A Lie Universally Hidden(7)

By: Anngela Schroeder

“Maybe you have not, my dear Lizzy, but I called on him yesterday and asked him to come to tea this afternoon. He welcomed the invitation, although his sisters and his brother, are otherwise engaged. That should put your mother in a fine mood.” He appeared quite satisfied with himself as he opened his book and leaned back in his chair.

“But, Papa,” Jane cried. “Lizzy and I are already engaged for tea with Charlotte Lucas. We will not be able to meet him.”

“Well, child, you must be off before he arrives or your mama will not let you leave. And as for Mr. Bingley, he will have to wait until tomorrow evening to match wits with you. I daresay twenty-four hours will have no effect on either your wit or your beauty and he will be as delighted by you then as he would today.”

Jane colored at her father’s rarely bestowed compliment.

“And, Lizzy,” said Mr. Bennet pulling out a letter from between the pages of his book, “I received a note today from Mr. Hamilton inquiring after our family.” He noticed the slight blush in her cheeks as he continued. “He is almost finished with his business in London and believes he will be back in town later this week.”

“That is nice to hear, Papa.”

With a twinkle in his eye, he pressed on. “Why he continues to write me, apprising me of his activities is beyond my understanding. Of what interest could it be to this household, I wonder? I am at a loss.”

“Maybe he will be here in time for the assembly.” Jane reached over and squeezed Lizzy’s hand. “He is a superb dancer, and he always singles you out, Lizzy.”

Jane’s sidelong glance made her sister smile. There were many things in life that Lizzy was unsure of, none of which were the affability and charm of Mr. Hamilton, nor the constancy of his affections. James Hamilton and she had been playmates since childhood. His family had been tenants on the estate of Longbourn for fifty years. Lizzy had always held him in high regard but young James seemed to know his place. However, at the age of thirteen, he had been singled out by a distant aunt as her heir and had been removed from his parents’ home and given a gentleman’s education, first to Eaton and then to Cambridge.

Upon the death of his aunt several months previous, Mr. Hamilton had returned to Meryton and requested a private interview with her father. Though he had not divulged his wishes to Lizzy, she suspected he made his intentions known during that interview, as her father liked to frequently mention her childhood friend’s reversal of fortune and tease how one day that might benefit her. Yet, she was unsure if childhood felicity would translate to matrimonial bliss.

“It is providential that his aunt died with no children and left him that small estate. I must say I have been impressed with how he has managed. I only wish I had the patience and youth to do something similar.”

“Come, Jane.” Lizzy interrupted her father before his teasing began again. “Let us go walk in the garden and imagine what this Mr. Bingley will be like. Our family will have the benefit of knowing him before we do, so we can only speculate. Now, I believe that he and his party will be short and balding with a horrid case of spots. Except for possibly one dashing fellow,” she said dreamily as the door closed behind her.

“Charles, we have known each other for many years—and I consider you one of my closest friends—but if you expect me to seek out company like that again, Georgiana and I will not make ourselves available for your invitations any longer.”

Darcy threw his gloves on the seat of the red damask chair in Bingley’s study, then poured himself a drink. His temples were throbbing with the threat of a headache as he tried to purge from his mind the shrill voice of the woman whose house they had just returned from.

“Darcy, it wasn’t entirely unpleasant,” his friend replied with a weak shrug. Running his hands through his hair, he exhaled noisily.

“Not entirely unpleasant? It was worse than unpleasant! It was excruciating!” Darcy shook his dark locks, which had been loosed from the three-mile ride back to Bingley’s estate. “I will admit, I hoped it would be pleasant company. A nice tea after a two-day journey. Meet your neighbors. The company of five alleged lovely, young women.”

“Yes,” Charles said, shaking his head. “That was a disappointment. The two who are supposed to be the loveliest were not even home. But, at least we will see them at the assembly.”

“Assembly? Bingley, I will not be attending. Georgiana is not yet out, and I do not want to leave her here alone. No, after this disastrous experience with the Bennets, I believe I will sit here and read.”