Good Reading : September 2005
gentlemen were expected to dine with them that evening.When they entered the drawing room, Kitty was utterly cast down, for one was fearfully old, the other dreadfully plain, and both were clergymen. Elizabeth had promised abso- lutely that she liked them very much. “How could my own sister deceive me so?” she whispered to Georgiana. “One is old, the other ugly.” Georgiana’s hand flew to her mouth. “Hush, Kitty,” she said. They went into dinner.The girls were seated opposite one another, at the centre of the table. Kitty caught Georgiana’s eye and pulled a little face, but Georgiana looked perplexed, then frightened, turning back to listen atten- tively to the elderly vicar of Lambton. Kitty looked at her aunt. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were deep in conversa- tion with Mr. Darcy, a circumstance she found impossible to understand. Sensing her gaze, Mrs. Gardiner looked up and nodded subtly towards Kitty’s dinner partner, the ugly one. ‘What is his name? Oh, yes, Mr.Turner,’ thought Kitty. She turned to find that Elizabeth had finished her conversation with him and was speaking to Georgiana and the old vicar. Kitty took a deep breath. “Mr.Turner,” she said, prettily, “what can you tell me about Kympton?” “Not a great deal. It is a pleasant little place.” “Is it as big as Lambton?” “No, it is a small village.Why do you not tell me something about your home?” Kitty livened at this interesting change of topic from another to herself. “Longbourn? The village is the smallest ever seen, and my father’s house is as dull as the grave since all my sisters went away.” Mr.Turner laughed. “And how numerous are your sisters?” “There are five of us. Jane is the eldest. She is very beautiful, and very good, and very kind.” “A paragon?” “Oh, yes, everyone says so. She mar- ried in the same ceremony as Lizzy. Jane is married to Bingley, who is nearly as beautiful and kind and good as she is.” “Are you recounting a fairy tale, Miss Bennet?” “It is the absolute truth.” “So they are perfectly matched? Who is next in the list?” “Lizzy, who married Mr. Darcy, as you know.” “Two sisters well-matched.” “Well-matched, you say? You cannot mean it.” She looked into his grey eyes. She lowered her voice to say, “Unless you mean that Mr. Darcy is so rich.” He laughed again, and Kitty blushed at her blunder. He said:“I meant that they seem suited in temperament.” “Lizzy? Mr. Darcy?” she whispered. “You do say the strangest things.” “Do I? Who is next in the tale of the princesses of Longbourn?” “I am, Miss Catherine Bennet,” she said, with an unconsciously flirta- tious air. “I shall not tell you anything of myself, lest I shock you with my immodesty.” He laughed again, and Kitty could not help laughing too, at her own suc- cess, although she tried not to. “Then, there is the youngest of my sisters, Lydia. She was married in August to a lieutenant in the militia, Mr.Wickham. He has now joined the regulars, and they are living very far from home in the north.” She took a sip of watered wine. “And that is the end of the tale,” she said. “I think not.” “Indeed, it is.” “You told me of Princess Jane, Mrs. Bingley? Then, Princess Elizabeth, now Mrs. Darcy, and Princess Lydia, Mrs.Wickham, and the Fairy Princess Catherine.That is four.What of the mysterious fifth?” “Oh, I quite forgot Mary,” said Kitty, and added with mock gravity, “Miss Bennet, who is not with us because she feared that Mama and Papa could not survive for three weeks without her care.” “She sounds thoughtful.” “Thoughtful? You know her already! Mary never stops thinking, even for a moment.” The young vicar thought he picked up a flash of mischief in her blue eyes. She seemed about to speak, but changed her mind. Kitty said nothing more on the subject of the missing sister. Later, Kitty came out on the steps with Elizabeth and Darcy.They watched Mr.Turner’s carriage carry their guests away in the moonlight. Elizabeth put her arm around Kitty’s waist as they went back indoors. “You seemed to enjoy talking to Mr.Turner, Kitty.” “Lord, no, Lizzy. I never met so hid - eous a man in my life. However, I rather fancy he enjoyed my society.” “Kitty!” “Lizzy, why are there no hand- some young officers in your circle? This seems a poor sort of district, I must say.” Extract from A Private Performance by Helen Halstead. Copyright © 2005. Published by Random House Australia, rrp $23.95.