Chapter 1 (Excerpt)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the topic of discussion among four unmarried young ladies, who are gathered together in the same room and in want of diversion, must invariably center on the prospects for marital felicity for each of them in their turn. Such was indeed the case in Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s bedroom at Longbourn manor that day.
“I contend that happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance,” declared Charlotte Lucas, who was visiting from the neighboring village.
“Spoken by the least likely of the four of us to reach the altar.”
Elizabeth, the second eldest of five Bennet daughters, stared at her cousin in utter dismay on behalf of her intimate friend, Charlotte. Elizabeth’s junior by two years, Phoebe Phillips paid her no notice. Not that Elizabeth expected any real sort of regret on the young lady’s part. If ever one might be described as her mother’s daughter, admittedly, it was Phoebe. Though closest in age to Elizabeth’s younger sister Mary and closest in terms of sensibility to Elizabeth’s two youngest sisters, Kitty and Lydia, Phoebe much preferred the company of the two eldest Bennet sisters, Jane and Elizabeth.
What with Phoebe being the only daughter of Mrs. Agatha Phillips, and Mrs. Phillips being the only sister of Mrs. Fanny Bennet, it was generally expected that the cousins would be the dearest of friends, even if the girls’ temperaments were as varying as day and night. To her credit, Phoebe was not quite so vulgar as was her mother was thought to be. Elizabeth rather supposed it was merely a matter of time.
Whereas the embarrassment of it all caused the eldest Bennet daughter’s angelic face to redden, the younger daughter’s astonishment was not so easily repressed. “Phoebe!” Elizabeth exclaimed with energy.
“What did I say that is not true?”
“It is not what you said so much as it is the manner in which you said it. You owe Charlotte an apology,” Elizabeth declared.
A very plain-looking, intelligent woman and the oldest in the group by at least four years, Charlotte said, “Dearest Eliza, you need not censure your cousin on my behalf.”
Phoebe smirked. “There, you see, Lizzy,” the young lady cried, “Charlotte knows the truth when she hears it. She is not at all offended.”
“Heaven forbid,” replied Charlotte. “Were I to be affronted by any of the things you say, Phoebe, I might be as miserable as you are.”
Pleased by her friend’s retort, even at her own relation’s expense, Elizabeth covered her mouth to mask her smile. She loved nothing more than laughing at the ridiculousness of others: a trait she inherited from her dear father, Mr. Thomas Bennet.
Jane’s disposition demanded a more amicable resolution to the ebbing tension among their little group. “I believe no one is ever really too old to find happiness in marriage,” said she.
“Says the second least likely person among us to find a husband.”
“Phoebe!” Elizabeth exclaimed once more.
“Although, I will allow that Jane is the only one of us who has ever come close to securing a marriage proposal. How many times have we heard my aunt Bennet boast of the young man at my uncle Gardiner’s home in town who was so much in love with her and the general belief that he would have made her an offer even though he did not?”
“Lest you forget, Phoebe, Jane was only fifteen at the time. I recall Mrs. Bennet saying that likely was the reason,” Charlotte said.
“Oh, but he wrote such pretty verses on her,” Phoebe waxed poetically. “Pray, whatever became of your young beau, Cousin Jane?”
Elizabeth said, “Who really gives a care? Poetry or no poetry, the man is no doubt a fool.”
Charlotte scoffed. “I wager all men are fools. How else might one explain the abundance of single young ladies in want of husbands among our general acquaintances?”
“Owe it to our rather exacting standards,” Elizabeth promptly asserted. “That and the limited variety of single young men in this part of the country.”
“Exacting? Pray what exactly is your opinion on the ideal husband, Lizzy?” Phoebe asked.
“I should like to think the ideal husband is respectable and kind and one who honors his wife and protects his family.”
Her spirits rising to playfulness, Elizabeth said, “I see no reason why the ideal husband should not be handsome. I posit one might just as easily fall in love with a handsome man as one who is rather less pleasing to the eye. Handsome men deserve love too.”