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Tact

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Prologue

 

Miss Elizabeth Bennet cared very much for her family. The ladies of Longbourn were each, in their own way, devoted to the well-being of one another, even Lydia, whose character was naturally more self-focused than that of her sisters, could not be content to see one of her siblings unhappy and being of a cheerful disposition, exerted herself to raise the spirits of whichever of them was feeling glum.

Lizzy was under no illusions that her family were the epitome of propriety, she was aware that her mother's effusions often crossed the line between exuberance and vulgarity and that her younger sisters' high spirits occasionally led them into unbecoming behaviour. Jane and Elizabeth had once or twice invaded the sanctuary of their fathers' book room to entreat his intervention in their education and deportment but he, so used to considering himself a good father if all his daughters were cheerful, well fed and well dressed, had turned them out with amusing quips and sallies. Lizzy had left the book room smiling in amusement but with dissatisfaction in the outcome of their petition.

Of all her sisters, Elizabeth had the greatest command over language. She had discovered at a young age, that the correct selection of words could raise a smile or bring a tear with relative ease. Jane, who in her extreme youth had wept very easily at Elizabeth's more cutting witty remarks had pointed out that if her younger sister had such an ability to bring joy or pain that she ought, in every instance possible, bring the former.

It had been her mother, of all people, who had clinched the matter. Heavily pregnant with Catherine, Mrs Bennet had been confined to the house and thus had little but the squabbles of infants and order of her household to concern herself with. With great wisdom, she had called her bright-eyed child to her bedside and with great care had shown her that the challenge of protecting the feelings of others was rather more difficult than the challenge of wounding them.

"It is not a sign of stupidity to be kind, Lizzy. The most intelligent lady in the land can use her charm and wit to soothe rather than rile. I wonder, my love, if you would wish to become a lady who is universally liked or one who is avoided. Pass your Mama the vinaigrette before you attend to your lessons, my dear."

Such clarity of logic had a great effect on the young Elizabeth and she consequently took great pains to modify her conversation; so that rather than exercising her quickness at the expense of others, she searched with diligence to find the least offensive and yet least dull thing to say in any social situation that she was permitted to attend. It was thus that when her cousin, who was (in all unvarnished truth) a ridiculous creature, honoured her with his proposals after the ball at Netherfield Park, that she found herself making the greatest use of this carefully honed talent.