A Lie Universally Hidden(6)

By: Anngela Schroeder

“All is well, Father. Mrs. Miller’s time is near. I must finish the christening gown I am making her. Hopefully they will be pleased even though I am not as proficient with a needle as Mary.”

“My dear girl, your efforts are always appreciated by everyone who knows you.”

Their conversation was interrupted by a screeching Mrs. Bennet. “Lizzy? Lizzy? Where is that girl? Hill!”

The obedient servant could be heard rushing down the hallway into the room. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Has Lizzy returned? I must approve her gown for tomorrow evening. I do not know who will look at her with Jane at her side, but all the same, she must be presentable.”

Her voice faded down the hallway, barking both orders at her housekeeper and more complaints about her second, oldest child.

“Ignore her, my dear girl. Your mother’s in a mood which will not be squelched until her moment’s greatest desire has been fulfilled.” Mr. Bennet readjusted his glasses and smiled mischievously.

“Which is…?” Lizzy asked picking up her favorite copy of Wordsworth which her father left on the end table for whenever she joined him.

“To be introduced to the new master of Netherfield.” His eyes danced as he slowly let the sentence roll from his mouth.

“Well, Father, can you blame her? A man with ‘five thousand a year’ is not a man to be trifled with. Not often does an opportunity such as this come to the neighborhood—nay, to a house with five unmarried daughters!” They both chuckled while Lizzy repeated her mother’s words for the hundredth time that week. “And you, sir! Refusing to visit Mr. Bingley, therefore denying your daughters the opportunity to dance with him on the morrow? By that lone decision, casting us into the hedgerows upon your death? It is not to be endured!”

Mr. Bennet chortled again as Lizzy’s laughter filled the room. “Yes, my dear girl. You are an observer of the folly of characters, like your old papa.” He raised his eyebrows and leaned toward her. “We are blessed then to have incomparable examples daily in our realm.”

As if on cue, frantic cries rang down the stairs. “Kitty, give that back to Lydia at once.”

“But, Mama, it is mine. My aunt Gardiner gave it to me for my birthday last year.”

“Well, it looks much better on your sister than you. You heard me, girl. Off with it!”

The sound of stomping feet and slamming doors followed this unpleasant pronouncement.

“As I stated—” smirked Mr. Bennet over his book “—incomparable examples.”

Lizzy reveled in these moments with her father, passing a pleasant hour together quietly reading. The shadows in the room lengthened before a knock came at the door.

“Yes,” said Mr. Bennet without glancing up.

Jane Bennet, a comely girl of two and twenty entered the room, quickly closing the door behind her and gliding over to the chair across from Elizabeth. Her father noticed her weariness and grinned.

“Have you been consumed in conversation about lace and other fripperies these sixty minutes, my dearest?”

“Yes, Papa,” she answered patiently. “And Mama has been extolling the virtues of the art of the fan. I regret I lack the talent nor am I interested. However, she assures me the fan is a useful tool for a young lady, and I must practice most ardently before tomorrow night.” She weakly smiled at Lizzy. “Would you not like to learn as well, dear Sister?” They both knew her answer and giggled.

“As you know, Mama does not believe that anything will induce a man to desire her second daughter, so you, my dear Jane, must endure all the attentions our mother is apt to shower upon you. I am only sorry I cannot relieve some of the burden for your sake.”

“Ha! You are not!”

“You are right. I am not!”

Mr. Bennet looked at his favorite daughters, grateful that at least two of his offspring had some semblance of wit, common sense, and propriety. “My dearest girls, if I confide in you, will you promise not to tell your mother?”

They looked at each other with curiosity before Lizzy said, “Is this something you will tell Mama we have known all along, or shall that remain a secret as well?”

“My, Lizzy! That will depend if she is upset and I need to divert her attention to another.” With no little amusement, he moved to the door to ensure their privacy and turned to his daughters. “Today, I have a notion we shall have a surprise guest at tea.” His eyes glinted with mischief. He paused waiting for a reaction.

“Who, Papa?” Jane asked, clasping her hands.

“Mr. Charles Bingley.”

“Father! How do you come to know this? We have not even made his acquaintance!”