Jane asked if the wallpaper was the same as it had been two years previously. Bella was unsurprised by her inane question as Lydia begged to know if Miss Bingley was as elegant as her handwriting (certainly) and Elizabeth wondered if she had peeked into old Mr. Pitt’s library to see if it was just as disused as it had been (Bella didn’t know). Mama was all a flutter, but fortunately did not require her smelling salts, and Papa said something sardonic and mildly inappropriate.
It was only once Papa had retired to his library after dinner and Lydia had finally let her alone, that Mama walked her up to her bedroom herself and inquired, “And Mr. Darcy?”
A small smile played on the edge of Bella’s lips. She had managed to answer polite inquiries all through dinner without saying much of anything at all. It was, perhaps, a small accomplishment, not that Elizabeth (who ten minutes into supper downed her entire glass of wine as if conversation with any of her sisters was the greatest of hardships) would consider it one.
“As handsome as ever.” Her skin betrayed her again with a blush and Mama squeezed her fingers affectionately. Rallying, Bella told her: “He promised not to ask me to dance although I agreed to attend the Assembly. Caroline—” (At this, a spasm of Mama’s fingers, as if she could not help herself) “wished a confidante who could help her manage a new social scene with its own rules and persons of note…” Bella let her voice trail off for a moment, coming to stop in front of the door. As if unable to stop herself, she realized allowed, “What if Mr. Darcy dances with Jane and prefers her?”
“Well, Isabella Mary, Mr. Darcy would not think so if he danced with Elizabeth,” Mama promised immediately, opening the door and allowing Bella to walk through.
Bella allowed her Mama to settle her in front of her looking glass and relaxed as Mama’s careful fingers took out the pins in her hair.
After a quiet moment when Mama took out the last of the pins and took up Bella’s hairbrush (well worn but well loved for evenings such as this). “Mr. Darcy,” Mama reasoned carefully, clearly having given the question the consideration it deserved, “if inconstant with an older and, well, passably prettier sister, would be a fool. He has seen Kitty now, twice, who is not unlike Jane, and has proved that he prefers a dark beauty to an English Rose such as… any of your sisters.” This last statement caused Mama to still, brush poised, as she clearly considered the truth that all of the Bennet sisters (excepting Bella) were fair of hair and face. Bella—or Isabelle Mary—was the only exception.
A moment later, however, and she resumed her motherly ministrations, the thought perhaps dismissed as it had always been.
Bella considered, looking at her own reflection. Jane was as airheaded as a rose, always pretty but worth little more once plucked for its fair features.
“Kitty is lovely,” Bella argued.
“Indeed,” Mama stated firmly, nodding slightly to herself in the mirror. “She will be lovelier still when she comes out.” Another pause, three strokes of the brush. “And Miss Bingley? You and Kitty both said she was elegant.”
Confused, Bella’s dark eyes sought out her mother’s in the mirror.
Understanding the unspoken question, Mama clarified. “Was she wearing white or cream to receive you? How did it compliment her complexion?” She smiled conspiratorially at Bella. “Could she be described as an English Rose?”
“Caroline,” Bella told her pointedly, “is neither a dark beauty nor an English Rose, I believe.” She bit her lip as she turned and looked up at her Mama. “Her hair was the most beautiful ginger, although it is perhaps incorrect to name the color with such a commonplace description.”
“Miss Bingley and Mr. Bingley, then, favour one another,” Mama clarified, placing her fingers on the top of Bella’s head and turning her back gently toward the mirror.
Bella let her eyes flutter shut, as she remembered catching a glance of Mr. Bingley on his horse and again when he left Longbourn that first day when Mr. Darcy had escorted Bella (and Kitty) home. “Indeed,” she agreed. “They are very much the pair.”
Indeed, they were both tall and had freckles, Bella thought, and had pale red hair—though why Bella would think it red when they were both gingers baffled her for a moment before she put it again from her mind. Complexions were ruddy, hair called ginger, and only muslin could be described as “red.” It was a most peculiar notion.
“Now that I know your concern,” Mama told her quietly as they had settled into silence. “I can direct Jane—and Elizabeth—exclusively toward Mr. Bingley and other gentlemen that evening.”
Pulse picking up, Bella felt her face flush. At least it was evening and her blush was not so apparent in the candle light. “Would you, Mama?” Her heart quickened. “Would you, truly?”
“Of course,” Mama promised, setting down the brush and inspecting Bella in the glass. “I should not have favourites” (—Bella laughed a little, knowing that Mama preferred her to even Jane—) “but I would be remiss if a daughter showed a clear preference and I did not help her to the best of my abilities.”
Bella bit her lip and then laughed lightly again.
Their eyes caught in the mirror, Bella’s dark, and Mama’s the truest of blues… just like all of her sisters.
“Now,” Mama declared. “I shall allow you to prepare yourself for bed—and wish you the pleasantest of dreams.”
Nodding, Bella stood and kissed her Mama on the cheek.
Within moments of her mother leaving the room with another smile, Bella was set upon by Kitty and Lydia, and the three ended up staying up late into the night, reading poetry and (at Lydia’s insistence) comparing Mr. Darcy to every man of their acquaintance.
Continue to Part IV >>