agreed to live with my grandfather for a time after my birthday.” She hesitated only a second before she added, “Also, the Gardiners are planning on taking a trip before the heat of the summer hits and I was invited to join them before removing to London.”

As she spoke, Elizabeth could see that her words were not what her friend had wanted to hear. Her suspicions were confirmed when Charlotte asked, “Are you sure it is not because you do not wish to spend time in Hunsford with your cousin?”

At first Elizabeth had no idea how to respond to her friend and finally she replied, “Charlotte, I do not see the visit as visiting my cousin Collins, but rather visiting one of my very good friends in her new home,” when she saw Charlotte visibly relax Elizabeth knew she needed to do something that would solidify her support and stated, “If you truly wish for me to invade so soon after you are married, you may depend upon my presence.”

“Good! For a moment there, I thought the society of my fiancé was overruling our friendship.”

“Never!” Then with a little self-consciousness, she added, “Just remember that for the future, Charlotte! You are my dearest friend besides Jane. Nothing could entice me to give up your society.”

“Give up whose society?” Mrs. Gardiner asked. She had been watching the two ladies for quite a few minutes. She saw Charlotte walk away from Elizabeth earlier upset and had seen Elizabeth direct her to a corner of the room to speak privately. She could only guess that something was said that was upsetting and an apology had been made. However, the two ladies had been in the corner for quite some time and needed to rejoin the party.

“Why, Charlotte was concerned I would give up her society for the chance to avoid Mr. Collins.”

Madeline did not know what to think of this statement and so waited for Elizabeth to continue and was pleasantly surprised when she stated, “Madeline, I told her that nothing could entice me to give up her society.”

Madeline realized that Lizzy was speaking of more than just Collins’ presence and said as much when Charlotte was called away. “I know that Charlotte cannot understand such a statement, but Lizzy, you do realize that there are some friends in society that you will not be able to retain once you are finally introduced properly. Both your grandfather’s image and your image are at stake until your marriage. Even then, your reputation will be intensely scrutinized.

“Why should high society ask me to give up Charlotte’s society? She is the daughter of a gentleman.”

“But her husband will only be a member of the clergy. Add the fact that his seat is not as well-known as some in London; her being a gentleman’s daughter will hardly signify. However, you know I speak of more than just her.”

“If you are referring to your and my uncle’s presence,” Elizabeth asked quickly, “I will not give it up. Even Mr. and Mrs. Philips have called me family these twenty years. I would not be so ungrateful as to let go of the society of those who have shown me love and support these past years.”

“Then why have you started to use my Christian name rather than Aunt?” questioned Madeline. When Mrs. Gardiner saw Elizabeth hesitate, she knew her suspicions to be true, “This Christmas Season, you have referred to both Mr. Gardiner and myself as your aunt and uncle but have only ever called us by our first names. To some it would seem as if you are distancing yourself from our acquaintance.”

“I would not have you feel as if I am ashamed of my connection to the both of you –” started Elizabeth, “It is only…”

“We are not actually your aunt and uncle,” finished Madeline with a laugh, “I understand and we are not offended by the use of our names. I only seek to make sure you understand how your actions will be perceived. Every relationship you have, as you well know will be under the same scrutiny your dress, and comportment. Those you call family will also be scrutinized.”

Elizabeth quietly asked, “I have been meaning to ask you, or rather, I have wanted your advice…” She did not know quite how to explain herself, “I have felt a little adrift recently; not really knowing where my place is or how I should be acting. I am quite worried that I will say or do something that will not be…forgivable in high society’s eyes. I do not wish to embarrass Grandfather and I find myself hopelessly adrift between who I was raised to be: Miss Bennet, and who I will be seen as: Lady Elizabeth. This is supposed to be a holiday of rejoicing and cheer, but I feel…lost in it all. I think that my worry is…affecting…my attitude this season.”

“That is no wonder: after all, this time next year, your life will be very different.” Madeline asked quietly, so that no one could hear, “Are you worried that you will have to leave Miss Lizzy Bennet behind and become this regal version of Lady Elizabeth?”

Elizabeth looked up with wide eyes at one of the ladies as dear to her as her mother would have been, and replied, “I had mentioned something of that nature to Grandfather but had completely put it from my mind. However, it is true! No matter how I try to convince myself that I will not change, I know that I will have to: society will demand it.”

Madeline only smiled in response and added, “Elizabeth, you need only be yourself, a concept that I am sure your grandfather will whole heartily agree with. However, as to your choice of names for me and my husband, we do not mind. James even calls us Madeline and Edward. If you ever feel confused about what to call a person, simply follow your grandfather’s lead. No one would dare complain about your doing that!”

Elizabeth smiled, “As always Madeline: you are as wise as ever. Just remember, I will never give your or Uncle’s acquaintances up! If this society that I will be entering does not accept my family, I will not accept them.” Lizzy then cheekily added, “Unless I am planning on falling in love with a prince or the like, Grandfather assures me that I will not be required to give up any acquaintances!”

“Oh dear!” exclaimed a shocked Mrs. Gardiner.

Lizzy, not believing her statement required that type of reaction, quickly asked, “What Madeline?”

“I just pictured you married to the Prince Regent.”

At this image, both ladies dissolved into unladylike giggles. Mr. Wickham took the laughter as a sign that it was appropriate time to approach. He bowed to the ladies and asked, “Miss Elizabeth, would you be kind and introduce me to this lovely lady?”

Elizabeth was pleased with his request and said cheerfully, “Of course, Mr. Wickham!” at the sound of the man’s name, Mrs. Gardiner’s eyes flew up. She recognized this as the man in most of her nieces’ letters. Lydia was clearly enamored with him, Mary was indifferent, Jane kind in her description, and Catherine mentioned him only a couple of times in passing.

However, it was Elizabeth’s comments that she was most concerned by. Clearly this was a man she felt was unjustly used, and was forming an attachment with, although she had not written of him in a while. The next half hour was spent in pleasant conversation. When Mr. Wickham heard that Mrs. Gardiner was originally from Derbyshire, he did not hesitate to speak of his home. He was much less pleased by her rebuffs at bringing the Darcys into the conversation and soon, after a third attempt, Wickham came up with an excuse to leave.

As soon as he left, Madeline turned to Lizzy and asked, “Is that the man that Fanny states is to marry Miss King?”

“Yes, Madeline. Why?”

Madeline was thoughtful as she asked quietly, “And is Miss King attending tonight?”

Confused, Lizzy stated, “Yes.” When she saw Mrs. Gardiner looking around, Lizzy pointed and said, “She is over there, speaking with Charlotte at the moment.”

The two ladies allowed silence to fall as Madeline watched not only Miss King but Mr. Wickham move around the room. Madeline asked, “Elizabeth, what sort of girl is Miss King?”

A little taken back by the question, Elizabeth asked, “Madeline would you like to be introduced?”

“No. No.” The lady said, waving off the suggestion.

The concerned look on Madeline’s face as she watched the young lady had Elizabeth questioning, “Why the curiosity toward her?”

Madeline looked at Elizabeth and decided to be honest and inform Elizabeth of her suspicions. However, Madeline did not want to immediately discourage Elizabeth if her heart was beginning to be truly engaged with Mr. Wickham. Mr. Wickham may prove to be worthy of her niece. Madeline cautiously replied, “I should be sorry to think that your new friend would be so mercenary as to engage himself to someone without thought of affection.”

Laughing at the thought, Elizabeth asked gaily, “Pray what difference is there between mercenary intentions and prudent motives? Where does discretion end and greediness begin? Are you afraid of his choosing her over me because of her rumored ten thousand pounds or of my rumored destitution? Does his taking into account his position and his own comfort make him mercenary?”

“If you would only tell me what sort of girl Miss King is, I would be able to discern his intentions.”

Elizabeth smiled and replied, “She is very good girl.”

Madeline was not satisfied, and asked, “Mr. Wickham’s attentions, did they start before or after her grandfather’s death?”

Elizabeth started to get irritated and replied, “I believe after, as she entered our society shortly after his death. Her grandfather raised her and she did not live here. She is now with her uncle. Why should that matter? If it were not allowable for Mr. Wickham to gain my affections because I am rumored to have no money, why should it not follow that he would seek a woman of wealth?” Elizabeth sat for a moment and then added, “Unless of course he was in love with me and chose to change his attentions to Miss King solely because of my lack of dowry and her inheritance but he has showed no signs of that.”

Madeline persisted, “And you see no impropriety in his redirecting his attentions towards her so soon after her grandfather’s death?”
Clearly upset with the thought that her favorite might be a fortune hunter, Elizabeth said irritably, “If she does not object to it, why should we? After all, men in as distressed circumstances through no fault of their own have not the time for those proprieties others observe.”
Madeline said sternly, “Her lack of objection does not justify his actions. It only shows her lack of confidence in herself, and her ignorance of the ramifications of her situation.”

Elizabeth, wanting to move away from the conversation said, “Have it as you choose! He shall be mercenary and she shall be foolish.”

“No, Elizabeth, it is not what I choose,” Madeline stated, “I should be sorry to think wrongly of anyone, especially from my own home county but your constant defense of one man and offense to another based on only one side of the story is very disconcerting.”

“You mean Mr. Darcy?” After her aunt nodded, Elizabeth said, “I have no good opinion of that man. I am quite sure he had a hand in persuading Mr. Bingley to give up dear Jane.It is not that I am determined to take offense toward him but rather he is an offensive man. I assure you I am quite sick of all men from Derbyshire.”

Mrs. Gardiner asked quietly, “Why do you hate Mr. Darcy so?”

Elizabeth, a little surprise by the question, immediately responded, “Hate is such a strong word, Madeline. I do not hate Mr. Darcy. I merely…dislike his manners and character.”

“Why?” Madeline asked again, “You have never said a nice word about him. I have seen you dislike a person Lizzy, but never as much as you have Mr. Darcy.”

Elizabeth sat back and considered her aunt’s comments, and finally she said, “I truly do not hate Mr. Darcy. I find him rude, and arrogant. While staying at Netherfield, I did, I thought I saw a caring and compassionate side to him. However, his actions in public and to those outside of his intimate circle are completely reprehensible: if it does not suit his purpose, he opposes it. I find I cannot like a man who would impose his own will onto others’ without regard to how it will affect them.”

“You speak of Mr. Wickham?”

“Not only Mr. Wickham, but yes, what he did to that poor man is inexcusable. However, if it was only that, I may be persuaded to see a different side. No, he acts the same with Mr. Bingley, whom he calls a good friend. When I stayed at Netherfield, Mr. Darcy acted as if he was the master not Mr. Bingley.”

Madeline was confused, “In what way?”

Elizabeth sighed, “Mr. Bingley is new to being the master of a large estate and Mr. Darcy, apparently is not. I saw, on more than one occasion, where Mr. Darcy did not even allow his friend a chance to settle matters, as the master of an estate would do. Instead, Mr> Darcy took care of them himself, without soliciting Mr. Bingley’s opinion. For example, he repaired the staircase to the front of the house without even consulting his friend!”

“Is that not something to be admired though?” questioned Madeline, “if Mr. Darcy had the ability to fix it for his friend and at very little inconvenience to Mr. Bingley, should he not?”

Elizabeth shook her head in frustration, “It was not the action he took to repair the staircase that I find fault with, or even his motivation; it was Mr. Darcy’s complete lack of communication with Mr. Bingley. Mr. Bingley is the master of Netherfield and Mr. Darcy is a guest. Mr. Bingley should have at least been consulted regarding decisions for his own home. It would be like Mr. Collins attempting to fix something at Longbourn without consulting Uncle!”

Madeline shook her head and concluded, “I still do not understand your strong ill opinion of the man.” Holding up her hand to silence her niece, Madeline added, “I am just concerned by what I have been seeing. As I said before, I have never seen you so adamantly dislike a person, and it concerns me. I also have never seen you so…unwillingly to consider that maybe there is another side to Mr. Darcy. I am actually quite concerned about your complete trust in a man you have barely known longer than Mr. Darcy.”

Elizabeth was frustrated, and overwhelmed, multiple people, including her grandfather have all counseled her on considered alternatives to Mr. Wickham’s story. She simple could not understand why they could not see the same willful arrogance she did. Mr. Darcy made no attempt to contradict the Mr. Wickham’s story. In fact, even Mr. Wickham had said that it was up to Darcy to avoid him, and he did so! There is truth in all of Mr. Wickham’s looks and Mr. Darcy’s actions serve to only prove Wickham’s story.

Elizabeth found she did not wish to speak any more about the man from Derbyshire and said as much to Mrs. Gardiner, “I am sick of being told to consider Mr. Darcy’s side of anything, as if my own intellect could be so flawed. Mr. Darcy has already acted in such a manner that proves he cares little for the opinions of those around him. As I said before, I do not hate the man, but I also do have very little respect for him. Let us change the conversation as neither of us will see eye to eye. For myself, I am sick of speaking of anyone from Derbyshire!”

Madeline realized she had pushed Elizabeth too far and opted to change the topic, “Mr. Gardiner and myself were going to tour the Lake District and possibly stop in Derbyshire to see some of my old friends on our trip this summer. We had originally invited you, however if you are sick of the men from Derbyshire, I should probably invite Catherine instead.”

Elizabeth started to laugh and said, “There is no need. We have sufficient time between now and then. I do believe I can get over my hesitance to enter their society before we leave.”

Madeline was pleased that Elizabeth had already put her irritation behind her and ventured a caution, “Elizabeth, I know you wish for me to leave off on the subject, and I will. I feel that I must warn you, however, to be on your guard. You are too sensible a girl to fall in love merely because you are warned against it. I have nothing against Mr. Wickham; he is interesting to be sure. I simply caution you to not let your fancy run away with you. You have sense and will be expected to use it. Your grandfather will depend upon your resolution toward your own happiness; please do not disappoint him.”

Elizabeth surveyed the woman who had been a steady, calm influence in her life and realized she was being serious, and attempted to lighten the mood, “Madeline, you are taking my perceived interest in him very seriously indeed.”

“Yes, I hope you will as well.”

“You need not be worried. I will take care of myself and Mr. Wickham as well! He shall not be allowed to be in love with me! I certainly can prevent that!” Elizabeth said to lighten the moment.

Madeline admonished, “Lizzy, take this seriously! Stop teasing for a moment!”

Seeing that Mrs. Gardiner was indeed wishing to speak earnestly, Elizabeth stated, “Madeline, let me reassure you: I am not in love with Mr. Wickham and seek no assurances from him. I will admit, as you said, he is an interesting character. However, even if he were to become attached to me, that would be unfortunate as I do not believe my interest will turn to affection. In truth, however, if Mr. Darcy had not created such dire circumstances for Mr. Wickham, I believe Grandfather would grow to like Wickham: Uncle Thomas certainly finds him diverting. However, I find this entire conversation academic, as I do not believe Wickham will ever allow himself to make me an offer because of my rumored destitution.”

Satisfied, Madeline responded, “As long as you take such precaution in all your relationships, my dear, you will be fine.” As Madeline allowed Elizabeth to change the subject, she knew as soon as she could, she should probably put James’ fears at rest.

Gracechurch Street, London
January 3, 1812

Dear James,
I had almost forgotten to write to you concerning your fears of a growing attachment between Elizabeth and Mr. Wickham. As you have already been told or surmised from Elizabeth’s letters, Jane is with us in London. We left Hertfordshire only a few days ago. When we arrived home, my Benjamin immediately got sick, and I completely forgot to write to you.

I did as you asked and found out more about this Wickham fellow. I even met him for myself. He is a very amiable gentleman; actually, for me, he was almost too amiable. It was as if he wanted to convince me of his past rather than simply inform me of it.

However, I would not worry about Elizabeth. She has no plans or designs on the gentleman. The gentleman himself seems to have shifted his focus from Elizabeth to another young lady who just inherited a large dowry. I would be more concerned if Elizabeth were actually attached to Mr. Wickham; he does seem mercenary to me.

I would, however, keep an ear out. If Elizabeth is more attached to Mr. Wickham than what she has led me to believe, it would be a cause for alarm.

Since you are to arrive in London in a few days’ time, we can talk more when we see you. Also, my husband has some information for you regarding some business matters. We look forward to your usual dinner with us the second night you are in town.

Sincerely,
Madeline Gardiner
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Ignorance and Irony - Chapter 4 (Part Two)

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Lady Elizabeth

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