"I am the Rector of a good-sized parish, well-established and orderly. Perhaps had I been more accustomed to disarray, today's proceedings would seem less exceptional, but it is my sad fate to have been born incurably tidy." He had hoped humor would ease his listeners, and when it failed knew not whether to blame their lack of sensibility, or the quality of the joke. "I must confess myself as perplexed and bewildered as you all. Please understand that I possess nothing like a solution to our dilemma, only increased insight into what has happened." He paused again, feeling he was again proceeding wrong. The suspicion was confirmed by the blank stares of his listeners.
"Do go on, Mr. Tilney," Catherine whispered encouragingly.
He smiled at her gratefully and continued. "Earlier this morning, as I was leaving my home for a journey," he gazed at Catherine significantly, "I met a very unusual lady, Mrs. Adams, who was walking with a baby. Everything about her - her dress, her speech, her knowledge of myself and all of you, I suspect - was exceptional. She greeted me by name and introduced herself. I was a bit taken aback by her forwardness until I noticed how my surroundings were altering. Houses appeared where there had been none before, and I found myself listening as Mrs. Adams recommended several families, who were apparently the homes' inhabitants, to my attention. She then pointed out a lane that had never before existed, explaining that it was the road to Fullerton, which I would find not a mile's distance away, when I believed it a day's ride off! With that she proceeded on her way, and I, to my astonishment, was presenting myself to Mr. and Mrs. Morland not a quarter of an hour later!"
"I do not see how this is relevant to the invasion of my grounds by a multitude of encroaching homes!" Lady Catherine grumbled.
"Do you believe this woman responsible?" Mr. Knightley inquired.
"I think she must be implicated in some manner. I was too shocked to question her properly when we met."
"I understand the sensation," Mr. Knightley confessed, thinking of his perplexity when he looked up from the breakfast table to see Hartfield just outside the window. "We must find this Mrs. Adams."
"She may not be the only strange person amongst us," said Mr. Darcy, appraising Sir Walter coolly. "We should do a thorough search of the neighborhood. Perhaps there is a pattern to who has been affected. Regardless, any odd persons will be revealed, as well as the extent of the phenomenon."
"Very good, Darcy!" said Bingley agreeably. "Just let me know how I may be of assistance, and we are sure to soon get to the bottom of all this."
"We are five men. The ladies should remain here, as we each proceed in different directions for one mile, inquiring at each home along the way, and then we will return to share our findings," Mr. Knightley suggested. "If anyone meets Mrs. Adams, try to bring her along. That seems all we should attempt so late in the morning. No matter how unusual the circumstances, the dinner hour must be considered."
"In case you failed to have noticed, sir," said Mr. Tilney, "nothing in our preset landscape bears the slightest resemblance to that surrounding Bath."
"My house must be at hand! Miss Elliot and I only left it not two hours ago."
"We will do our best to locate it, Sir Walter, during our survey," Mr. Knightley assured him.
"Very good! Bingley, do keep your eye out for Camden Place," Darcy said in a low voice. "Even if we hadn't more important matters to consider, one could hardly miss is!"
"Will you be joining us, Sir Walter?" Mr. Tilney asked.
He looked to Elizabeth despairingly, but as she had no better advice to give, he declared his intention of heading eastward, as that was the general direction from which they had previously come.
"Let us be on our way!" Mr. Knightley declared, anxious to be doing something.
Mr. Knightley met her eye with a smile. "I do not think that is the case. It is quite an orderly job, as you can see out that window. Perfectly complete in its way. I've been watching closely, and there has been no change, perceptible to me, for over an hour. Yet Miss Woodhouse is quite correct to urge caution, gentlemen. I think we should do a quick survey of the grounds before heading off."
Determining that the world appeared to no longer be shifting about, Mr. Knighltey headed west, as that was the direction in which Hartfield lay, and he wanted to be the man to confront Mr. Woodhouse. Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, the latter of whom spotted Longbourn at a distance, both turned their steps southward. The remaining street of houses lay to the east, and Mr. Tilney found himself the companion of Sir Walter as they approached the first estate, alarmingly close to Mr. Knightley's stables, though you would not know it were it not for the stench.
There was some dispute as to how they should approach.
"This is most irregular, Mr. Tilney. One doesn't just walk up to a house of this sort! I hope it belongs no one of any importance."
"The greatest importance they could be, Sir Walter," Mr. Tilney replied with admirable patience, "would be if they might shed light on why and where we have all been thrown together." He stared out across the expanse of lawn, "Do keep looking for Mrs. Adams."
"You must announce us, Tilney!"
"Very well!" he took one last glance across the lawn before ringing the doorbell. A haughty servant answered, only begrudgingly presenting their cards to his mistress. The gentlemen were invited into a handsome drawing room and introduced to Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood.
Do pity Mr. Tilney, to find himself the lone sensible person in such company! The others were quickly sizing up their respective worths. The Dashwoods saw much to admire in Sir Walter and nothing to despise in his companion, while the baronet, perceiving that here were two to give him his due, quickly took command of the proceedings.
"You will forgive us calling in such a manner, for surely you have noticed the strange happenings that have been occuring!" he explained. "We have begun to organize a response to our predicament, and so come to learn in what company we find ourselves. There is some question," he added secretively, "of mischief afoot. It is imperative we determine each resident of the neighborhood's character."
Fanny Dashwood looked alarmed, and Mr. Tilney struggled to keep his eyes from rolling. "How shocking," she exclaimed, "to not know who one's neighbors are! John and I had been admiring the house next door and wondering how best to approach, but what if they are not genteel?"
Sir Walter's eye followed where Mrs. Dashwood's finger pointed out a great window, spying with shock his very own residence.
"Why it's Kellynch Hall, and very handsomely situated, I must say! This relieves me of concern for Camden Place, for if it is not found on hand, my tenant, Admiral Croft, will just have to make way for us. I must call upon him immediately."
"I shall accompany you, Sir Walter" declared Mr. Dashwood. "For you will be able to make the introductions properly."
"Indeed," he condescended, not sure that he was happy to confer the favor just claimed, but ready to assume his new acquaintance might be neighborly enough to take in the displaced Crofts, should he and Elizabeth require their eviction. Mr. Tilney, in the name of expediency, left his companions to their joint task, happy for the excuse to proceed further along alone.