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"Yes, I have heard of Sanditon," replied Mr. Heywood. "Every five years, one hears of some new place or other starting up by the Sea and growing the fashion."
Our tale properly commences a fortnight ago, in another part of Sussex, where a small but congenial company gathered at Brierwood House, the home of Colonel and Mrs. James Fitzwilliam. The Fitzwilliams were relative newcomers to Brierwood, for though the family of Mrs. Fitzwilliam-née Anne de Bourgh-had owned the property for generations, it was only upon the transfer of Brierwood to Anne three years earlier as part of her marriage settlement that the seldom-used minor holding of Lady Catherine and the late Sir Lewis de Bourgh became the primary residence of their daughter and her new husband.
While the estate lay in a fair-sized parish, the house was remotely situated, standing so close to the border that its nearest neighbors were in fact part of the adjacent parish of Willingden. A collection of modest cottages hard-pressed to merit the title "village," Willingden could boast little in the way of commerce or conveniences-not a shoemaker nor surgeon to be found. But Brierwood House soon became the Fitzwilliams' home in all the best senses of the word: the place where they welcomed old friends and new neighbors into its rooms, and their firstborn child into the world.
The colonel and Anne presently enjoyed a visit from their cousin Mr. Darcy and his wife, Elizabeth. The Darcys were regular guests at Brierwood, as the Fitzwilliams were at Pemberley, the Darcys' home in Derbyshire. The two couples shared the most ideal of connections-not merely the accident of kinship, but also genuine friendship-and from the (predominantly) happy sounds that emanated from the nursery, where the Darcys' three-year-old Lily-Anne and one-year-old Bennet played with the Fitzwilliams' little Lewis, it appeared that relations among the next generation of cousins would prove equally amiable.
The children were presently nestled all snug in their beds, napping in the care of their nurses while the adults anticipated the imminent arrival of some of the Fitzwilliams' neighbors for tea.
"Will Miss Heywood be among the party?" Elizabeth asked.
The Heywoods were a genteel family with whom the Fitzwilliams had developed a close acquaintance since coming to Sussex, and whom the Darcys had met on previous visits. A warmhearted couple as attentive to their neighbors as the responsibilities and distractions of raising fourteen children allowed them to be, Mr. and Mrs. Heywood had done much to make the colonel and Anne feel welcome upon the Fitzwilliams' first taking up residence at Brierwood. Miss Charlotte Heywood was the eldest of their daughters still at home.
"Indeed, she will."
"It will be good to see her again." At two-and-twenty, Miss Heywood was only three years younger than Elizabeth, who found her a pleasant, sensible young lady, and very much enjoyed her conversation whenever they were in company together. "How are all the family?"
"They have unexpected houseguests at present whom we have also invited to tea," Colonel Fitzwilliam said. "A Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Parker, of Sanditon. The Parkers were traveling through Willingden when their carriage overturned near the Heywoods' house, leaving Mr. Parker with a badly sprained ankle. The Heywoods offered their hospitality while the carriage was repaired and he recovered. His ankle is enough improved that he and his wife plan to return home tomorrow, and to reciprocate the Heywoods' hospitality, they have invited Miss Heywood to accompany them."
"Have they a long journey home?" Elizabeth asked. "I am not familiar with Sanditon."
Colonel Fitzwilliam and Anne exchanged a smile. "You will be, once you meet Mr. Parker," the colonel said, "for he is quite an enthusiast on the subject. Sanditon lies on the coast, near Eastbourne, and it is gaining some renown as a new bathing-place. Mr. Parker is one of its chief landowners, and is working hard to develop the village into a thriving resort."
"The coast is already so full of such places that I cannot imagine the need for another," Darcy said.
"Mr. Heywood is of the same opinion," Colonel Fitzwilliam replied, "but Mr. Parker claims the village is particularly well suited for such a purpose. Indeed, he speaks of Sanditon in such glowing terms that I am considering investing in it myself."
Darcy regarded his cousin shrewdly. "Has Mr. Parker solicited you to do so?"
"No-it is entirely my idea, and I intend to keep silent until I have had an opportunity to evaluate Sanditon with my own eyes. I do not even know if he and his speculation partner would be open to an outsider buying or building in the village. He told me of several projects he would like to initiate, including the building of a Crescent, so they might welcome new capital that would help advance those plans."
"Speculation is a risky business, and I have never known you to be much of a gambler," Darcy said. "What is it about this particular enterprise that attracts you?"
"Mr. Parker and his partner, Lady Denham, seek to make Sanditon a respectable resort that draws families of good character, without the crowds and glamour and problems of the large, highly fashionable places-a quiet, private village; much more a Lyme than a Brighton. It is an attainable goal, and this would be a minor investment-you know that I never wager more than I can afford to lose, whether at cards or anything else. Nevertheless, I would appreciate your more objective counsel in determining whether this is indeed a sound decision. Anne and I want to visit soon-will the two of you come with us?"
"How long a visit do you have in mind?" Elizabeth asked.
"A week, perhaps two," Colonel Fitzwilliam said. "Long enough to obtain a general sense of the place."
"We can leave our children here with their nurses," Anne added. "We think to go in a fortnight or so. By then, Ben and Lily-Anne will feel so at home at Brierwood that they will scarcely notice your absence."
Elizabeth turned to Darcy. "I like the prospect of returning to the sea."
"Very well, then," Darcy said. "Let us all go to Sanditon."
Copyright © 2015 by Carrie Bebris