Sir James Stratton smiled on the pretty vision that was Longbourn as the structure came into view. Built in the old style, nestled into a cozy grove, he was of a humor to find the mild disrepair of the place romantic. Had he seen its condition just a few years before, he might not have been so lenient in his judgment of the owner, being rather fastidious in that regard himself. Mr. Bennet had expended all the motivation he could muster to improve his house, and his time being too taken up with his books and the farm to do anything more along those lines, he was content to be satisfied with picturesque results.
Yet it was precisely how Sir James had imagined. The ivy covered edifice had a decided aura of being well-loved and thoroughly lived in, just as one would expect in the dwelling of a large family. Sir James adored Teggington, but the house boasted a dignity sometimes oppressive. As a child he had been afraid of certain rooms, so filled were they with irreplaceable family heirlooms. His vision of the future was one in which the family’s heritage would still be on display, but that comfort would be the dominant sensation experienced upon entering the house. He hoped, should things transpire as he desired, that children running all about the old place would soon provide him with excuse enough to remove the suits of armor currently lining the halls.
Mrs. Bennet spotted the unknown gentleman wandering up her drive at a distance, his pace far too lackadaisical for her curiosity's endurance. There was a time when such a man would have caused the house to erupt into chaos, as she ordered her daughters to make themselves presentable just in case he should prove eligible, but with no such troops to muster Mrs. Bennet was left instead to her thoughts. As these were dominated by only one concern, and in spite of the lack of urgency in the visitor's approach, she convinced herself that he must be the bearer of bad news regarding her pride and joy. Insisting that he be shown into the parlor immediately, she waited only for his announcement to accost him thusly: “Sir James! You are most welcome! Do not think I am in ignorance of your purpose here - surely you are some representative of Lady Catherine's, perhaps a nephew on the de Bourgh side, bearing sad tidings of my dear grandson! Please do not hold me in suspense any longer! I told Mary that she would do better to keep young William inside,” she sniffed, tears coming to her eyes. “Lady Catherine would insist on his need for fresh air! He has caught cold, has he not? I just knew how it would be!”
“My dear lady,” broke in a surprised Sir James, recalling too late that Miss Bennet had termed one of her parents eccentric, “you mistake me entirely. I am no relation of Lady Catherine’s and bear no messages from Rosings. As far as I know, Master Bennet-Collins remains in fine health. I am a friend of Mr. Darcy’s, and I came hoping to discuss some business with your husband.”
“Mr. Darcy!” Mrs. Bennet’s face turned pale as her building panic redirected towards her second favorite. “Why, he is alright, is he not? Oh my! There has not been a carriage accident, has there?”
“No, indeed, Madame. I carry no ill tidings at all. On the contrary, my business,” he continued, the hint of his usual grin gracing his face, “regards what I hope will be deemed quite pleasant, indeed.” Seeing a vacant look of noncomprehension in Mrs. Bennet's eyes, which were consumed by fear, he become more explicit than he would have liked to be, “I want to speak with him about your daughter, Miss Bennet.”
“Kitty?” Mrs. Bennet asked in momentary confusion, pausing just long enough for her to inspect the visitor’s person with greater care than she had previously paid to it. Being quite quick in such matters, the truth now dawned upon her. “You are here to speak with Mr. Bennet about Kitty!” she reiterated in delight, and warmly invited Sir James to sit down, exclaiming on what quick work Kitty had made of her time in town. She began to interrogate him while ringing the bell at the same time, demanding both refreshments for the visitor and Mr. Bennet’s instant appearance from a bewildered Hill, all while possessing herself of such details as “Teggington”, “Cornwall”, and “baronetcy”. No more was needed, Sir James perceived, to gain the lady’s blessing, and he inwardly considered how a sensitive and passionate girl must have fared in such hands.
When Mr. Bennet entered the room, his wife rushed up to him in eager frenzy. “Mr. Bennet! What took you so long? This is Sir James Stratton, a friend of Mr. Darcy’s, and he wishes to speak to you about my dear, dear Kitty! I knew how it would be if she had a season in London! He has a fine estate in Cornwall, and such a handsome man!”
A disapproving glare from her husband hushed Mrs. Bennet's raptures, and Sir James, though rather shocked at the sudden transformation of the excitable lady's manners, maintained his wits enough to display some appropriate embarrassment at such an introduction. “Mr. Bennet,” he said with a bow. “I was hoping you might spare me a few moments of your time, sir.”
Mr. Bennet had not married three daughters off without learning how to make the most of the highly gratifying spectacle of a young man in love, and he quickly determined that the following encounter should be most diverting. Catching the intelligence behind Sir James' eyes, he calmly invited him into the library, schooled his features into as unreadable an expression as he could contrive, and asked the gentleman to state his purpose.
“I fear it is all too obvious,” said the suitor, claiming the offered chair. “Your wife is remarkably penetrating.”
Mr. Bennet’s lips betrayed his amusement at this description, unwittingly returning the uncomfortable Sir James to his more accustomed state of confidence. “Penetrating is one word that might be used in her description.”
“Perhaps I should say she is relentless?”
“That is probably a bit more apt,” conceded Mr. Bennet, “but we are not here to analyze my wife’s virtues, are we Sir James?”
“No indeed, sir,” he grinned. “I would far rather discuss Miss Bennet’s.”
“So I gathered. What are they?”
Sir James looked puzzled. “Excuse me, sir?”
“What are Kitty’s virtues?”
Sir James bristled, much to Mr. Bennet’s delight. “As her father, sir, I assume you are well-acquainted with them!”
“Yes, of course I should be, but as parents we are inclined to see our children through the opacity of prejudice. Here you are, presenting yourself as my daughter's admirer - who else better to have made a study of the topic? Please, Sir James. Enlighten me!”
Beginning to realize who indeed it was that Miss Bennet had termed eccentric, Sir James said simply, “She is all that is charming.”
“Come now, young man! You can be more specific than that. So much could be said of half the ladies in the kingdom.”
“Not half the ladies, surely.”
“Well, a third then. What is it about my daughter that has drawn your attention away from them and to herself?”
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