Section I, Next Section
.... So it is of course no surprise to you that, after that nonsense, I could not stand living with our sister, Elizabeth, for one moment longer. Neither am I able to return to Netherfield, (by the by is Mr Bingley keeping my furniture well?) nor am I able to stomach living under the same roof as Fanny, so you can quite understand my decision to quit Worthing for the charming little town of Upton Grey, well to be precise the delightful cottage I have rented is somewhere between Upton Grey and Tunworth. Though I am afraid to say I have been here three weeks and am heartily bored. Pray spare me one of your many daughters, to save me from going quite steadily mad...
Mr Bennet sighed. His situation was much to be lamented; a house full of females while he grew up and nothing but a house full of females after he married. And he supposed on reflection it had been much too much to hope that Clara would have found in Worthing a permanent home.
In fact Mr Bennet had always been surprised that his youngest sister had ever married; he had always supposed that she would have been much too fastidious to ever like someone well enough. But like Mr Sutton she did, and as far as any one else was concerned the minute Miss Clara Bennet settled on Mr Sutton as her future husband, there was nothing anyone else could have done about it. She was not a woman to be gainsaid.
Thus after a very short couple of months Clara had become Mrs Clara Sutton, Mistress of Netherfield and very shortly after pulled her husband around the continent on a grand tour that was not even to be halted by such a paltry thing as the French Revolution. The onset of War however did put a slight cramp into the proceedings, but Clara persevered.
Thus it was that neither Longbourn nor Netherfield saw much of the Suttons and Netherfield was left standing idle. It was assumed rather than hoped by Mr Bennet that when a long illness carried Mr Sutton off in Bath some ten years ago, Clara would return to Netherfield. But having no children Clara preferred to let Netherfield and, after a decent period of mourning in solitude, live with their elder sister Elizabeth. This was not surprising as Clara detested her sister-in-law and the feeling was quite mutual.
The aforementioned sister-in-law - Mrs Bennet, interrupted these musings.
"Well my dear? You summoned me? I am quite put out for I was just about to make it entirely clear to Mr Collins that Jane is practically considered engaged - "
"I would not count your chickens before they are hatched..." Mr Bennet warned.
"Well I dare say you have not seen the way Mr Bingley looks at Jane! Mrs Long was telling me only the other day that she was constantly trying not to blush at those looks..."
"Well if Mrs Long blushes at looks not meant for her, then I am quite at a loss to see how she ever married.... Such over-sensibility..."
"Well Mr Long was never much to look at," mused Mrs Bennet. "But that is not to the purpose! I mean to warn Mr Collins that Jane is quite already spoken for, because although Mr Collins is a very worthy young man, he can hardly compare to Mr Bingley!"
"Indeed. But I did not summon you, as you put it, to talk of something that has not occurred and is very unlikely to ever occur. I have had a letter from Clara."
Mrs Bennet who had been occupied in fluttering her handkerchief around some of Mr Bennet books, for he would never allow the maid to dust as much as Mrs Bennet would have liked, gave a start.
"Well, why is that such a to-do? She is quite well I hope?"
"Very well, but an unfortunate occurrence has made her quit Worthing."
"An unfortunate occurrence?" Mrs Bennet looked torn between not wanting to know anything about her detestable sister-in-law and her incurable need for gossip.
"Elizabeth did not take kindly to Clara's warning off a suitor for Alice, though I daresay Clara will turn out to be right in the end."
"She isn't coming for a visit?!" Mrs Bennet could not think of anything worse. Clara would stick her bib in where it wasn't wanted, probably take a dislike to Mr Collins and tell Lizzy to refuse him. After all she had not even written to tell them that Netherfield had been let at last, she had to hear that her own family's house (Mrs Bennet had a very loose notion of family) had been let from Mrs Long! Mrs Bennet felt that was the height of incivility, especially when it was a single man of good fortune doing the letting!
"Oh no, she has found a little cottage in Hampshire and only wishes one our daughters to lend her company."
"Oh," replied Mrs Bennet much relieved. But then a thought struck her. She could hardly send Jane. Mrs Bennet had no reliance on men; Mr Bingley was as likely to forget all about Jane, as pine for her if she suddenly disappeared from his sight.
"Well the last time Clara was here, just after dear Frederick passed away, Lizzy seemed to - "
Mrs Bennet paused. She had seen the way Mr Collins had looked very torn between her two eldest and he had hardly paid any attention to the younger girls...
Perhaps Mary...then she remembered the unfortunate incident with an very young Mary ringing a homily over her Aunt Sutton. And while Mrs Bennet would like nothing more than to annoy her sister-in-law, it would in all probability end in Clara bringing Mary back to Longbourn in person, that is if Mary could be persuaded to go in the first place.
That left Kitty and Lydia. Clara had no objection to either, if Mrs Bennet remembered rightly, in fact both of them would have been far too young, to even remember their aunt.
"I mean, perhaps Kitty or Lydia would like to visit their aunt. Though I am sure I could not cope without my darling Lydia and it would be quite cruel to send her away while the regiment is encamped here. Indeed I know I cried for quite three days when Colonel Millar's regiment went away..."
"So Kitty it must be," replied Mr Bennet shortly, wanting very desperately to have his library back. He wondered at the wisdom of sending one of his younger daughters, for he doubted very much Clara would suffer a silly girl lightly. On the other hand she had changed much after her husband's death and those who often commented that she had only married her husband for convenience were effectively silenced at the very real way Clara had grieved.
"Yes, and Kitty will be able to tell her news this evening at Sister Phillip's party. I expect everyone will be quite jealous! When shall she go?"
"Well Clara writes that she would like her as soon as possible, which as far as Clara is concerned was yesterday..." Mr Bennet was growing bored by the conversation, he had been concerned he would be deprived of the company of his elder daughters but now this was not to the case, he didn't much care how the business was done.
"Well there is hardly likely to be many balls or parties, and Kitty only recently got that new muslin made up..."
"Mrs Bennet no muslin I beg you!"
"Well I was only - I expect Kitty could leave tomorrow if that suited you after all, I am sure you have not noticed but Hill has predicted that this fine weather will not hold.
"She would have to leave early, it would be a long day. And a letter would not reach Clara before her...though it sounds as though she is quite prepared for her to arrive at any time."
"Then it is settled. I shall go now and start organising."
With that Mrs Bennet started to bustle out of the room.
"Mrs Bennet, do not forget the errand I so carelessly interrupted."
"Oh yes, heavens! Mr Collins."
Mr Bennet was not quite sure what inner devil prompted him to remind his wife, but some days later he was to regret that Mr Collins had been hinted off his eldest daughter only to fix his hopes on his favourite.
But as it was his wife left him to his musings. He folded up his sister's letter and placed it with the rest of his correspondence. Mr Bennet was an infrequent and neglectful correspondent, however the re-emergence into his life of a regular correspondence with his sister had occurred some six weeks previously, via a letter requesting him to ensure Mr Bingley was a suitable tenant. This had sent Mr Bennet to Netherfield under the guise of appeasing his wife. He had not disclosed that his visit was anything more than a social call, having too much of lively sense of the ridiculous to want to reveal all his families secrets straight away and enough understanding to know that most young men would not take kindly to being inspected for suitability of character even after taking possession.
He had found in Mr Bingley an affable young man, but apart from that Mr Bennet felt he had discharged both the requirements of his wife and sister.
... I am very sorry, Mrs Forster, to have to cry off my engagement to you on Monday next, but I am obliged to visit my Aunt S. in Hampshire almost immediately, in fact immediately. Please apologise for me to the gentlemen and say all that is necessary, indeed say more than is necessary for I am very sorry to not be amongst you all....
It is not to be expected that a lively girl of seventeen, who until this point never pleased anyone but herself (though more often than not she was forced to please her youngest sister), would take kindly to being forced on a trip to an aunt she barely remembered right in the middle of the most exciting thing that had ever happened in her life - a regiment of soldiers.
Kitty Bennet had never seen so many attractive men. And how solicitous they all were, though Kitty was not such a simpleton to see that they were far more interested in her sister and Mrs Forster. Still, it was more than she had ever hoped for and to be dragged away, just at the moment she was sure Mr Bingley was going to hold the ball that Lydia had begged for, was more that she could bear.
It was too cruel; especially since she had reason to believe her Aunt Sutton was not likely to be as accommodating as her Aunt Phillips. She was far more likely to disapprove of Kitty being out and expect her to sew samplers.
To top the whole thing off she had not been allowed to attend her aunt's party in favour of packing. Packing! Mrs Bennet deciding at the last minute she could not do all the work herself, indeed this way Kitty would pack her trunks and Hill and Sarah would be free to attend her fluttering nerves, which had been exacerbated by Lizzy appearing to be quite impertinent to Mr Collins.
Kitty had however defied her mother and stayed up late, she particularly wanted to know from Lydia what Mr Wickham was like. Now he was a handsome man, and he would soon be in regimentals, which was the only thing he lacked.
"I cannot believe Lizzy," grumbled Lydia as she walked through the door to their shared bedroom, though Kitty often felt it was Lydia's bedroom and she was an interloper, the way Lydia carried on sometimes.
"You will not believe it but she spent most of the night talking to Mr Wickham! I could hardly speak to him! Though I did get to dance with him, for I overhead him telling her he had not had a dance in this age! "
Kitty sighed inwardly. Dancing. She had just known she was going to miss out on fun.
"And I heard that Mr Bingley is very fixed on the 26th for his Ball, though they were not there. I expect it was quite below Mr Darcy's touch. He is a very disagreeable man! I expect not even regimentals would solve his problems. La, I am so fagged!"
Kitty glared at her sister ineffectually as Lydia proceeded to blow out all the candles without so much as a by your leave.
Kitty wondered if it was worth disturbing her elder sisters to ask how the party had been, but she'd probably get nothing out of them. Mary wouldn't have noticed anything, Jane would have been thinking of Mr Bingley and Lizzy would have been avoiding Mr Collins and from the sounds of it making Mr Wickham fall violently in love with her.
After all it would not be surprising considering that Lizzy was very pretty and outspoken, a combination of two virtues that men seemed to like best of all, which was why men seemed to fall violently in love with Lizzy most out of all her sisters. Her mother would repudiate that notion and claim it was Jane's superior beauty or Lydia's playful nature that won the most hearts, but Kitty had a shrewd notion that many of Jane's and Lydia's admirers were just that admirers, not lovers... after all none of them had come up to scratch and proposed marriage! Well at least none she had heard of, and she doubted Jane could keep such a secret from Mama and Lydia would certainly crow about it.
Then again none had offered for Lizzy either, but that was probably because Lizzy took great care in making sure they were well aware she wouldn't appreciate a proposal. But for all Lizzy claimed she ensured that respectable but sadly ineligible men would not fall in love with her if she could help it, Kitty knew for certain she had broken some hearts. Sometimes Lizzy was so blind.
Nevertheless, Kitty had to take what Lizzy (and Jane) had said to her that afternoon about her Aunt Sutton to be the truth, after all the last time she had seen her aunt she has only been seven and Lizzy had seen her Aunt both then and in London several years after that event.
"Do you think I shall need to take all my ball gowns?"
"I rather doubt you'll need to take any," replied Lizzy.
"Oh I am sure my Aunt shan't keep Kitty cloistered away," responded Jane ever the optimist.
"Does not Aunt Sutton like parties?"
"No, I don't think she does Kitty, after all last time she was in London when Jane and I were visiting the Gardiner's she did not come once with us anywhere, or to any of the parties that the Gardiners went to which we didn't being far too young of course."
"Not like parties!" How anyone could not like parties was beyond the scope of understanding for Kitty.
"Well that was some years ago Lizzy, perhaps our aunt feels more comfortable in company now..."
"Well Aunt Brompton always complains in her letters about how much Aunt Sutton detested going out in company in Worthing."
Kitty's face fell. Not only was she going to an aunt she barely knew but she was also going to an unsociable one. One that probably had a hundred cats and didn't stir out of doors and kept the candles to a minimum.
Though on reflection Kitty remembered her aunt had only been at the house for three weeks, hardly enough time to cultivate that many cats, even if she was determined to do so.
"Why do neither of Papa's sisters visit very often? I mean we see Aunt Phillips all the time, although she lives in Meryton, but Aunt and Uncle Gardiner live in London and, well, Worthing is not much further comparatively..." This had always puzzled Kitty.
"I'm not sure, perhaps neither likes travelling?" suggested Jane as she folded up several of Kitty's work gowns.
"No that won't do Jane, after all we could easily visit them if they don't like travelling. I think it has more to do with the fact that both our father's sisters fell out with Mama," said Lizzy dryly.
"Lizzy, please. I'm sure it was nothing like that."
"Jane, I know you cannot bear to have anyone dislike anyone else and must see the good in everyone but here I am not making any judgement on who was right and who was wrong, after all they would have all known each other as girls and it is very easy to fall out with girls you have known all your life."
"Just like we have clearly fallen out with the Miss Lucas's, not to mention the Miss Longs, Gouldings and Harringtons," countered Jane with uncharacteristic irony.
"Well I don't care why Mama and my aunts fell out, if indeed they did, all I care about is the fact I don't see why I should have to go and stay with her at all," announced Kitty hotly.
"Kitty. Our aunt is probably very lonely..." chided Jane.
"After three weeks?" Kitty did not think even Lydia could be that lonely after only three weeks.
"Either way, I'm sure you will have a very good time."
With that Jane had gone in search of some paper to help wrap her sisters' finer gowns, not that they were that fine being the fourth of five daughters.
"Lizzy you can't believe that surely."
"Perhaps not, but I must say I'd prefer I was going to my aunts then having to stay here with Mr Collins."
"Oh yes, he is such a - " Kitty broke off unable to think of any word to properly describe Mr Collins that would not require Lizzy to scold her for being improper.
"Exactly," replied Lizzy. "He has been here not three days and already he makes his intentions clear?" Lizzy shook her head.
"Well I always thought it would be romantic to fall violently in love with someone on first sight..."
"But Mr Collins cannot even claim that, after all he liked Jane until Mama told him of Mr Bingley. "
"It will be very ironic if Jane becomes Mistress of Netherfield."
"I expect Mama will be extremely happy." This statement did not fully encompass the expected enjoyment of Mrs Bennet, if that happy event came to pass. After all, her eldest married very well and installed in the very house Clara used to crow at her about being mistress of, was no small thing. Though even Mrs Bennet would have had to have said that Clara never openly boasted of her position, but Mrs Bennet could see it in her eyes.
"Perhaps then Aunt Sutton will return to oust the Bingleys out of Netherfield."
"I doubt she will do that, she has no quarrel with Papa, or us!" replied Lizzy brightly.
Lizzy paused for a moment wonder if the superior sisters were at all aware that they were residing in her aunt's house. After all she very much doubted that Jane would have mentioned her father's family, from what Jane had said they were more interested in inquiring into her mother's family and probing the 'sordid' details of those connections. Not to mention that Mr Morris, her aunt's man of business, understood his employers reticence and lack of enjoyment of society and would hardly have mentioned her name unless entirely necessary and certainly would not have mentioned her connections.
And the Bingley sisters did not seem the type to promote relations with their servants. No, Lizzy supposed they did not know the Bennet girls had a childless aunt who was very respectable.
She knew for certain that despite the grandeur of having the owner of Netherfield as one's sister-in-law, her mother would rather have been thrown into the hedgerows than have it be said that she owed any of her daughter's admirers to the existence of Clara. Lizzy threw off such thoughts and returned to the task at hand.
"Well you are almost packed, I'm sorry that you cannot come to Aunt Phillips tonight, but I'm almost certain that you shall be glad of escaping Mr Collins."
That had certainly been true thought Kitty as she drifted off into sleep, but the pleasure of a Collins-free evening hardly outweighed the fact there had been dancing.
The morning was fine and, despite Hill's grim predictions, held fair as the Bennets and Mr Collins waved Kitty off.
"I shan't ask you to write of any beaux Kitty, for I doubt you shall have any!" laughed Lydia as she kissed her sister into the carriage.
Kitty tried not to frown at this pronouncement however true it might be, and simply waved as the carriage set off down the drive.
... Oh I wish you had been at the ball, it was so delightful, and I was so worried that Lizzy would dance every dance with Mr W., but it was not to be so for he was not there. And how cross L. looked at Mr D. for it, though I don't know why he should be to blame. Yet she danced with him and didn't seem to enjoy it though she had only just danced with Mr C. who went the wrong way and almost tripped Mrs R., and then Mr C. stood on my frock and tore it you know? I had to pin it up in on the balcony which was most disagreeable except who do you think I found out there? Denny and Sanderson, dear S. ...
Kitty had been at her aunt's a week when Lydia's letter arrived and she had not been expecting a letter from Lydia for months, however she should have known the ball at Netherfield would be too much of an event for Lydia not to boast to her sister about.
For the moment, Kitty, was sitting at the breakfast table, buttering her bread, while trying to decipher the rest of her sister's letter. She was lucky that her mother had written a short postscript, which was far more legible if not intelligible.
After finishing her breakfast, she supposed she would perhaps take a short stroll around the very confined garden adjoining the cottage, and do some gardening. Or indeed she might help her aunt with the running of the household which was not such a feat considering there was only her, her aunt and two female servants.
It was a far too sedate lifestyle. Kitty had known it would be. There was nothing to do but reading, darning, sewing and gardening (and it was far too cold to be doing much of that and after all there were only so many bulbs one could plant).
Though she supposed her aunt was not to blame for that, not knowing anyone else in the neighbourhood when she arrived. The only other people apart from those in the cottage, Kitty had seen in the first couple of days were at church.
That had been interesting, Kitty had never been 'an event' at church, and having always attended the small Parish Church at Longbourn she was surprised at the attention paid to her as a new comer in Upton Grey. She now doubted whether she had been right to point and crane her neck at anyone new that arrived around Longbourn. It was not the most pleasant feeling in the world to be stared and pointed at.
Though it had served the purpose. Apparently it had been her aunt's first appearance at church as well; it having rained incessantly the previous Sundays and Clara had been far too occupied with a possible hole in the roof to find a suitable method of conveyance.
Thus, that Monday had brought both Mrs Marshall of the Manor House and Mrs Elizabeth Sclater of Hoddington House to call.
Both women seemed pleasant enough, though for Kitty's taste they appeared too much like her aunt had at that time. Neither seemed likely to enter into her enthusiasm for men or gossip. (She was later to learn that it took several visits for it to be deemed proper to gossip!)
In fact both bemoaned the fact there were no suitable young ladies in the surrounding area, so that Kitty could go for longer walks.
"It is such a pity, for there were the Miss Becketts, but the eldest is lately married and her sister is making a long stay with her...And my own daughter, is paying a visit to her father's relations, it is such a pity!"
Kitty had wanted to laugh at this and say she was well able to walk by herself but the disapproving eye of her aunt silenced her.
"Well, I'm sure Mary can be spared on occasion," Clara responded.
"It's just such a pity!" This seemed to be Mrs Marshall's favourite saying. "Though I shall ask Raddington to send one of the boys down with our newspaper, once we have finished with it, because I do hate to think of you both down here with nothing to do!"
"I do have quite a good little library, that I brought with me from Worthing and Kitty is quite an appalling hand at darning so I dare say some practice will be worthwhile."
Kitty hadn't quite known how to respond to that considering her aunt had arched an eyebrow at her. "Well with four sisters I can assure you it was very easy to avoid something I dislike doing and is so tedious! Which you must own darning is, I can never keep my attention on it, so it turns out all wrong. I much prefer working on a new gown or better still a hat."
Mrs Sclater had made a face, and attached herself to a thread of the conversation she felt strongly about, "Darning! I cannot imagine why no one has invented a better way of doing it!"
Kitty had laughed at that and surprisingly no one had glared at her.
After that the conversation had descended into the various ins and outs of domestic work and how tiresome it all was, and how much they had to thank the servants for.
Once both ladies had left, with Mrs Marshall promising to send the carriage around the next day so they could spend the day at the Manor House, Kitty noticed that her aunt appeared quite less stiff than she had been.
Her aunt had welcomed her arrival incredibly coolly; there was none of the cap fluttering "Well what have we here? Let me tell you the news," of Aunt Phillips nor was there any of the hand holding, smiling and quiet dignity of her Aunt Gardiner.
All there had been was an "Ah, Catherine I presume."
In fact Clara had been surprised that her brother would send one of his younger daughters, but the reasons behind that became obvious when Kitty had babbled on after dinner about Mr Collins and Mr Bingley along with all the other gossip Kitty knew. By the end of the evening Clara was wondering if there were any two thoughts of sense put together in her nieces head, but now she realised it had been the product of nerves and the fact it was painfully obvious Kitty did not have the favour of either parent. Something Clara understood all too well, while her parents had both died while she was very young, Elizabeth and Thomas had been far closer to each other than they had been to her.
However the damage was done as some rather cutting remarks about the state of Kitty's education and her being out far too young, had made Kitty retreat into a sort of formal politeness that while was completely foreign to Kitty made her aunt not lose hope in her.
Once however they began to receive and make visits, Clara hoped they had a better understanding of one another.
This was quite true; Kitty was able to better understand her aunt and even like her more than she expected she would. Her aunt was however obviously used to order and Kitty had never lived in an ordered household before. Her mother and order were not two concepts that went together well. Indeed she doubted that the word order and her family had ever been in the same sentence before. Neither had she been in a household were propriety had been considered paramount. Though she was beginning to learn that perhaps her aunt's ideas of propriety weren't quite at the level of say Fordyce, as Clara hadn't been able to contain her laughter after reading a very interesting crim. com. in a copy of The Times and had seen no problem in showing it to her niece. It was slightly at odds with the way her aunt was unmovable regarding the subject of any young female walking alone. Kitty wondered how Lizzy would have coped though because one thing Clara did not think was at all right was rambling about on one's own.
In fact the more Kitty thought about it the whole thing had seemed extremely odd after all Clara's cottage was full of interesting artefacts from her jaunts around Europe so she could not have always been so mindful of either order or propriety.
One night she had posed this conundrum to her aunt.
"It is entirely stupid I'm sure, but after Frederick died, I felt much more comfortable with calmness, though I have always preferred order. It's just sometimes - especially while travelling my dear because some people just have no concept of the fact that well it might not be the most enjoyable thing in the world to be cramped up in one room because they quite forgot you were coming! - order is entirely difficult to achieve. As for proprietary I am sad to say there is one rule for married ladies and one rule for unmarried ladies. My advice would be to get married."
"Is that why you married?"
"Partly. Though I certainly would not have married a man I did not like or could not respect - "
"Mama is quite angry that Lizzy should have refused Mr Collins, but he is the most odious man and I don't blame her in the slightest."
"Mr Collins proposed to Elizabeth?" Clara looked astonished.
"Oh I am sorry, Mama wrote to me today, I meant to tell you of it, but I quite forgot, after becoming so engrossed in Coelebs in Search of a Wife."
At this Clara started. "You were engrossed in...."
"Yes it's quite fascinating all the gardening and housewifely chores..."
"And the hero, that is the type of man that...? " Clara could not finish her sentence; she had been starting to appreciate her niece, but the idea that anyone could like such a character! Respect maybe...but like?
Kitty blinked. "Oh gracious no. " Then shuddered. "No! Far too dull!"
"I was about to say, I thought perhaps Fanny had sent me the wrong daughter! Though Miss More does have quite a point I have always thought about female education.... Now tell me about your sister? Mr Collins proposed?"
"Yes and Mama is quite beside herself, she is sure that at any moment Papa is about to ...... no longer be with us and that we shall be all cast out in the hedgerows..."
"What a piece of nonsense. What does your mother expect me to do while this happens? Sit idly by? Well perhaps I would if it was just your mother, though I should not speak ill of her in front of you."
"Perhaps not. But Mama seems to be disregarding not only yourself, but Mr Gardiner, Mr Phillips and Mr Brompton."
"Yes I dare say between the four of us, if the worst did befall Thomas that we should at least be able to find slightly better accommodation for you all than The Hedgerows. Perhaps a ditch. Yes I daresay that would be better."
Stifling a snort, Kitty gave over her mother's letter. Clara deciphered most of it with ease having almost a lifetime of knowledge of Mrs Bennet.
"Well it seems a piece of foolishness to suppose Elizabeth will be in the least persuaded to marry a man does not like, and indeed he seems to have nothing to recommend him except he will inherit Longbourn."
"You forget Lady Catherine de Bourgh."
"Oh yes his noble patroness. Now where do I know that name? Be a dear and hand me Debretts."
Kitty did as she was told and watched her aunt flick through it. "Of course. Oh, I forgot that...did you know Mr Darcy is related to Lady Catherine?"
"I think Lydia, when she wrote about the Ball, said Mr Collins introduced himself to Mr Darcy to tell him that his aunt was well."
"Hmm and what do you think of Mr Darcy? I do not remember him featuring in any of your tales about Longbourn, and considering his father was a well looking man, I am surprised. Though I confess I don't know him at all, but I do know his aunt - not Lady Catherine, but the Countess of Matlock. Lady Harriet Chevely as was. "
"I don't think he spoke to me at all. So I doubt I am the best person to ask. But he is not at all liked I gather! He did offend Lizzy that I know."
"Oh yes I have just got to the part of your mother's letter where she calls him 'the most horrid, the most displeasing, disobliging man in all of the England'. Well even taking into account your mothers flights of fancy it does not sound as though he is an agreeable man, what a pity. And to think he is staying in my house!"
"I'd be more concerned about Mr Bingley's sisters, in regards to your house!"
"Hmm well I can only hope it will be all in one piece, if I remember rightly some of the furniture in parlour I was most attached to. But never mind. Now if you can take your mind off Coelebs and take a look at this magazine Mrs Marshall sent over."
The next half an hour was spent with their heads bent over the latest edition of Lady's Monthly Museum, with only Clara's exclamation of how stupid it seemed to her to have dresses that incorporated Roman, Chinese, Turkish and French influences, one would probably look like a walking version of that awful monstrosity the Prince seemed determined to build at Brighton.
Kitty had never before realised how important letters were, and how important it was to be a good letter writer. After all before this visit she had never been away from those who she would want to receive letters from, and if need be she was always somewhere were someone else could write and decipher letters for her.
She was finding it particularly difficult to compose letters to Longbourn.
I woke up. Had some breakfast, walked around the garden, oh and yesterday Aunt and I walked all the way to Hoddington House and back, then I did some sewing and then I did some reading, both the newspaper and a novel. For what I did for the rest of the past week please reorder the previous paragraph. Oh no, I tell a lie we spent the day with Mrs Marshall, where I walked around the garden and talked about a whole lot of people wholly unconnected to me or to you.
It was not the most scintillating of letters; it was also short and hardly worth sending only for it to cost her father sixpence. So Kitty found it far easier to write her letter at the bottom of her aunt's letter to her mother. It did mean she communicated far less directly with Lydia then it might have been supposed she would.
She did not doubt that if it had been Lydia in her shoes that she would have had no trouble in crossing the whole page very closely. Lydia was that type of girl.
Kitty enjoyed far more the letters that arrived from Longbourn, chiefly from her mother, but occasionally from Jane. It was always highly interesting to see the different perspectives on events that each author would give. Her mother had been highly incensed at Lizzy for refusing Mr Collins and now it seemed definite that Lizzy would never be spoken to again now that he had proposed to Charlotte Lucas and had been accepted. Kitty did not envy her a jot. Especially now that she had read some Fordyce! Though Kitty had very soon abandoned that for The Peloponnesian War, though that was after accidentally perusing part of the third book of Ars Amatoria it being the first thing she laid her hands on and being utterly amazed that Mrs Marshall would even have such a thing in her house... either way the fact Kitty was willing to read Thucydides said something about Fordyce!
Jane's more measured letter had balanced her mother's hysterical ranting over Mr Collins and Hedgerows , however the removal of the Bingleys and Mr Darcy was a subject that while Jane's language did not match her mothers the sentiment was the same. Kitty was very sorry for her eldest sisters disappointment, which seemed now inevitable since the arrival of Miss Bingley's latest letter. From her mothers letter, Kitty gathered that both Lizzy and her had urged Jane to go to town with the Gardiners after Christmas, but Miss Bingley's letter had stated that how busy Mr Bingley was and how likely it was he was to be visiting Yorkshire with his dear friend in the very foreseeable future. This had undermined the reason for Jane's proposed visit, the purpose of which Mrs Bennet was happy to be explicit about - She must go and see Mr Bingley in Town Kitty it's the only thing to be done! Lizzy's reasons were no doubt similar though she probably had expressed them more subtly. But where Jane felt herself to be right, she was firm. She felt there would be nothing to gain by removing another daughter from the household, especially when she would go to London with Lizzy, who was to visit Charlotte Lucas after her marriage.
All in all Jane seemed to think she had been mistaken in Mr Bingley's affections, and Mrs Bennet just unleashed her vehemence at ungrateful daughters (Kitty assumed she was only talking about Lizzy here, no one could call Jane ungrateful), ungrateful young men and the dangers of hedgerows. Kitty felt that it was entirely likely that Mr Bingley's sisters had been involved somehow in separating the two. Kitty had felt their disapproval when visiting Netherfield while Jane had been ill.
This became even more likely to be the case when a letter came from Mr Morris for Clara, which made no mention of Mr Bingley's wishing to quit Netherfield, but that Mr Bingley had written to say what a lovely house it was and how beautifully it had been situated.
That was chiefly how the rest of November and December passed away for Kitty. Though the intimacy with Mrs Marshall brought Miss Marshall's horse, as Mrs Marshall assumed all country girls could ride. Luckily Juno was incapable of going much beyond a trot, so Kitty did not feel like she was risking her life by breaking her routine by occasionally riding around the district.
Kitty had never in her life thought she could like such an existence, but she did own it was peaceful and to be the focus of someone's attention was a rather unique situation. She did of course miss her family, and when she did hear of Lydia, mainly through her mother's letters she did sometimes wish very much she was at home with the soldiers! Regimentals! There were no suitable young men around Upton Grey. Though both her and her aunt thought one of the boys from the Manor House was rather handsome and were occasionally tried to play matchmaker between him and one of their maids.
Clara was also surprised that she enjoyed having her niece for company. She had spent so many years convincing herself she wished to be a recluse that it was a surprise that the moment she did send herself off into the country that she because lonely and bored. Then it was even more of surprise that she started actively contemplating what she could do for her nieces, not only Kitty. After all if Fanny was so desperate as to be courting Mr Collins for one of her daughters! Not to mention flinging her eldest so hard at her tenants head that he ran to London for cover!
Though Clara was undecided at exactly what she was going to do for her nieces, well her brother's daughters at least. Elizabeth's daughters had proved far too recalcitrant for her tastes. She had only given Alice a hint that Mr Brown may have been paying attention to several young women and then she had only told Mr Brown she was keeping an eye on him, and what did her silly niece do? But run to her mother. Clara had every faith in the fact that none of the Bennet girls would ever run to their mother.
Clara started to have more of an idea of how she could help her nieces when over Christmas dinner, to which Mrs Marshall had kindly invited both Clara and Kitty, (after all Christmas is no time to be alone), at the Manor House, Mrs Marshall announced that she was receiving two guests in several days time - an old school friend of hers and her niece.
Clara's eyes lit up when Mrs Marshall announced it was Lady Matlock and Miss Darcy.
My dear Mrs Marshall, I do hope I am not foisting myself upon you in accepting your invitation, but I find myself quite put out! My husband is of course holding a house party at Matlock, and my niece and I find that we are quite in the way! For of course we can neither hunt nor shoot! Edwin is quite counting the days until he can shut the doors on us, I daresay! Thus I happily accept your invitation to stay at the Manor House, I bring my niece Georgiana Darcy, as my daughter Annabelle is visiting with her grandmother...
"Harriet always had a way with words," remarked Clara as she handed the letter back to Mrs Marshall.
"Yes and of course you know why her daughter is visiting with her grandmother!" Mrs Marshall leaned forward and looked conspiratorial.
Clara shot a side glance at Kitty, wondering how she would react to this proffering of what was far more interesting gossip, than had previously come her way while sojourning in Hampshire. She was pleased to note that Kitty did not look disinterested, but neither did she look eager.
"Well I imagine she must often visit her grandmother..."
"No!" exclaimed Mrs Marshall forcefully, "Well obviously yes she does visit her grandmother, but she is visiting quite close to Carlon... The Earl of Upton's seat. He has been courting her you know and is such a close friend of her brother, Lord Ashbourne. "
"Ah," replied Clara, not quite at all sure what else she was supposed to say to such a confidence. "Well I hope that Harriet and Miss Darcy are charming companions for you while Mr Marshall is away."
"Yes, it is very vexing that he should have to go away on business!"
Kitty was relieved that her aunt had managed to sway the other woman's mind from her impending visit. Mrs Marshall had talked of nothing else all day when they were to arrive in the morning, what they most likely would be bringing and then most of all who they were connected to, she had brought out Debretts peerage and had taken great delight in pointing out all the pages.
Kitty was sick of it. Mrs Marshall was beginning to sound like a female version of Mr Collins, what little Kitty had seen of him. She wondered if Miss Darcy would be anything like her brother, she hoped not, but with all the preparations that Mrs Marshall felt necessary for their arrival and they were only staying less than a fortnight, Kitty did not hold out much hope!
The next day Clara and Kitty spent a quiet day in the cottage. It was far too cold to take a walk, so Kitty tried her hand at some darning. Of course it turned out hideous and lumpy, but she was at least able now to make the hole insignificant, though the first time she had darned anything, it was a bag and she had unfortunately sewn the sides of the bag together.
Her aunt kept looking out the window.
"They must only have arrived, aunt, you can hardly expect ..."
"Expect! Expect what pray? I have nothing to expect." Clara cut her niece off effectively before muttering under her breath. "I should be considered a far better friend to Harriet!!"
"How do you know Lady Matlock?"
"Oh well, I did have a season in town before I was married and one after, that was before Frederick and I went on our European adventure. Though I did know her before she became Lady Matlock, Mama had some mutual acquaintances, but I was far too young to really have known her then. Seven years when you are ten is such a gap! Oh yes anyway, when I was brought out Lady Matlock was quite the dashing young matron, having already done her duty and presented an heir and a spare!"
Clara broke off and smiled lost in recollections of her youth. "Anyway we used to write to each other but somehow lost touch, I expect it was quite my fault, I moved from Bath to Norfolk but I found it not to my taste and went to Worthing. Either I was careless about the forwarding address, or the Royal Mail is to blame. "
"Well on one of Jane's letters she wrote the direction very ill, and it was misdirected at first, so perhaps the Royal Mail is not infallible."
"Have you heard from Jane anymore on her disappointment?"
"No. But I am most sorry for her. Especially since Lydia seem to have no qualms in flaunting her conquests!"
"Does your sister make conquests?" After all Lydia was only fifteen, it was entirely possible that these men, Clara hesitated to call them gentlemen, were only joking with Lydia, though it was also entirely possible that they weren't.
"Oh yes. She flirts a great deal. And she is at the moment rejoicing in almost luring Mr Wickham away from Lizzy. She is convinced it is only a matter of time."
Indeed with Kitty absent, Lizzy appeared to have been the sister chosen by Lydia to fill her place. Lizzy was certainly not biddable like Kitty, but it seemed that Lizzy was happy to accede, to some extent, to Lydia's requests for her company and thus was thrown much into the company of the officers and Mr Wickham
Clara raised her eyebrows. "Is Mr Wickham paying Elizabeth attentions?"
"Yes from what Mama and Jane have written yes. Mama is very happy, although she is upset that Mr Wickham does not have his rightful wealth."
Clara dropped the curtain she had been unconsciously pulling back and turned around to look at Kitty.
"His rightful wealth?"
"Apparently Mr Darcy, whose father was Mr Wickham's godfather as Mr Wickham senior was his steward, did not give him his rightful inheritance from old Mr Darcy's will."
"Really? And how does your mother know this?"
Kitty paused. "I think that Mr Wickham has been telling people. It sounds very odd that he should abuse Mr Darcy to everybody, but I suppose it is safe to do so now that everyone has left Netherfield. And that everybody already dislikes Mr Darcy."
Kitty opened the desk that was designated for her use and retrieved the letters she had received while she had been away, and handed the most recent letters to her Aunt.
"It seems rather fortuitous for Mr Wickham that it is so," remarked the elder woman as Kitty pointed out the appropriate passages.
"Aunt, if he has been truly wronged should he not seek some sort of ...revenge?"
"Legal recourse would have been my first option, not gossiping like a fishwife... across what appears to be the greater part of Hertfordshire."
Kitty had never thought of it from that perspective, she had not thought it odd that Mr Wickham waited until Mr Darcy left the county to talk about his affairs; she now wondered that he spoke of them at all.
"Ah I see, your mother writes that the bequest was of such a vague legal nature that Mr Darcy could choose not to honour it. Seems very shabby behaviour of him, if it is true." Clara continued by muttering something about shabby lawyers. Indeed if they had been her lawyers she would have had them dismissed immediately.
"Well my dear, you can hardly believe one man simply because he appears all charm, and disbelieve another just because he seems disagreeable. That is foolish. Appearances can be deceiving."
Kitty collected the letters and put them back in the desk, locking it firmly. "Lizzy believes him and she prides herself on being a good judge of character. But only having met him once, I cannot judge. I did not even see him in regimentals."
"Red doesn't suit every man Kitty!" laughed her aunt. "I never did like a man in uniform."
Kitty looked aghast. "Not like a man in uniform!"
"I don't know what it is, but ...well they are obliged to do things you see, I'm sure I could not cope being left behind while they went off on some adventure."
"But you could go with them!"
"And follow the drum? Or be cooped up in some tiny cabin on a ship, where women are considered bad luck?! No, thank you."
"But to be with the man you love!" Kitty sighed in what she considered to be a romantic fashion.
"While he gets shot at...yes very romantic," responded Clara dryly.
"You can't pretend not to be romantic aunt, you enjoyed Cowper, Blake and Sir Walter Scott, as much as I did! And I will not even dare to remind you how you trembled over The Romance of the Forest."
"I was shuddering."
Lady Matlock visited the very next day, which highly gratified Clara though of course she would have never admitted it. Kitty did know what to expect of a countess. She had never seen one before; the closest she had come was Lady Lucas!
She supposed from novels, newspapers and her mother's chattering that a countess must always be a tall thin woman with a distinguished nose and had to look down it quite a bit. Kitty was thus surprised when Mary introduced her ladyship with a nervous bob and a 'Lady Matlock to see you ma'am', and a medium sized (in both height and girth) woman with a perfectly normal nose walked in.
"My dear Clara! I quite thought you had disappeared off the face of the Earth or taken off for New South Wales! I cannot tell you how delighted I was to find you less than a mile from the Manor House!"
"Harriet you haven't changed a jot!" Clara clasped Lady Matlock's hands and found herself kissed on both cheeks.
"So I was always this old?"
Clara laughed. "Of course. Now stop jesting, you will give my niece a very odd impression of us both! Lady Matlock may I present my niece, my brother's daughter, Catherine Bennet."
Kitty curtseyed quickly. "It's a pleasure to meet you, your ladyship."
"Well I dare say you'd much rather meet my niece, as she is your age, or a little younger! Thank you Clara."
Lady Matlock took the proffered cup of tea and sat down on the chaise. "Now what are you doing in a cottage in Hampshire."
"I decided I needed a change of scene and society."
"I would have thought you would have preferred a house in London, you did have that nice house in Cavendish Square, or on Mr Sutton's estate in the country.... I always forget whether it was in Herefordshire or Hertfordshire? Why anyone would be stupid enough to only allow one letter to differentiate two counties I will never know!"
"Hertfordshire, Netherfield Park."
Lady Matlock smiled and then frowned. "Where have I heard that name recently?"
Kitty spoke up, "I believe your nephew, Mr Darcy, has been staying at Netherfield with my Aunt's new tenant, Mr Bingley."
"Of course that's where I have heard the name! I cannot believe I forgot its connection! I left both Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy at Matlock Close. I found it surprising that if Mr Bingley had his own estate now that he should choose to shoot with us!"
"Perhaps he finds the sport superior," commented Kitty. This earned a laugh from the countess.
"And you know about hunting?"
Kitty blushed slightly. "No - "
Lady Matlock laughed. "Well you sound as if you do, which is better than I can say. Edwin once found me with one of his guns looking straight down the barrel!"
Clara laughed at the image this presented.
"To answer your question about why I chose to stay here rather than either at Netherfield or in London was because I thought I needed a repairing lease."
"And you find it isn't quite what you expected?" Harriet picked out a slice of cake that Kitty had just finished cutting.
"Not at all. I find that I do miss society far more now than I ever did with my sister in Worthing."
"Well I shan't contradict you! Though I know many who feel obliged to say how much they detest society, and many of them keep turning up year after year for the season!"
"Though where does it say that the season in London and society, are the same thing?" added Kitty.
"Very true Miss Bennet, I for one certainly don't ascribe to the view that it is at all a bad thing, though of course some elements could be done without."
"Such as..." smiled Clara.
"Well that awful parade of young girls making their debut, every season for one. Though I suppose it is not their fault but their mothers. They seem to take every chance to thrust their daughters into the first available man's arms, without thought as to whether the match will prosper on a personal level as well as a financial one."
"I agree, surely it would be far better to allow them time to enjoy themselves!"
"I expect you shall be making your come-out soon Miss Bennet?"
"Oh no I've been out for years, though I have never been to London."
Harriet's forehead creased, "Oh you are the eldest..."
"Oh no I have four sisters, three elder and one younger. All unmarried."
"Oh your mother doesn't hold with denying her younger daughters their share of society just because the eldest have no inclination or opportunity of marrying, that is very wise."
"You would not think so if you met my sister-in-law. I suspect if my brother could stand London, she would be one of your matchmaking mamas," interjected Clara.
Harriet's eyebrows arched as she looked towards Kitty to see her reaction.
Kitty placed her teacup back on its saucer. "Yes my mother's chief aim is to hurry us all to the altar, but well you cannot blame her considering my father's land is entailed, and I have no brothers."
"Really.... I would have thought..." There was a pointed look in Clara's direction that was missed by Kitty.
"What can I say I'm capricious!" replied Clara lightly before turning the conversation back towards Miss Darcy.
"What sort of girl is she? I have heard a good deal of her brother from my spies in Hertfordshire."
"Georgiana is quite shy, and quite idealises her brother, which made it quite difficult to persuade her to leave Derbyshire while he was still in it."
Kitty contemplated feeling as much sisterly duty to her sisters as Miss Darcy appeared to feel for her brother. It was quite impossible. Though she was sure it was partially her fault considering that she had made no attempt to understand her elder sisters, and well Lydia...Lydia was at a stage (at least one hoped it was a stage) where it was almost impossible to feel sisterly towards her.
"Perhaps she has a penchant for hunting?"
"If she does, Clara, then it is well hidden, but I was able to assure her that unfortunately it was quite possible her brother would not even realise she was absent. Indeed he has been particularly grave and thoughtful this Christmas!"
"So is Miss Darcy at the Manor?" asked Kitty.
"Yes she is Miss Bennet. I thought it best to leave her there today as she is quite worn out from our trip!"
"I do hope that I may meet her soon."
"Well, that was partly the reason for my visit, Mrs Marshall asked me to issue an invitation for tomorrow, you are both to come and spend the day with us, so that I may interrogate your aunt and you may find yourself with a far more interesting companion."
Kitty was slightly intrigued by what she might find in Miss Darcy, considering her aunt was not at all what she expected.
...Mr Collins will arrive soon, but as he will stay at Lucas Lodge until the wedding, it is of little direct effect to us, except to wish Charlotte and him well. Unfortunately, poor mama's nervous spasms are brought on by the mere mention of his name, which makes it difficult to discuss the wedding. As a consequence dear Lizzy I know cannot wait to leave for London. I fear my decision not to leave for London with my aunt and uncle after Christmas has heightened both her and my dear mother's worry and I feel very sorry that I should be the cause of such feelings. Although we shall be travelling to town for the first week of March, whence Lizzy shall go to Hunsford for a month to visit with Mr and Mrs C., and I shall stay at Gracechurch St. I hope that you are enjoying your stay with our Aunt S. ....
Kitty folded up Jane's letter and popped it into the drawer and locked it. She was becoming a far more proficient correspondent than she ever thought she would not so many weeks ago, and the addition of Lady Matlock and her niece to their small circle was sure to make writing to Longbourn far easier. Lizzy she was sure would want an in-depth comparison of Miss Darcy and Mr Darcy.
Not that Kitty had met Miss Darcy yet; she was just awaiting her aunt to find her reticule before they took the gig that Mrs Marshall had thoughtfully sent around.
When that item had been found, Clara promptly turned her nose up at the gig, and Kitty found herself in the unusual position of chiding her aunt by telling her there was nothing wrong with a gig, and it was far better than walking in mud.
However she soon discovered it was not the conveyance that Clara did not like, it was the fact they were all to be squashed up next to the boy sent down from the Manor house while he drove the gig.
"James, I think I am quite capable of driving the gig, Mary will have some breakfast for you, if you do not mind walking back to the Manor."
"Yes Ma'am." James tipped his hat, not daring to question a lady of unquestionable Quality even if she was reduced to living in a cottage. Though he would bet Carlton House to a Charley's shelter that Mrs Sutton did not know how to manage a horse and he was glad he hadn't brought the phaeton.
Kitty, marginally alarmed, tried to climb down from the gig.
"I think I may walk..."
"Oh do not be so silly! I have driven before!"
Kitty was reassured, but several moments later wished she had not been. She clutched the side of the gig, as her aunt seemed to find every bump and groove in the track.
"Frederick considered me quite a nonpareil," remarked Clara as the gig lurched dangerously to the left and Kitty almost slid out of the seat. "He did say it was a pity that there was no club for me to showcase my talents."
Kitty's eyes widened as she saw her aunt was about to manoeuvre the vehicle onto a very narrow path. "I think I would have liked to know my uncle, ma'am, I collect he had a sense of humour."
Clara laughed. "I always thought it was a pity that the Four-in-hand club only really started after he died. I should have liked to see him dressed up to the nines and parading out to Salt Hill! For of course I would not have been allowed so I would have had to live vicariously through him."
They did arrive at the Manor in one piece, something Kitty found quite miraculous. At one point her aunt had offered to teach her to drive, something Kitty had no hesitation in refusing.
Mrs Marshall was almost obsequious in her attentions as she introduced her guests to her other guests. She had been grievously upset that Clara had not exaggerated her relationship with Lady Matlock, but was overjoyed to find that the honour of introducing them to Miss Darcy of Pemberley was still hers.
Kitty found in Miss Darcy the complete opposite of her brother, at least in looks. Miss Darcy was blonde and gave the impression of being petite despite being a fairly tall girl, whereas Kitty's recollection of Mr Darcy had been of a tall, imposing, dark man, yet they must be relations since they seemed to share a habit of not speaking very much. Something Kitty found draining when the elder women consciously left them alone to talk on one side of the room. After several abortive starts at conversation about the weather and her trip, Kitty hit upon the idea to ask about their surroundings.
"So I am sure it is too soon to ask you how you like Hampshire? And I expect that I would not fully appreciate your answer, considering that I have only been here two months!"
Even to Kitty's own ears did she sound far too formal, she was not used to being so formal with someone her own age. However, something about Miss Darcy inspired it. Kitty hoped it would not last.
Miss Darcy answered in a quiet voice, "Yes I have had not time to - My aunt says you are from Hertfordshire?"
"Yes Longbourn, near Meryton. In fact I believe I know your brother. His friend Mr Bingley -"
Miss Darcy broke in with an exclamation and then blushed. "I am sorry please continue..."
"No, please, what were you going to say?"
"Just that my brother wrote to me of the Misses Bennet of Longbourn, I did not realise - "
"Well it is a common name. Should I ask you what your brother wrote of us?"
As expected Miss Darcy coloured up. Privately Kitty thought she knew exactly what Mr Darcy would have written, and thought perhaps she shouldn't have teased Miss Darcy about it.
"No, it was infamous of me to have asked. I'm sure I would not want to know what your brother wrote! I collect he does not like the country much."
"No!" Miss Darcy looked surprised. "My brother loves the country. In fact, I came here with my aunt and thence will go to London, because I did not want Fitzwilliam to have to leave to take me."
"Of course men do seem to love their sport. Except my own father who loves nothing more than a book." Kitty paused. "Fitzwilliam?"
"My brother's Christian name. It was my mother's surname."
"Which probably makes it very confusing when her family are around."
"Oh yes. Of course it is only confusing when my cousin Richard is around. He is a Colonel in the army and -"
Miss Darcy paused as though she was wondering whether she should continue.
"I assume he is called Colonel Fitzwilliam?"
"Oh yes. So of course it becomes confusing." Miss Darcy subsided into silence.
Kitty was at a bit of a loss as to how to proceed. It was clear Miss Darcy liked to talk of her brother and though Kitty had no reason to think well of him thus no reason to wish to hear of him, she could hardly sit in silence.
"Well I hope that it does not rain too much for them in Derbyshire."
"Yes, I know my brother would dislike the party to break up."
"Is the party very large? My father does not hold shooting parties and Netherfield has been vacant for so long....and no one else in the area has shooting parties either."
"Well my cousins and uncle are there along with Fitzwilliam and Mr Bingley, and Aunt Matlock's nephews - Lord Holling and his brothers of course, along with some others I do not know so well..."
"Sounds like quite a party." Kitty was secretly envious and wondered at Miss Darcy for leaving. To have so many gentlemen around!
"Yes though Ash - I mean Lord Ashbourne, my cousin, came up to Matlock from Leicestershire to only spend a week or so, before returning there."
"He hunts with the Quorn and elsewhere in ...." Miss Darcy trailed off.
"Quite a fashionable sportsman..."
"Yes. Excuse me." With that Miss Darcy rose and crossed to the other side of the room.
Kitty stared at her and felt quite silly sitting all on her own until Lady Matlock noticing her niece's hurried movement, came to take her place.
"Ah Miss Bennet, I hope you will forgive my niece, she is incredibly shy! I declare she was not as shy - something must have occurred - but no matter. Her mother died when she was very young and her father only five years ago, and Darcy cosets her so. I told him he would have been far better off sending her to me! Though if he had done that I daresay Lady Catherine would have insisted she was better able to take care of Georgie which would have caused such a fight...oh how I ramble on!"
Kitty smiled. "No, I think I agree with you, one thing I do miss is the excitement that being one of five sisters creates. Of course I was entirely overlooked then! It's surprising what one misses."
Lady Matlock returned Kitty's smile. "Yes though, I certainly would not miss being one of so many girls! Or so many men come to think of it, the very reason I decided to accept Mrs Marshall's invitation!"
"Miss Darcy told me that Lord Matlock was holding quite a party." Kitty tried to keep the wistfulness out of her voice, but Lady Matlock noticed it.
"Finding that your sisters are not the only think you miss?"
"Yes and no. I am not at all missing my sisters receiving far more attentions than I ever do!"
"I am surprised to hear that. Though I do collect that the Misses Bennet...or should I say one Miss Bennet caused quite a reaction in my nephew." Lady Matlock paused. "Of course I would be in great trouble with him if he knew Georgie had spilled his secret."
Kitty's eyes widened. "I had thought that Mr Darcy - I did not realise?" Kitty's mind was working through her sisters, who on earth would Mr Darcy...but then his aunt did not say he 'liked' a Miss Bennet, just that she caused quite a reaction.
"Has my nephew been making himself odious?"
"Yes. Oh no, I mean, I was not often in his company - " Kitty paused. "I mean I of course cannot judge, but perhaps he is just shy like his sister?"
"Oh fadge. My nephew is 28 years old! He should be able to conquer shyness! I did suspect perhaps things had not prospered considering he was moping about Matlock. And so was his friend."
Kitty turned to look at Lady Matlock intently. She wondered how she could press the countess on the issue of Mr Bingley.
But Kitty was stopped in this endeavour by Mrs Marshall having found some old embroidery from her schools days and wished Lady Matlock to see how very fine hers at been when they had been at school and how appalling her own had been.
Kitty was loath to just blurt out her questions about Mr Bingley to Lady Matlock when they next met nor was she capable of asking subtly. She had no experience in such things because had she been at home she would have just hinted to the question to Lydia and Lydia never had any compunction in asking anyone anything.
Instead Kitty tried to put the subject aside, after all Jane seemed to have tolerably gotten over his disappointment. Though Kitty could not be sure because Jane and she had never been close and she could not read Jane as well as she could read Lydia. To ask Jane directly seemed unlikely to gain a proper answer and to ask Lizzy, who would know best, might be considered by her elder sister as impertinence and Lizzy could never be relied upon to give a serious answer when she felt someone was being impertinent.
So Kitty was left to hope the conversation would turn that way again.
Miss Darcy, appeared much less shy the next time the two girls met, but it was obvious to Kitty that Mrs Marshall's rather overbearing nature was quite frightening to Miss Darcy, so took every chance to ask Miss Darcy to go for a walk or invite her to visit at the cottage.
It was hard work coaxing Miss Darcy out of her shyness but Kitty managed on several occasions and slowly it became more of the norm than the extraordinary.
She had at first envied Miss Darcy for her position and her male relations. After all Kitty had no men in her family beyond her father and uncles, so she had always felt slightly awkward around them, until she had discovered flirting, a talent soon overtaken by Lydia. Though, Kitty thought, Miss Darcy was proof that position and male relations did not make one confident, in fact despite Miss Darcy's numerous male relations Kitty felt confident that Miss Darcy would regard some of Kitty and her sister's interactions with the male sex highly shocking. (Indeed they had made a habit of calling upon men when they were highly unlikely to be dressed!)
Kitty soon found in Miss Darcy a sensible companion but not above the ridiculous. It soon ended as many friendships made under such a short and intimate acquaintance, with first names being used and more intimate subjects being covered, than the weather and the state of the roads.
Lady Matlock, after sensing that Kitty was missing a more convivial party than what was available in Hampshire tried to enliven the party by introducing card games more exciting than whist and other such activities. She took an opportunity to whisper to Kitty that she was sorry she could not do more but Lady Matlock felt the only other thing she could do was talk about people that Kitty could have no interest in beyond wishing she could meet them.
So Lady Matlock kept her musings and gossip for Clara, who on the most part knew of who she spoke, or had known some part of their family.
Thus it was from Clara that Kitty found out more about Mr Bingley and his moping.
"Kitty has Lady Matlock mentioned Mr Bingley to you?"
"Yes, she said he was moping about Matlock along with Mr Darcy."
"She told me the same thing. I find it very strange that if he is moping because of Jane that he would stay in Derbyshire..."
"Perhaps he does not wish to leave Mr Darcy?"
"Surely not? He is a grown man; he isn't tied to Mr Darcy's purse or apron strings..." Clara paused and looked pensive, "At least I assume and hope he is not!"
Kitty had a brief mental image of Mr Bingley physically tied to Mr Darcy and laughed. "No, but I believe from what Lizzy has said that Mr Bingley thinks the world of Mr Darcy and is much guided by him."
"Humph, what is the world coming to that a young man could be dissuaded from a perfectly fine young lady by his friend!?"
"Lady Matlock says that one of my sisters had a powerful effect on her nephew."
Clara raised her eyebrows, "One can only hope it was a positive effect, and is she sure it was not you who had such a powerful effect?"
Kitty laughed at her aunt. "If it was then he must be very weak to be sent a leveller by a girl he hardly saw and exchanged no words with!"
"Well then, one of your sisters, and let me just say from your mothers letters and your descriptions that I have to assume it is Lizzy, unless Mr Darcy is stupid enough to fall in love with the same girl as his friend, that has made a fine conquest! And then Jane with Mr Bingley, if he is moping about Jane, and I cannot think of a single other thing that should make a man unbearable."
"Unless he has lost all his fortune on the 'change."
"Well yes there is that, but let us think of happier things and assume it is Jane. So that is two of your sisters taken care of, and then if Lydia can snare Mr Wickham...that only leaves yourself and Mary, but naturally you will be thrown into the paths of other rich men by your sisters.
Kitty rolled her eyes. "I very much doubt that any of your proposed matches will ever come into being! Especially Mr Wickham and Mr Darcy becoming brothers-in-law."
"Oh yes I quite forgot that. Either Lizzy or Lydia must give up her gentleman for the sake of familiar domesticity."
"I wish you would write to Lizzy with the idea Mr Darcy may be in love with her, how she would laugh!"
Clara laughed. "Yes especially since it is most likely all in Harriet's imagination. Mr Bingley perhaps not, but certainly she must be mistaken about her nephew!"
"Well she only said a 'powerful effect'; he may have been entirely disgusted with our whole family and be keeping Mr Bingley away from us all."
Kitty watched to see how her Aunt took her theory, one she had not voiced before.
"Well if that is the case he is a singularly foolish young man, and so is his friend for allowing it to happen. Your mother may quite possibly be the silliest woman in the county but I can assure you I know several, nay countless, more highly bred than her who are far sillier throughout the rest of the country. And she means well. Which is more than I can say for quite a number of the females I know of the ton."
"It may not have been my mother he took in dislike."
"Very true, but I cannot see what there is to dislike in you, nor your sisters, though perhaps you are all untrained in the ways of the world and being such a large family likely to vie for attention in perhaps inappropriate ways. And as for my brother, he no doubt should have taken you in hand better but all I can say is what I said about your mother, I know far worse fathers."
The next morning brought Georgiana to the cottage with several books and an invitation to Kitty to walk back to the Manor with her and let her teach Kitty a new piano piece.
Kitty, never being one to attempt the feminine arts all that much, would have ranked her musical skills far below her darning skills and that was saying something, but she did not have the heart to tell Georgiana that.
On Georgiana's part she thought Kitty played very prettily when she wasn't focusing on how very bad she thought she was, and told her as much.
Kitty laughed. "Flatterer."
"I have heard from my brother. He is still at Matlock and means to go from there further north to visit potential estates for Mr Bingley and other such things that he says I could have no knowledge of thus does not wish to bore me." Here Georgiana frowned and Kitty wondered if it was because of her brother's dismissive attitude towards Georgiana's knowledge.
"Potential estates? So Mr Bingley is not coming back to Netherfield?"
"It appears so."
"I wonder why; Netherfield is so happily situated!"
"Yes, especially since..." Georgiana paused and looked at Kitty.
"Since, I thought perhaps he had a grown to like the place."
"Or grown to like a person?" Kitty asked archly.
Georgiana paused in her walking and turned.
"Do not be distressed, your aunt told me of it, I think she was hoping that I could tell her more..." quickly interjected Kitty, before obliging her friend to hurry on after her.
"Well I am afraid..." replied Georgiana slightly breathlessly.
"Of course, I would not wish you to betray a confidence. Only it would be useful to know! My aunt has been planning matches for my sisters and I know it would be greatly useful to her to know which sisters are unaccounted for."
Georgiana laughed. "I did not think your aunt was the type. I am glad that Lady Matlock only teases when she speaks of such things."
"Aunt Clara is bored, and has nothing to do but match off her unmarried nieces. Do you want to hear who she has paired off?"
"Certainly!" Though Kitty sensed Georgiana's enthusiasm for the idea was not entirely true.
"Well she has decided that Mr Darcy must like my second eldest sister Elizabeth, which I find strange considering he offended her and only called her tolerable!"
>Kitty watched Georgiana out of the corner of her eye and considering that lady did not even twitch she wondered if her aunt's reasoning was incorrect.
"And then Jane must of course be Mr Bingley's, leaving Lydia to Mr Wickham, a lieutenant in the militia, who should have been Lizzy's since he liked her first but apparently he has deserted her for Lydia, which I think is quite typical of men..."
Kitty noticed that during her speech, Georgiana had stopped walking and had gone dreadfully pale.
"Mr Wickham?" she gasped.
... Do you still mean to be in town by the 12th? I shall probably be in town by the middle of that week, and thus will be at your service. I am afraid by all reports you shall find London sadly flat, but I shall try my best to amuse you and Georgie. I left my father well, except he begged me not to tell you he accidentally cracked your Sevres vase while demonstrating an obscure hunting technique - something I have no compunction about revealing since he accidentally told my aunt that I had no wish to go to Rosings in March. This of course led Lady C. to write me such a dressing down, but her letter did not have the desired effect, as I am still not going to Rosings. I do not wish to be undutiful, but I cannot think of anything more undesirable than a month in the country with Lady C. My cousins are all well. However Richard and I believe there is something the matter with Darcy and no doubt R. will wrest it out of him at some point. There I must conclude, as I must get ready for the New Year's Hunt. Your affectionate Son, Ash.
Lady Matlock, popped her son's letter back into her reticule and peered out the window, frowning. It was taking Georgiana far too long to fetch Miss Bennet. She hoped that Georgie had not gotten lost; her nephew would never forgive her.
Perhaps they had just spent longer at the cottage discussing the books she had taken down for Kitty. It was most vexing especially since Lady Matlock wanted to discuss, with Georgiana, the idea that had popped into her head the night before, right when she had seen the look on Clara's face when she had talked of the balls of last season. If Lady Matlock was a good judge of character, and she most certainly thought she was, Clara would not be averse to joining the ranks of the ton this season. As long as it wasn't put to her in a manner that made Clara feel as though she was relenting or reneging on her self imposed exile.
This is why Lady Matlock wished to engage her niece as an ally: if Georgiana could make a comment wishing that Kitty would be coming to London when they departed, then of course Mrs Marshall would add her entreaties, as Lady Matlock knew she would, after all Mrs Marshall did not understand why all girls were not presented to the ton! Then Clara would gracefully surrender her own feelings for the greater good of her niece.
Clara Sutton had always been a strong character and difficult to manoeuvre, but Lady Matlock had always felt herself stronger and much harder to outmanoeuvre.
What was keeping the girls?
Kitty, as soon as she noticed her friend's pallid countenance, she ran back to her side and leant her an arm.
There was a small stonewall running alongside the lane, and Kitty suggested that Georgiana should take a seat until she recovered. Georgiana did not speak but nodded her acceptance.
Kitty took off her bonnet and fanned Georgiana's face, an action she was not at sure was at all to the purpose considering that it was winter!
"No, no I am not hot," protested the younger girl as she slowly regained colour.
"Well, I don't have any smelling salts!"
Georgiana gave a laugh. "I should suppose not! You would feel very feeble, I dare say, carrying them around."
"I should carry them for my unfortunate companions," replied Kitty, who was feeling guilty for mentioning Mr Wickham. But she had not thought that this disagreement between Mr Darcy and that gentleman would have affected her friend so much.
Georgiana blushed. "I expect you think me very foolish."
"No, I think myself very foolish! I am so used to talking of such things with my sister, Lydia and my mother and aunt that I did not consider that..." Kitty paused. "I did not consider that it was probably very improper to be coupling my sisters' names with every Tom Dick and Harry! And to mention that man's name to you..."
Georgiana lifted her eyes from where she had been examining the nearby verge.
"You know - "
"Yes. I know very well that y- your family - and Mr Wickham have a disagreeable past."
"Yes. So of course it is a sensitive subject with you."
"Who - who did you hear it from?"
"Where does anyone hear these sorts of things but through gossip! It's difficult to keep any secrets in a small town."
"My poor brother!"
Kitty was taken back by the fact her friend instead of becoming more composed was falling more apart. It seemed to her that Georgiana was overreacting and to be feeling sorry for her brother! To be sure it was disagreeable to have one's brother gossiped about and despised! Indeed it could not be very comfortable, but when one's brother was one who felt himself so far above everyone else, his being gossiped about was bound to happen!
"Georgiana, considering that the whole business is quite your brother's fault. I do not see - "
"No!" Kitty was slightly shocked by the forcefulness of Georgiana's tone. "My brother is blameless! I am completely to blame."
"I cannot see how you could be held to blame! Your brother had responsibilities which he did not discharge -"
"That is the grossest falsehood! He is the most responsible brother imaginable! He is too good to me!"
"Well it does not sound as though he was at all! What he was thinking allowing Wickham to -"
Kitty was not allowed to finish her feeling about Mr Darcy's inability to stop Mr Wickham's' gossiping. If she had been Mr Darcy, and if she had felt it necessary to behave poorly to Mr Wickham in regards to an inheritance, she would have made sure that Mr Wickham did not have the chance to speak about it.
"No! I was the one! I was the one who consented to elope with him! My brother is not at all to blame and I cannot have you saying so!"
"Elope!?" Kitty was confused. "Elope with your brother? Good God you mean Wickham!"
Georgiana who had sprung up from her seat, in her brother's defence flushed to the roots of her blonde curls. "You didn't - I thought you - "
"Thought I?" Kitty echoed faintly. She had never encountered anyone who had actually consented to elope with anyone, and if someone had said that one of her acquaintance had done so she would have never guessed that the terminally shy Miss Darcy was the one!
"I thought you knew. You said you knew about my 'disagreeable past.'"
"I meant - I meant the fact your brother had not given Mr Wickham your father's bequest. Not that..."
"Oh! I - I beg you not to ..."
"Of course I would not say a word! But are you married? Did you really elope?"
"Married? Oh no my brother stopped it all before..."
Kitty was feeling rather confused and faint herself. How did Mr Darcy come to have a sister who would consent to elope with Mr Wickham? How did Mr Wickham come to want to elope with her? That Georgiana should like Mr Wickham was not at all surprising but an elopement!
"This summer. Perhaps I should tell you the whole story."
Georgiana retook her seat on the stonewall and proceeded to explain Mr Wickham's history with her family, while drawing from Kitty what Mr Wickham had been spreading about Meryton. She baulked however when it came to fully explaining the elopement, feeling incapable of putting it into words.
"So you see from that, what was I suppose to assume? My father had been nothing but kind to him and he and Fitzwilliam used to play together. And he had always been kind to me. I thought that he - " here she broke off unable to continue.
"But I do not see what is so wrong - I mean eloping at fifteen is very romantic though I have thought not at all practical, but surely in your case entirely unnecessary..."
"But I only thought - it turns out he is not a young man that anyone should know."
This mysterious sentence was all Georgiana seemed wiling to disclose, from which Kitty was left to assume which of a vast multitude of sins could be placed at Mr Wickham's door.
Georgiana took a deep breath and continued her story, "He ran into debt and my brother who had given him money after my father died, no matter what Mr - he, says, refused to give him any more and...and he came to Ramsgate and I thought - I thought he loved me and - "
"No, no, don't say anymore I understand!" Kitty did understand. She did not at all care what Mr Wickham's other sins were, he could be a libertine, thief or a murderer and she would not care more than she did that he had wanted to elope with a girl not yet sixteen simply for her money.
Elopements were supposed to be romantic, two people flying in the face of insurmountable and ridiculous parental and authoritarian obstacles. They were not supposed to be between a girl who was shy to a fault and a man who only wanted her for her money.
"No, but I must make you understand it was not my brother's fault!"
"Did Mr - " Kitty paused but plunged on, Georgiana must at least be able to hear his name with some semblance of composure - "Wickham, tell your brother that he only wanted to - "
"I do not know, but Fitzwilliam said it must be the case."
"Perhaps your brother is labouring under a false assumption?"
"Then why did he not ask my brother for permission? We are old family friends, there could be...I know my brother is proud, but there could be no real issue of money if I loved someone! He loves me too well for that!"
Kitty could not deny the truth of the first part of her answer and bowed to Georgiana's superior knowledge of her brother for the last part.
"If only Kitty, I had thought of that before agreeing to the scheme! But my companion at the time Mrs Younge saw no problem with it, she thought it was romantic; we were all deceived in her! I am just glad I told my brother the whole."
Kitty could only nod. "Did your brother know of Mr Wickham's - difficulties ?"
"Yes he told me...afterwards that he was not at all the thing..."
"Why did he not tell you beforehand!?" exclaimed Kitty. "It would have saved a great deal ..." Kitty felt she had been right; it had been all Mr Darcy's fault! To not at least communicate some of the whole to his sister before abandoning her in Ramsgate!
"No, I am sure he was trying to protect me. But Kitty you said your sister...I could not bear..."
"Well we have no money!" replied Kitty lightly thinking that it was entirely unlikely that Lydia would fix her interest with one man when she could have an entire regiment at her feet.
"But, my brother...told me afterwards he believed Mr Wickham capable of anything! Please you must warn your sister and your family! If Wickham was to impose on your family, and I had done nothing to warn...! If he is spreading lies about my brother....to tell people that my brother did not honour my father's will!"
"No one will believe me! And do you want me to tell everybody that you almost eloped with him?"
Georgiana looked thoughtful. "I would be ruined."
This bald statement surprised Kitty; she had never thought much about the matter before. Neither her mother, nor her contemporaries in Meryton, set much store around proprieties, but Kitty was almost positive an elopement would shock even her mother.
"Then I cannot say anything! And without saying that I do not think anyone would believe me!"
"But my brother..."
"Is not at all well liked. Mr Wickham was believed because your brother had done nothing to recommend himself to the neighbourhood."
Georgiana looked shocked, "My brother can be..." then she stopped. "He has had many. ...it's all my fault."
Kitty giggled. "You keep saying that and I keep not believing you!"
Georgiana gave a small smile. "Thank you for being so kind to me. Very few people know, not even my aunt! Only my brother and my cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam, and the other people closely involved. I was so worried that everyone would judge me."
"It is not a good thing that Mr Wickham is so charming then. But if people were to see you as well, they would know you could not be in the least to blame."
"Would you try, for me, to warn your sister? From what you have told me, she seems likely to..."
Georgiana shot her friend a look. "That is not what I was going to say!"
"I will try. But Lydia listens to no one and if she was about to start she would not choose me to listen to!"
But, nevertheless, Kitty promised to attempt the task.
Lady Matlock did not at all believe the girls' excuses when they finally made it to the manor. But she was so pleased that they appeared to be on such good terms that she did not pry any further. In fact, her niece appeared in better spirits then she had for the last six months.
This boded well for Lady Matlock's plans which Georgiana eagerly agreed to, and promptly brought up the next time both Clara and Kitty were visiting the Manor.
It was done in a trice. Clara was to write off an express to her lawyer and have her house in Cavendish Square prepared for her and her niece's arrival, as luck would have it, it had not been hired for the season.
Lady Matlock smiled. She knew she could out-jockey Clara Sutton if need be.
Clara smiled at her friend's triumph, glad that her promptings had lead the countess to follow such a plan. Harriet had always been so easy to guide!
Kitty's enjoyment of the scheme was materially lessened by the fact she had to write her letter to Lydia. Kitty had wondered whether it would be better to write to Lizzy or but decided against it. Lizzy would hardly believe her as Kitty could not write the whole of the story not to mention the fact several people seemed to have tried to tell her of the subject already - Miss and Mr Bingley! Even if she did believe it, she was hardly likely to have any influence over Lydia's behaviour, and it was Lydia that Kitty had more cause to worry over. Lizzy would not do anything foolish over a man who had little but his charm to recommend him, not that her sister was mercenary, she was just practical. Jane would believe her, but Jane's good nature was such that she would try and excuse Mr Wickham's behaviour. Kitty could see her now deciding it would be wrong to expose Mr Wickham in case he was trying to re-establish himself in the world.
No, it must be Lydia. Kitty had composed the letter countless times in her head, not to mention several more times on paper, and still she knew it would have no effect on Lydia. Lydia cared not for gaming debts and rakish behaviour. They would only make Mr Wickham a far more desirable object.
In fact, if Kitty was truthful to herself, it would have made him far more desirable in her eyes if she had not known Georgiana, and seen the consequences of such actions. Georgiana had taken the opportunity to talk more to her new found friend once assured of Kitty's secrecy and non-judgement. It was not to be wondered at, in fact the only thing Kitty wondered at was that Georgiana had managed not to speak to anyone besides her two guardians (which was a completely different thing!) on the matter.
There was no way she could mention Georgiana's aborted flight to the border to Lydia, Lydia would not hesitate to tell that story, but without it there was no way Lydia would attend to the idea that Mr Wickham was a reprehensible character.
Unless... Kitty suddenly thought of the only person Lydia had any affection for. It was a surprising fact, but Lydia held onto a childish fascination with one of Mr Bennet's former labourers and carpenters. It was borne out of pure selfishness of course, for Lydia knew no other way.
Edward Sacking was old enough to be the girl's grandfather, and having no grandfather themselves and as Edward's only granddaughter had died while Lydia and Kitty were still very young, he tended to treat them much as he would have his own granddaughter, despite them being the master's daughters.
But it was Lydia who could wrap him around her little finger; Edward carved toys for her, taught her to ride when she was far too young to be on a horse, and when she was older, flirted with her in an avuncular fashion and flattered her. He also made sure to take any of the blame for any of the scrapes Lydia found herself in when she would scamper about the countryside. Of late Lydia had felt herself to be far too grown-up and worldly to bother much with her old friend, but if Mrs Bennet had a basket of goods to send down to the Sacking cottage, Lydia who would never heed her family's responsibility as landlords in any other circumstance, would take the basket down to dear old Mr Sacking.
Inspired by her genius, and by Georgiana's confidences that Mr Wickham often not only left gaming debts but was known to run up shockingly large unpaid sums with tradesmen, Kitty wrote a letter along these lines and hinted to Lydia that it would be quite a sad thing if poor Edward had been taken in by such a man.
It was more than Kitty could hope that Lydia would take this warning to heart, but she had couched in the only way she knew how that would even lead to Lydia reading it!
Once that was done, Kitty could enjoy the prospect of removing to London.
London! She had always wanted to go to London, and she was to go as her aunt's sole companion, something that would never have happened with Aunt Gardiner. Kitty was tolerably certain that between Mrs Marshall who was removing to the metropolis some days after them, Lady Matlock and herself, they would ensure her aunt properly indulged in all the enjoyments that town had to offer.
In fact Kitty was almost certain Clara would need no prompting at all! Her aunt had thrown herself into reacquainting herself with London, through a guidebook that Mrs Marshall brought down to the cottage, and discussing what must be done on arrival and how best they might enjoy themselves.
"For you deserve some fun in town, for being such a dutiful niece these past weeks! I will say this now, I was disappointed that Thomas sent you to me, but now I cannot think of anyone I'd more like to have with me.
Kitty had frowned at this and then laughed, she was beginning to see the resemblance between her father and her aunt. She spent the rest of the time they had in Hampshire thinking of what could befall her in London - the opera, the theatres, dancing, shopping! (Not to mention convincing her aunt to allow Mary to pierce her ears!)
Little did Kitty realise that her aunt had quite decided what use she could finally be to her brother, and was going to expend all her energy on bringing it about. She anticipated that it would end up being a very agreeable task considering that her niece was such a good girl and not at all likely to embarrass anyone if guided properly.
...and I have enclosed a list of all the best warehouses, I daresay Clara would have no notion of where to go for such things. I hear that Grafton House is quite the place to go for bargains! Now take every opportunity of enjoying yourself, my dearest daughter, you could not be so disobliging as to refuse to go to London! Now I am quite sure C. has little acquaintance in London having closeted herself in the backwater of Worthing all these years, but you must not let that get in your way! I have written to all my acquaintances in London and they assure me that they will introduce you about, especially to single gentlemen! Do not waste this opportunity! And if a gentleman should take a fancy to you, do not hint him away like Lizzy! ...
Clara frowned at the letter that had preceded them to London and had been waiting on the smart table in the entrance hall of Clara's snug little house. Kitty would not have called the house snug, but her aunt assured her that it was quite small for a fashionable London house.
"Do you think we shall have Mama's friends waiting on us?"
"I sincerely trust not. Your mother does not know many people in London! And those she does I'm sure I shall have to repulse."
"Don't frown at me! It is not their breeding but their manners that alarms me! Any persons that can assure your mother they will fling young men at your head are not persons I want in my parlour!"
Kitty wondered if this meant her aunt did not want Kitty associating with men at all, while they were in London.
If Kitty was impressed with the size of the entrance hall, and the outside of the house this was nothing to how she felt when she looked at her room, or should she say suite of rooms. Her bedroom opened out into a small sitting room (others would have dismissed it as hardly a room, but to Kitty it was an extravagance) and she had a small room that was obviously for bathing and dressing. Having shared a room with her sister all her life, Kitty could hardly believe her eyes.
Neither could she believe her ears when her aunt and a middle-aged woman entered the room and she was introduced to Mrs Bents, the thoroughly respectable women Mr Morris had engaged to be her aunt's dresser and if Kitty heard correctly her dresser as well.
Following from this was a conversation which quite startled Kitty, a discussion on all the fabrics and dresses that would become 'the young miss' and how miss should have her hair cut and displayed. (When it was done the next morning Kitty could hardly say she recognised herself in the glass!) It said much for the shock Kitty was suffering under that she could hardly add two words to a conversation devoted to clothing.
Bents soon curtseyed and left her mistress and niece to admire the bedchamber.
"It's quite gothic I know. But it has been well looked after, and I was quite surprised that some of the change of furnishings downstairs which I have paid for over the years at the request of my tenants was not as appalling as I thought it would be!"
"Gothic?" Kitty could see no resemblance of anything in the house to anything she would expect to see in any of her romance novels.
"I meant quite old! The gothic influence is quite pretty, as long as one does not go to extremes!"
Kitty disclaimed, having never seen anything prettier than her surroundings, everything was a shade of pink and cherry, with deep mahogany furnishings. Clara privately thought the room must have been made to show off to best advantage all of Kitty's natural assets, and said as much to her niece including that any man who saw her as such would immediately be smitten.
"Not that any man, besides the servants, is allowed past the second flight of stairs! Remember that Kitty! It brings me to mind of some things I must tell you that I had no occasion to do so in the country and I dare say from what you have told me of your goings-on at home your mother has never told you."
Kitty sighed. She had suspected this was coming.
"Don't sigh at me young lady. In town a young unmarried lady must be virtuous! And follow some simple rules. Well actually not at all simple and from anything they have gotten more complicated and strict since my day! You must on no account visit a young man. Not at his townhouse, not at his lodging, not at any establishment that contains beds. And particularly not early in the morning."
Kitty suppressed a giggle. "But the look on Denny's face when he would run into the parlour!"
Clara frowned gave her niece a quelling look.
"You must never be without chaperonage! So no visiting young - or old - ladies alone!"
Clara paced around the room a little more. "No going anywhere near St James Street! No walking or riding or driving up it!"
Kitty's eyes widened. "What if it is the most direct route? That is a stupid rule!"
"Nevertheless it is a hard and fast rule and if you don't want to be socially ruined! St James St contains a number of gentlemen's clubs and lodgings...quite the gentleman's domain."
"What If one drove up it in a closed carriage and only peeked out the windows?"
"Of course that would be - Kitty do not be ridiculous! I do not think you are attending to the most important part of my conversation."
"No aunt, I am listening and I promise not to do anything that you should dislike." Kitty primly folded up her hands and looked up at her aunt demurely - something that did not at all fool her aunt.
"Do not make promises like that until you hear all of my strictures"
And hear them Kitty most certainly did.
The next day being Monday, Clara and Kitty armed with various patterns and ideas set off for a whirlwind round of mantua-makers, modistes, warehouses and milliners. It was even more fun considering that Georgiana had shown up on their stoop that morning insisting she be taken along. Clara even relented to letting the girls go to Grafton House and the Pantheon Bazaar which she had no hesitation in condemning as not good ton, until of course she had been and decided both were actually quite cheap and had a very good selection though being quite busy.
As a consequence, Kitty had an increased wardrobe, with further additions to come from the hands of Bents and herself. She also planned to make up some more hats for herself. It was the only thing that Lydia and herself had ever put any energy into mastering (besides dancing and flirting), so she was going put it to good use! Georgiana had barely bought anything for herself, instead using her far more refined taste to dissuade Kitty from anything too improper or hideous.
Kitty's near perfect day would have been made perfect if she had come home to a letter from Lydia saying, "Of course she would stay away from that nasty Wickham." But there was no such letter, but there were several cards that had been left for Clara.
"Hmmm well the Blaketons, but that is not at all surprising considering they are just next door. But how on earth did Lady Sefton know I was in town? And why on earth is she in town! She must be passing through!"
Similar comments followed the other cards that had been left.
"Well that will take care of how we shall spend tomorrow morning, returning all these calls!"
And that it did, after spending an evening at Matlock House in a quiet dinner party with Lady Matlock and Georgiana - which boded for a sojourn in London that would see them rarely at their own table - Kitty and Clara spent the next morning returning and making morning calls.
It was mostly just leaving cards, a practice Kitty had never been entirely au fait with, but their last visit saw them paying a visit to Sir Oscar Blaketon's townhouse, which was literally next door.
Lady Blaketon greeted them warmly.
"My dear Mrs Sutton, I could not believe it when I saw your carriage pull up on Sunday! I said to my dear Oscar that no doubt it was another set of persons letting the place! And he said to me, no my love, I am sure the servants have revealed to you that Mrs Sutton is returning and I said No I could not believe it! And then would you credit it, I saw you and your niece popping out of the carriage! And I recognised you! After these ten years at least! Though of course you have been to London since then, have you not? I hope you have, though I never saw you if you did!"
"Lady Blaketon it is very good to see you again too. May I present my niece, Miss Bennet?"
Kitty curtseyed obediently, wondering how Lady Blaketon managed to breath around all her rattling on.
Lady Blaketon eager to please, happily presented Kitty to her two daughters; Fanny and Sarah.
The Misses Blaketon were as far as Kitty could tell about Mary and Lizzy's age, they appeared to such advantage with each other that it was not surprising their Mama had allowed Miss Sarah to come out before Miss Blaketon could even be considered on the shelf.
Also in the room was their eldest brother, Mr Blaketon, a slight young man who having never been up to Oxford or Cambridge was spending his time being inducted into all manner of gentlemanly pursuits in London. Though it would have appeared to the knowing eye that he was having difficult deciding whether he preferred the Corinthian or Dandy set.
He recognised in Kitty immediately a girl who would not be at all adverse to flirtation and would not become all missish on him, something he dreaded. So instead of escaping to a club, or some other manly pursuit, he stayed for the half an hour that it took for Clara to extract herself from Lady Blaketon's conversation.
"Oh must you go? Oh but I have an excellent notion. I am giving a little dinner party here tonight, nothing formal; just a little party for my young ones, London is so flat that I must give them some amusement! But Poor Mrs Chesston and her daughter have fallen ill, so I am two persons short! Of course I would have not invited you in such a hurly burly manner if I had known you were going to be town, but I did not! You cannot be offended by my asking you to make up the party? See my daughters are quite enchanted with your niece! You could not deprive them of her company!"
Clara was forced to acquiesce, but it did not take too much stretching on her behalf. Lady Blaketon may be tiresome in her speech but she was respectable and was likely to know a great many young people that would be unexceptional friends for Kitty.
That evening Kitty took forever to complete her toilette. She was going to her first London party. Her first London Party!
She almost had to pinch herself to believe it was true.
Not that it would be a substantial party, Clara had warned her that it would be very similar she supposed to what she was used to at home. But her aunt had also told her in the strictest of terms that even though these parties were informal her behaviour must not be.
"If you were from a family quite well known to London, and held a great position then perhaps at these events your behaviour could be a little freer. But having said that do not I beg you become one of those insufferable young ladies I was forever meeting in Worthing that could not speak two words to the opposite sex and were forever bright red."
Kitty wondered how successful she was going to be in walking the fine line between propriety and impropriety.
The party as it turned out was watched over by only four chaperones, Clara, Lady Blaketon, Sir Oscar and a Mrs Hick. (and considering that Sir Oscar only put in an appearance at dinner this could hardly be considered adequate chaperonage).
Of the younger generation apart from the two Misses Blaketon, Mr Blaketon and Kitty, there were the two Miss Hicks, Mr Fancot, Mr Bradford and Mr Kirby and his brother Arthur.
It seemed that this party had a long-standing acquaintanceship with each other, so Kitty's presence amongst them could have been considered as an interloper. However she found herself quite the focal point of the party.
This was something entirely unexpected, and unusual for Kitty, but she rose nobly to the occasion and happily answered everybody's questions.
"You have quite taken my brother's fancy Miss Bennet!" giggled Miss Blaketon as the women adjourned after dinner.
"Not to mention Mr Fancot!" added Miss Hick.
"Indeed you are all the rage with all the gentlemen," said Miss Rebecca, the younger Miss Hick.
Kitty could privately reason why, it was nothing more than being someone new. She knew exactly how it was when the regiment came to Meryton and all the girls forgot their old flirts. But for the first time she wondered if she was going to be the object of resentment.
Apparently the girls of the party were far too complaisant to mind too much the defection of the gentlemen or at least not to express it in the direct manner that most of the girls of Kitty's acquaintance would have! But it became obvious that Kitty was being subtly asked which of the men she preferred and that all but one of the gentlemen was considered the property of one or other of the girls.
Kitty wisely made it clear she had no intentions of 'stealing' any of the gentlemen by marking her preference for Mr Fancot. Lydia she knew would have had no hesitation in declaring to like whomever she did happen to like regardless (or more like because) of prior claims. Lydia did not care a jot for female friendships and tended to only have female friends because the girls realised where Lydia went men went also, and because to some girls Lydia became something of an idol. Kitty however had to, and indeed wanted to be, more circumspect.
It was just a lucky occurrence that she did happen to prefer Mr Fancot. Mr Fancot was about four and twenty, with reddish hair. He was the only son of a gentleman from Dorset, he had met Mr Blaketon at Winchester and they had remained fast friends. He was a personable young man and knew however remotely Captain Denny, which gave them something to talk about beyond the polite pleasantries.
It was much the same when the gentlemen returned having not lingered much over the dinner table.
"Since you know none of them, Miss Bennet, my sisters and I are making up a party to go to the theatre tomorrow night, would you be of the party?" asked Mr Blaketon eagerly after hearing Kitty's response to Mr Bradford's question about which of the London theatres she preferred.
Clara overhead this invitation and frowned, it was not for Mr Blaketon to issue invitations like that, she was glad however that Kitty returned a response that reminded him that she was at her aunt's pleasure.
Mr Blaketon immediately applied to his mother for her support, which she readily gave.
"If my aunt agrees," replied Kitty to this renewed attack. Not that it was very hard for Kitty, she desperately wanted to go to the theatre.
"Very well," replied Clara, rapidly beginning to dislike the fact the Blaketons were their neighbours.
She had forgotten how tiresome Margaret could be, chattering on in that breathless manner of hers. She also foresaw trouble with young Mr Blaketon, who seemed to be regarding her niece as some sort of goddess. Why Clara had no idea. Kitty was not particularly beautiful, nor displayed in a particularly becoming gown. She did notice her niece was being far more refined than the other girls (and indeed more refined than Kitty was generally), which surprised her, but she attributed this to her stern lecture.
"I hope I do not need to tell you how improper it was for Mr Blaketon to issue an invitation directly to you! It was certainly up to his sisters to ask, or to ask me!"
"You do not like Mr Blaketon?"
"No, I mean I do not dislike him, he is clearly a young rattle though! Do not believe I did not hear him discuss how he leapt over a dining table with his horse!"
Kitty broke out into laughter. "I would have given anything to see the look on the servants' faces! Or on Sir Oscar's!"
Clara pondered that experience and gave a laugh herself.
"Yes, but it would be very uncomfortable to be obliged to attend to all of those young gentleman's tricks!"
"Of course." Kitty sobered. She had been thinking last night and pondering her mother. Her mother of course would want to know of all the young men she had met and would immediately offer her advice on how to catch them. This would not necessarily be a bad thing considering that Kitty did want to be married. The Misses Hick had an elder sister who was married and the description of activities she was allowed to indulge in had made Kitty slightly jealous. Indeed it was not much more beyond what she had been allowed to do in Mertyon, but nonetheless.
"Aunt? I have decided that what my mother said at the end of her letter was quite right."
"Hmmm?" Clara tried to straighten her carriage dress, while she listened to her niece.
"That it is my duty to find myself a husband. I mean to accept the first young man who offers for me - as long as I like him well enough that is."
Clara turned to stare at her niece. "You mean to do what?"
"Well you told me I ought to get married! That I would enjoy it!"
Clara turned back to the mirror and ruefully thought 'hoisted by my own petard! And one of Fanny's making as well!'
"I do not think you need to be thinking of that quite yet."
"No probably not. But I should like to be married before any of my sisters."
"But not to a man you could not like!"
"But I like most men!"
Clara rolled her eyes. "Well in that case...."
Kitty laughed at her aunt's reaction. "No but I do like most men, I don't know how I shall know who I should marry. Or who I like better than all other men."
"You shall know," replied Clara sagely, "and if you don't I shall make sure to pick for you. Now are we ready? Miss Darcy must be sitting at home anxiously awaiting us."
Georgiana had not been anxiously awaiting them, indeed both Clara and Kitty had to wait for at least 10 minutes as she finished her breakfast.
Clara had agreed to take the girls all over some of the sights of London, as Kitty had discovered an old guidebook of London. Georgiana had seen quite a number of these edifices before but what she had not heard was about Kitty's first London party. Georgiana was quite glad not to be out, being shy before the Wickham incident and painfully shy afterwards, and thus her feelings on Kitty's' small triumph was one free of any envy.
"Oh I do wish I could meet them Kitty!"
"Sad romps Miss Darcy. I expect your brother would forbid you to meet any of them or indeed attend such a party!"
Georgiana looked at Clara and smiled. "No, how could he when you and Kitty would be there? You are not sad romps."
"Well one of us isn't," replied Clara.
"Really aunt? I never knew you were a romp." Kitty arched a practiced eyebrow while responding to her aunt.