As promised, here is a family tree to help you navigate the story. I’ve also gone back and added it to chapter 1. A lot of these people are not mentioned for a while, if ever, but what can I say? I’m thorough. The characters we spend the most time with are in bold.
Margate, August 1811
“I hear you have found an estate, Mr. Bingley,” said Lady Anne at breakfast.
“Yes, in Hertfordshire. Blackwood recommended it. The owner may wish to sell if the terms are agreeable, and it is an easy distance to Town.”
“I am pleased for you. When will you view it?”
“Tuesday next. If all is agreeable, I will sign the lease and my sister will act as hostess. I may take possession by Michaelmas.”
“Wonderful! You are well on your way to fulfilling your father’s wishes, Mr. Bingley,” added Lady Livingstone. She had taken her time warming up to the un-landed gentleman, but Bingley had won her over after a summer of smiles and guileless amiability.
“Thank you, my lady. My sisters are well pleased.”
“Are they in the country at present?”
“Yes, they are staying with my brother Hurst’s family. They have an estate in Suffolk. I will travel there when I leave Hertfordshire.”
“We will be sad to lose your company, but it is good for family to be together,” said Lady Livingstone.
Bingley smiled and thanked her, and barely managed to restrain his laugh when Marianne rolled her eyes at her mother’s condescending well wishes.
“You will be missed, Mr. Bingley, and we wish you well with your new endeavor,” she said sincerely.
“Thank you, Lady Marianne. I wish you a safe journey to Town. Have you heard from Colonel Pickering recently?”
“I had a letter from him this morning,” she said brightly. “Campaign season will be coming to a close just before the babe is due to be born. He believes he may arrive in London in time for the birth.”
“That is excellent news,” said Bingley.
Lady Livingstone sighed. “I do not know why you must have your confinement in Town. It is so much more pleasant in the country.”
Bingley blushed in discomfort and Marianne made no effort to hide her expression from her mother.
“Because I do not wish for a long carriage ride when I am so close to my confinement, and because Henry would never make it all the way to Staffordshire in time for the birth. I wish to see him as close to his arrival as I may.”
“An understandable wish, of course, dear,” interjected Lady Anne. “Now let us speak of more gentleman-friendly topics before Mr. Bingley matches the jam.” She smiled at her son’s friend and Bingley laughed, wondering where Darcy and his brothers were.
Bingley viewed the estate in Hertfordshire, called Netherfield, decided it was perfect for his purposes, and signed the lease immediately. He left for Suffolk to collect his sisters and brother and planned to return in September.
He wrote to Darcy of his plans and invited his family to visit, even if it was only to break the journey north. The Darcy family had shown him great hospitality and he wished to repay the favor. Lady Anne agreed and added a note to her son’s letter, saying how proud she was for Mr. Bingley that he had taken this step. Darcy thought his mother was being overly sentimental, but Lady Anne thought Bingley would appreciate the gesture since he had no living parents to look up to. Incidentally, she was right. Young Charles Bingley was one of Lady Anne’s greatest admirers.
The Darcy and Livingstone families traveled to London together, leaving Lady Livingstone and Lady Marianne at their home in Town to await the latter’s husband and confinement, hopefully in that order. Lady Anne stayed long enough to see her goddaughter settled and began the journey north. She had no great love for Town and only suffered the Season as much as she must. She blatantly refused to participate in the Little Season, and she felt great pity for her brother and cousins who were required to be in Town longer for their duties to Parliament. Once Darcy House was sufficiently closed, they headed north to Hertfordshire with no plans to return until spring.
Bingley stood outside the stately house, bouncing his heels on the steps. His sister Caroline stood beside him, nervously twisting the rings on her fingers. She had only met Lady Anne once, at a ball hosted by a Darcy family friend. The great lady was everything Caroline hoped to be, and she had been so nervous when she met her that she barely said three words. Lady Anne had been gracious and kind but had quickly moved on to talk to her friends. Now she was staying at Netherfield, and Caroline was to be her hostess. It was a dream come true and a nightmare all rolled into one. Would Lady Anne be pleased with her apartments? Would she be put off by the outmoded decoration? Would the menus be to her liking? What of the servants?
Caroline shook her head and told herself to stop worrying. There was nothing to be done now but be as gracious as she could be. She looked up from her study of the steps when she felt a hand on hers. Charles looked at her with earnest eyes the same blue-green as her own.
“You’ll be wonderful, Carrie. Don’t worry. Lady Anne is gracious, and you are a talented hostess. All will be well.”
She smiled in relief and her shoulders visibly lowered. “Thank you, Charlie.”
A carriage pulled onto the drive and they turned to face it, heads held high. It stopped before them in a flutter of dust and a flash of a family crest. The Bingleys stood a little straighter and smiled when Darcy handed down his mother and sister.
“Welcome to Netherfield.”
Darcy joined Bingley in the study once he had seen his family well settled. “How do you like having an estate?”
“I like it very well!” he cried. “The neighborhood has been very friendly.”
“I’m sure half the men in Hertfordshire have come to call on you,” said Darcy.
“A good many certainly have. I have returned a few calls myself but haven’t met many families.”
“You mean many gentlemen’s daughters,” said Darcy with a grin. “You never change, Bingley.”
“I am dependable in this, at least,” he said with good humor. “There is an assembly tomorrow in Meryton. I told Sir William I would come if my party did not object. He knows you have only just arrived. We need not go if you do not wish it.”
“I shall ask Mother. She might enjoy a night of dancing. She occasionally attended assemblies in Lambton or Kympton.”
Bingley’s expression showed his surprise. “I would not have thought that,” he said carefully.
“With an estate as large as Pemberley, one has a duty to the local towns and villages. They rely on Pemberley’s continued prosperity for their livelihoods. It is good for them to see us and know we are thriving, and it gives them an opportunity to talk to us of their concerns. It encourages loyalty and discourages poaching, among other things. The Darcy family has always been a force for good in Derbyshire—the people there must know that we care for them and will take care of the villages. That is hard to accomplish if we never show our faces.”
Charles nodded his head with an expression that showed he wished he had been writing all this down. “You make an excellent point, my friend. I shall ask Lady Anne if she would like to go.”
Lady Anne accepted the invitation and encouraged Mr. Bingley to make the most of this opportunity. If he was considering purchasing Netherfield, he must become acquainted with the local landowners. They would have to work together on occasion, and they would be his source of company in the months he spent in the country. It would be wise to make friends where possible. She said the same to Caroline, who was sitting on a chair near her.
“Miss Bingley, you should befriend the young ladies of the area. One can never have too many friends when living in the country.”
Caroline was quick to agree with her and assured Lady Anne of her willingness to be kind to the country ladies of Hertfordshire. She was sure they would be in much need of direction in their fashions and behavior. Caroline was all too ready to help. Her sister Louisa agreed with an absent look and a jangle of her bracelets. Lady Anne merely looked at them for a moment before changing the subject.
The following morning, Lady Anne joined the gentlemen for breakfast before the other ladies came down. Unsurprised, she smiled at the young men and proceeded to ask them about the estate. Bingley was all excitement and eager to tell her of his accomplishments. She indulged him and encouraged him, while Fitzwilliam looked on with a suspicious look in his eye. If he had not known better, he might have thought Bingley was flirting with his mother. Bingley was solicitous and attentive, and there was adoration in his eyes when he looked at Lady Anne.
Turning his gaze to his mother, he saw indulgence, affection, and pride in her eyes, not unlike the expression she often gave her younger sons. She turned and met her eldest son’s eyes and one brow quirked up while her lips pursed. Realizing he had been caught staring and more importantly, been caught in the wrong by his mother, he nodded in recognition of defeat and she turned her attention back to Bingley.
Who would have thought? His mother had a soft spot for Bingley, and she had been right about him: Charles valued her opinion and looked on her not quite as a mother, but with sincere admiration and more than a little awe. Like a favorite aunt who is beloved and familiar, but with the distance that comes from not sharing a home. Fitzwilliam could only smile to himself and shake his head. He was happy to share his mother with Bingley. His friend’s parents were both deceased and Charles often lamented the loss of both their affection and guidance. It would be terribly stingy of him to begrudge his friend a little maternal affection. Besides, Lady Anne was clearly enjoying his company. When he thought about it, he realized Charles was about the age his brother George would have been, had he lived more than a fortnight.
Feeling suddenly melancholy, he turned his attention back to the conversation at the table. Caroline and Louisa came in, both dressed in stunning morning gowns with hair fixed much more elaborately than he would have thought appropriate for a simple morning at home.
“Good morning. I trust you all slept well?” Caroline asked.
“I did, thank you, Miss Bingley,” answered Lady Anne. “My rooms are quite comfortable in every respect.”
Miss Bingley flushed and thanked her guest. Lady Anne was in the best room Netherfield had to offer. It had been Caroline’s own room, but when her brother told her of their guests, she quickly realized no other room would do and moved her things into the guest wing. Mr. Hurst had protested all the moving about when she insisted all the family move as well, but Louisa had agreed that their guests must be comfortable, and the two ladies made quick work of directing the change.
“Do you know how often the assembly is held?” asked Lady Anne.
“I believe it is quarterly,” answered Bingley.
“And what is the size of Meryton? Are there many prominent families about and are they likely to be present this evening?”
Bingley was unsure of the exact size, but Fitzwilliam believed it was a little bigger than Lambton. As far as the families went, Bingley knew there were several with small estates and that Sir William Lucas would be hosting the night’s festivities. A Mr. Bennet owned the next largest estate, called Longbourn, but he did not recall meeting or hearing about anyone with any titles in the area or homes larger than Netherfield.
“That will make choosing my gown for the evening much easier. Thank you, Mr. Bingley,” said Lady Anne.
“I am always pleased to help a lady with her attire,” declared Bingley good naturedly.
“We must show these country ladies what true fashion looks like,” said Caroline. “They must be in want of a guiding hand.”
“On the contrary, Miss Bingley. I asked about the neighborhood so that I might choose my attire appropriately, not to make the ladies of Hertfordshire look out of fashion. I would never go into someone else’s home or ball and attempt to make them feel unworthy. A true lady leads by example, not disdain.” She smiled kindly at Miss Bingley while Caroline stared at her wide-eyed.
“Perhaps you might be willing to assist me in choosing something appropriate?” Caroline asked uncertainly.
“I would love to! Let us go up after breakfast.”
Two hours later, Caroline’s bed was piled high with gowns of every imaginable color. Louisa sat on a chair near the fire, unsure what to think about this exercise, while Georgiana happily helped her mother sort through ribbons, turbans, and feathers.
“What about this one?” Caroline held a peach gown up to her shoulders and looked in the mirror, then turned to face Lady Anne and Miss Darcy.
Georgiana’s nose wrinkled slightly. “I think the blue looks better with your complexion.”
“Yes, I agree.” Lady Anne looked at the gown critically, then turned Caroline toward the mirror. “For someone with your complexion, pale pink is better than peach. You have such lovely ivory skin. You should wear something to complement it.” She reached into the pile of gowns on the bed and pulled out a beautiful pale green ball gown. “Here. Try this one.”
Caroline looked at the gown doubtfully. It had been suggested by the modiste, but when it was delivered, she thought it too simple and had never worn it. “Do you not think it plain?” she asked.
“No!” declared Lady Anne. “I think it just right for a country dance. You do not want to be overdressed, but neither do you want to be overlooked. This brings out your eyes. See.”
She held the gown near to Caroline’s face and the younger woman looked in the mirror, surprised to see how bright her eyes appeared next to the fabric.
“Yes, and it is lovely with your hair,” added Georgiana. “Jade pins would be perfect.”
“What a wonderful idea, Georgiana!”
“I have just the ones!” Caroline cried, now agreeing that the gown was splendid on her.
Lady Anne left Caroline in peace and planned her own attire for the evening, satisfied that she had done right by the motherless girl. Miss Bingley was not the most pleasant young woman, but she had some potential. If Lady Anne was going to be thrown into her company, she must draw it out—if for nothing but her own sanity.
So what do you think? I know today’s chapter is a bit short, but they will start coming more quickly in a couple of days. Thanks for reading!