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The smallest of incidents... the junction of a dizzying range of alternatives... any one of which could have had a different outcome - Dorothy Lintott (The History Boys)
Posted on 2013-03-05
Kitty eyed her eldest sisters with envy. It seemed impossible to her that they were able to partake of dinner so easily. Did not their stomachs and heads ache with the knowledge that the militia were to leave Meryton?
Lizzy had always been made of stern stuff, and had seemed to Kitty to be very indifferent to the officers since she had returned from Rosings, but Jane was usually so tender hearted. Perhaps it was not possible for her heart to break any further after Mr Bingley. Others may not have been able to see how Mr Bingley's defection had affected Jane, but her sisters certainly could. It was difficult for Kitty to feel ill disposed towards a man who had looked so well in his blue coat, but clearly the man was a cad if he could treat Jane so poorly.
Even those distracting thoughts were not enough to make Kitty wish to eat, and their mother had gone to all the trouble of purchasing fish, perhaps more for her benefit than theirs, although Kitty noticed Mrs Bennet was eating little as well.
Mrs Bennet then gave out a great sigh. "Oh my poor girls."
Mr Bennet looked up from his meal with a quizzical smile. "We are not quite in the hedgerows yet, Mrs Bennet!"
Kitty noticed Lizzy's admonishing look at their father. She clearly did not wish to discuss yet again their mothers' plan to take them all to Brighton. Kitty found it monstrously unfair that Lizzy would not aid them in their scheme. It apparently was quite all right for her to be allowed to jaunt about the countryside to visit Charlotte Lucas and she would be accompanying their aunt and uncle to the Lake District! However could she be moved to offer even the most desultory support to a plan that would allow her sisters a modicum of the happiness she had experienced? No of course not and Lydia and herself had not even had the pleasure of going to London! It was unfair in the extreme.
"We shall all be in the hedgerows if you will not bestir yourself to help your daughters find husbands!"
"But surely, Mrs Bennet, in a whole camp full of soldiers, in such a retiring place as Brighton, our daughters will fare very ill indeed, if they have not managed to secure a proposal or two here in Meryton? I do remember you assuring me that one visit to one gentleman would result in our salvation and look what came of that!"
"Papa!" exclaimed Lizzy.
"I have had a proposal!" cried Lydia.
"Yes, from a spotty fifteen year old ensign," retorted Kitty who did not envy her sister the gentleman in question, only the proposal. Lydia was not yet sixteen and Kitty would be eighteen soon and no gentlemen - spotty - or not had ever tried to propose to her. Steal a kiss perhaps, but not a proposal.
"If I should go to Brighton, I should do much better," said Lydia.
"Yes, yes, you would, my love. I do not see how your father thinks you are to all find husbands if you have no opportunity to meet young men."
"My dear, Meryton has seen a veritable influx of men soldiers and gentlemen too, and Jane and Lizzy have abandoned us to explore what London and Kent have to offer, and yet still we have five unmarried daughters. I see no reason why removing the household to Brighton will assist in any way."
Mrs Bennet, seeing that matrimonial prospects were of no interest to her spouse, moved to her second line of attack: attempting to convince her husband with the joys of sea bathing. Lydia added her vocal support.
Kitty had already tried to explain to her father the many health benefits of sea bathing, but as he had been reading at the time she did not think he had listened. Either way, she did not think her father would be swayed by immersion in salt water as it did not sound as though it was an activity he could enjoy while reading and eating gooseberry fool.
She turned her attention from her mother and Lydia to see that Jane had gone quite silent and put down her knife and fork.
Kitty had wondered whether Jane might have seen Mr Bingley in town and now she was certain Jane had not. Kitty thought it quite cruel of her father to constantly tease about Mr Bingley and not see how it was affecting Jane. Jane would have had Mr Bingley if she could, and it was obvious to anyone who looked that Jane had wanted him very much indeed.
Kitty had given up on the hope of removing to Brighton, although Lydia and Mrs Bennet continued to work upon Mr Bennet to little avail and the annoyance of the rest of the household. She merely confined herself to fantasizing about walking along the sea front with a handsome officer, and was indulging in this happy pastime when she heard Lydia yelling her name.
"Oh Kitty! Kitty!" Lydia was waving a letter. "Harriet has written."
Harriet Forster was lately married to Colonel Forster of the militia; she had been one of the lucky girls to have managed to parlay a short stay by the militia in her town to a lasting happiness of being able to attend the officers wherever they went. Kitty was most jealous of Mrs Forster, particularly since she had become very intimate with Lydia. There seemed little room for Kitty in their plans and no need to include her in their jokes.
"Can you guess what has happened?" Lydia's eyes were wild.
"The militia is not to remove to Brighton?"
"No! Harriet has asked me to go to Brighton with her as her particular friend! Oh Kitty, there will be balls and parties every night and so many officers! A whole camp full of soldiers!"
Kitty felt distinctly unwell, she might not be Harriet's particular friend but she was two years older than Lydia, and it seemed unfair that Harriet not invite her as well! She could not find any words to congratulate her sister on her good fortune because there were none to be had.
"Oh and she has asked you as well, Kitty," said Lydia distractedly, "I must find Mama."
With that short utterance, Kitty was transported from the depths of despair, contemplating a summer where she would remain at Longbourn sentenced to hearing about the delights of Brighton from an indifferent and gloating correspondent, to the dizzying heights of happiness.
She was to go to Brighton!
Their mother entered into all their raptures and that was enough for Lydia. Her sister did not take any notice of Lizzy's active interference but Kitty noticed the hushed conversations and shut library doors.
She could not understand it. Lizzy had never been so selfish. There was little expense - though of course they must have new wardrobes, they could not be embarrassed in Brighton - in accompanying the Forsters to Brighton. Certainly it was a far cheaper scheme than if the whole family had decamped. It could not be that Lizzy was jealous; when asked directly, she had disclaimed all desire to go to Brighton herself. Kitty could not then understand her objection.
Lydia, when made aware of Lizzy's objections, dismissed them as pure jealousy but not because of Brighton itself but because of Mr Wickham. After all, Lizzy was violently in love with Lieutenant Wickham; everyone knew her partiality.
Kitty, however, doubted that was the reason. Lizzy had been very cold towards him the last time the officers had come for tea and, unless her heart was broken and she was too proud to show Wickham the impact of his defection, Kitty rather thought Lizzy had begun to dislike Mr Wickham preferring to bait him like she did all men she took a dislike to.
Whatever the case Lizzy did not prevail, because Mr Bennet chose to bow to his daughters' and wife's pleas; it was not a surprising outcome as it was common knowledge that Mr Bennet would do almost anything to preserve a quiet house with as few silly girls in it as possible. The idea of Mr Bennet refusing to allow Lydia and herself to go to Brighton and then put up with the outrage that would follow was ludicrous.
The joy of their going to Brighton far out shadowed Kitty's upcoming birthday, although all her sisters bought her gowns and bonnets and other fine things, excepting Lydia who promised to find something in Brighton. Kitty knew how much that promise was worth.
"Do you have everything you need? Did you pack that pelisse that so becomes you, Lydia?" Mrs Bennet fussed at the last minute as their trunks were loaded onto the Forsters' hired carriage.
Lydia ignored her mother, too excited to do anything much than babble excitedly at Harriet.
"We have not forgotten anything, Mama," soothed Kitty.
"Oh well, my dear girls, take every opportunity to enjoy yourselves. Oh Colonel Forster, look after my girls."
"I will indeed, Ma'am. You can have no reason to concern yourself." Kitty thought Colonel Forster would have addressed himself to their father, but Mr Bennet had said his farewells from his library and had seen no reason to come out and see them off.
"Lord, Mama, what a fuss!" said Lydia, pulling Kitty into the coach. "We shall send word by express when we have found husbands for all our sisters!"
With that, they were off and in a moment of unexpected sisterly charity Lydia grasped her hand and squealed in excitement. This charity lasted all of an hour, and Kitty wondered that Colonel Forster did not turn the carriage around, or choose to ride next to the carriage. Harriet and Lydia were giving even Kitty the headache, and of course it was her fault for every inconvenience attendant on having four occupants squeezed into a too small carriage for a long journey.
They were to travel to Brighton in a day, as Colonel Forster wanted to reach his men as swiftly as possible. Kitty would have liked to spend a night in London, and thought Lydia would support her as Lydia had always wanted to go to London. But Lydia could only think of soldiers and camps and wishing to be as close to them as possible.
Arriving in Brighton was quite anti-climatic. It was pitch-black and there was nothing to see. If Kitty screwed up her eyes and thought very hard she possibly could smell the sea. Or at least what she imagined the sea would be like.
Lydia was disappointed to discover that their lodgings were not to be on the water's edge. Colonel Forster had instead rented a house that was within respectable distance of the delights of Brighton, but also did not weigh heavily upon his purse.
The house was not a large one, and Kitty could tell that Lydia was disappointed that they still had to share a room and now a bed.
Kitty was exhausted by the journey, but Lydia was full of energy as she proposed all manners of diversions the next day.
In the end Lydia's planned diversions came to nothing as Harriet had the headache. Colonel Forster promised to bring some of the officers by after he had completed his duties and neither Lydia nor Kitty could contain their excitement at seeing all their old friends, Denny, Chamberlayne, Saunderson and Wickham again.
Kitty used the time to unpack their trunks, while Lydia interrogated the local servants.
"There are balls on Monday and Thursday night, and card parties twice a week!" Lydia shook her head. "Although if they should be deathly dull parties of whist I daresay we can find some other amusement. And that is only the public parties. We shall have many more private parties. I expect we will have to turn down invitations! Oh Kitty!" Lydia flopped upon the bed, crushing Kitty's new ballgown and deaf to remonstrations.
These preparations barely took the morning and Lydia grew increasingly wild to be out and amongst it all. Kitty was unsure as this was not Meryton where they knew every lane, nook and cranny and could have navigated in the dark.
At length Lydia prevailed; she had secured the services of the man servants who had been born in Brighton and lived there all his life.
"See, Kitty, we shall not get lost now. Not that I should."
Lydia soon quieted when they stepped out upon the street. Meryton was not a quiet hamlet by any means and while they had not much opportunity to visit any of the other local towns, except when they could surprise returning sisters, Kitty had thought she had seen a busy town. Brighton's inhabitants must double that of any town she had visited and she was pleased to note that her sister was similarly affected.
Not that Lydia would be dampened for long. Kitty's arm was almost pulled out of her socket as they marched towards the shore. Lydia was so determined to see the sea that she did not notice Kitty pointing out the Old Ship Tavern, which was sure to be the site of many a jolly evening.
The smell hit them first, and brought both them to a stop and brief silence. Then as one they could not contain their excitement, rushing forward as far as they were allowed, and in Kitty's case as far as she dared.
They were in Brighton. They were by the sea!
It was not clearly the most fashionable part of Brighton but Kitty could see a red coat or two amongst those who had chosen to breathe the sea air that day.
She did not care how provincial she looked as she gaped in wonder. The breeze almost blew her bonnet off and as she turned to keep her face out of the wind, she noticed she had been under observation.
A gentleman seemed amused by her excitement. As he was a handsome gentleman, despite the lack of regimentals, she accepted his observation with no rancour. He then, with a nod of his hat at her, continued on his way. Kitty turned back to squeal at Lydia, but her sister as usual was no where to be seen when Kitty had tales to tell of her interaction with a handsome gentleman.
But what were men when one had the sea? Kitty breathed in deeply and coughed at the smell of fish; on second thought, the attraction of Brighton was indeed the officers.
Posted on 2013-03-08
Their expectations of Brighton, raised high by the novelty of the shoreline, were dashed when it seemed the officers could not be spared from their duties for dinner after all. It was a very glum set of ladies that sat down to eat.
Colonel Forster attempted joviality and reminded them that they were encamped for the whole summer, there would be many other opportunities for entertainment and as many officers as they could find.
Indeed, if they were to partake in any of the joys of Brighton, vast sums had to be outlaid to subscriptions to assemblies and so forth. Kitty was eager to join one of the subscription libraries as it seemed a particularly grown up thing to do, and she was assured that all the fashionable ladies and gentleman patronised at least one of the libraries. Harriet and Lydia were more inclined to save their money for more bonnets and gowns.
"Papa will forward us more if we explain we spent it on books," argued Kitty, but as Lydia responded, it was easy enough to say that without actually spending anything on books. In the end Kitty managed to convince them to at least accompany her to purchase her subscription for two months.
"Now that you have your silly books, I thought I had brought my sister Catherine - not Mary - with me, will you help me pick which gown to wear this evening?"
Harriet had organised a small gathering that the officers would be honour bound to attend, after all one of the duties of an officer was keeping their Colonel's wife happy.
"Your yellow gown," replied Kitty, trying to keep one curl from escaping.
"I thought you said that made me look sallow?"
"I lied because you look so well in it," smiled Kitty. The dress indeed did make Lydia look vile, but it would teach her to compare her to Mary!
Lydia remonstrated with all their old favourites loudly for most of the evening for not immediately coming to greet her arrival in Brighton. Kitty thought this was surely calculated to do the opposite of what Lydia wanted, but Lydia not Kitty was the most successful young lady in their acquaintance when it came to capturing a man's attention.
"Are your duties more onerous now that you are in Brighton, Denny?" Kitty took her chance to attract her own officer.
Denny smiled at Kitty, "Miss Catherine - I should say Miss Bennet now, should I not?"
Kitty could not help preening a little at that.
"I should not say they are more onerous, perhaps more difficult to execute when we are not the only regiment, and when there are so many more distractions."
She was not sure whether that was an aspersion on Meryton, but Kitty suspected it was when, apart from the party held by Mrs Forster, it seemed that the officers had found other entertainments now that they had more variety to choose from … and their choice was not two young ladies from nowhere, Hertfordshire.
Lydia took their defection much to heart.
"I only danced one dance," she complained after their first dance; a disappointing ball put on by one of the regiments. Harriet entered into all her grievances, for she too had only danced once.
Kitty had danced no dances and had been forced to sit with the older wives, but she knew there was no point asking for sympathy from either Lydia or Harriet. She could not understand why not one of her old friends had not asked her to dance. Nothing had changed between Meryton and Brighton; certainly her ability to dance and to be entertaining had not altered. Was their success only because of the lack of alternatives? After all, who at home was there to distract a young gentlemen? Miss Watson? The Misses Long? The Misses Harrington?
Harriet tutted as she helped Lydia out of her gown. "They certainly need punishing. How shall we do it?"
"I am sure there are many other much more amiable gentlemen in Brighton. We should forget Danny and Chamberbridge - see I have forgotten their names already."
Lydia looked at Kitty in some surprise. "Of course there are many handsomer men in Brighton, Kitty, and I shall conquer them all. But I must have our particular friends realise their mistake. After all does it matter that Miss Smith of goodness knows where has five thousand pounds? Or that Miss Jones looks like a milkmaid? No." Lydia gave a small smile. "I shall make them all wildly in love with me."
Lydia's first opportunity was their first public assembly; many of their officers attended, and other military men were not in short supply, neither were ordinary gentlemen. Although Harriet whispered to them that they could hardly expect the aristocracy to come when they could be attending the Prince Regent at the Pavilion.
That thought sent a thrill through the ladies, that the Regent, that lover of all things decadent, was actually residing in the same town as they. They would of course never be invited, and Kitty rather thought the parties would be quite staid for all his reputation. Sir William Lucas had never made court parties sound particularly exciting.
It looked for some time as if Lydia's plan would fail before it even started, because Harriet proved not to be a competent chaperone. Kitty had not expected and certainly did not want a chaperone in the way most people thought of a chaperone. She did not want someone like her Aunt Gardiner sitting and tutting and preventing any little bit of fun that might be thought too daring: no, that was unthinkable.
However the other role that a chaperone should take is being able to navigate the world better than her unmarried charges. Harriet needed to discover the master of ceremonies and let him do his job. Otherwise who were they to talk to?
This skill had passed Harriet by and they stood awkwardly by the edge of the dancing watching everyone else whirl by.
Luckily, Lydia was not one to let societal rules confine her. She waited until a diffident yet impeccably attired young officer passed by them and then loudly accused him of stepping upon her gown.
Of course he had to apologise and then introductions were necessary, and then a further introduction to the young women in his party (wives and sisters of fellow officers) in order that Lydia might be shown to the withdrawing room to attend to her gown.
Kitty withdrew with Lydia and the newly introduced Mrs Sharp, while Harriet charmed the rest of the party.
"Mr Samuels is not normally so clumsy, poor thing," said Mrs Sharp, "Oh but it looks as though he has not caused any damage. How fortunate!" She was a pleasant young lady and it did not seem to even occur to her that it was all pretence. Lydia discovered that Mrs Sharp's husband was part of the regulars that were stationed at the permanent barracks, and she lived in dread of him being sent to the Peninsula. It sounded as if they were only newlyweds.
"For if he goes, I shall be left here alone."
Kitty thought that if she had a charming military husband, she would follow him anywhere. But as she had not made the acquaintance of Captain Sharp, perhaps he was the kind you would wish over the Channel. Lydia had no problem understanding why Mrs Sharp would prefer the bustle of Brighton to following the drum.
"Oh no, I should be forced to stay with his mother in Shropshire."
Lydia's exclamations of dismay were everything that a young lady should want from such an announcement and Kitty thought they had made a firm friend.
They walked back into the assembly room arm in arm, laughing as intimate friends of a quarter of an hour were wont to do.
Mrs Sharp declared she would find them both partners and partners better with their feet than Mr Samuels. Kitty was not paying much attention to Mrs Sharp, for as long as her partner came willing to dance she did not much care for his other attributes. It had been so long since she had danced where it was not just the carpet rolled up to the sound of one pianoforte.
Then on the opposite side of the room, through the dancing, Kitty saw a party of well-dressed men. What caught her eye were their coats, but since they were not red and the gentlemen themselves were a good deal older than her normal flirts, her eyes moved on, until she realised one of them was the gentleman from her first day in Brighton.
Lydia and Mrs Sharp were too deep in conversation to hear Kitty point him out, so she watched him. He and his companions were attracting some attention and they seemed acquainted with one or two officers. She thought him fearfully handsome but he seemed disinclined to dance - why else be at an assembly standing around - which was certainly a mark against him. Surely Mrs Sharp should be aware of who he and his companions were, she seemed very knowledgeable of fashionable Brighton.
There was a break in the conversation and Kitty gained Mrs Sharp's attention, but when she gestured to the other side of the room she realised they had gone.
"Old General Harper?" Mrs Sharp gave her a strange look as indeed the only man opposite them was an old rotund man with an askew wig.
"Oh no - the gentlemen have moved on."
Then Mrs Sharp alighted upon her prey and introduced Kitty to a Captain Clarkson, who despite an unfortunate mark upon his forehead, was charming and willing to dance.
That assembly was the beginning of their campaign. Kitty was not surprised to discover that Lydia's next attack was to wear shocking gowns and flirt outrageously, but it worked: one by one, their old friends drifted back.
Whether it was to do with Lydia's gambit, or the fact that there was no need to work very hard to please Miss Lydia Bennet, unlike other young ladies, Kitty could not say.
She could however easily say that the officers had not begun to pay her any more attention then they had before, which had always been a very little. Indeed she was asked to dance more and to play cards, but it was clear she was not anyone's first choice, or particular flirt.
Mrs Sharp and her sister Miss Kensington, however, provided company and amusement when no gentlemen were available and Harriet and Lydia had their own secrets.
They went promenading on the Steyne, which Lydia found quite dull she preferred to pay calls to officers when they might be still abed. That joke had not soured since they'd played it at Meryton. Kitty, however, enjoyed seeing all the fashions on display as everyone promenaded up and down.
"Can you ride, Miss Bennet?" asked Mrs Sharp as they strolled one morning.
"Not well at all, I'm afraid." Her father had thrown them all upon a horse when they were small, and thus all the Miss Bennets could stay upon a gently plodding horse if the need arose. However as Lizzy had no aptitude or interest, Mr Bennet had run out of motivation to teach, and thus only Jane had any real ability.
"It is such a pity otherwise I should have thought we could be daring and mount ourselves," said Mrs Sharp.
Miss Kensington giggled. "But we can much better admire the men's seats from here."
"Caroline, do not shock Miss Bennet."
"We should go watch the officers," said Miss Kensington, ignoring her sister, "I hear Mr Wickham is a particularly fine horseman."
"Mr Wickham is particularly fine at everything I believe, is that not so, Miss Bennet? I am quite jealous of your long standing acquaintance with him. Was he a particular favourite of yours?"
Kitty did not know where to look. Mr Wickham had been one of the early deserters. He had come more and more into their circle recently, but he had not slunk back like the others. Instead it was if he had never repudiated their friendship, but because he was Mr Wickham and was all amiability they all forgave him.
"Not of mine, of the whole neighbourhood."
"I should not let my younger sister have all her own way, especially when it comes to a man of Mr Wickham's quality," said Mrs Sharp.
Kitty had never thought of Mr Wickham as her particular property; after all it was Lizzy who was quite violently in love with him, and then Lydia, although she had strenuously denied such a claim. Mr Wickham did not dance to Lydia's tune, so she preferred others, but Kitty always thought some of that was a feint from her true feelings.
She was a good sister and kept Lydia's secrets, and the conversation turned.
After some weeks, it seemed to Kitty that while there were certainly more entertainments, there was hardly a night when they were at home, but it seemed only to be more of the same: dancing and inconsequential talking.
She found herself missing her sisters and even her father. They occasionally talked of things that were not scandalous love affairs and ribbons. Even Mary with her Fordyce, at least it was something to argue and complain about.
At home, she at least had the benefit of being known and for a dearth of choice in personable young ladies; here she was only Lydia Bennet's quite overshadowed sister and Brighton did not lack for young ladies charming or otherwise. Too often she found herself wondering if anything truly life changing would occur. Surely they could not have come to Brighton for nothing much of substance to happen to them?
Posted on 2013-03-15
"But everybody goes to Donaldson's," argued Kitty.
Harriet sighed, "The officers do not go to circulating libraries. They do not have time for books."
"Who does," replied Lydia reaching for the jam.
Kitty wanted to retort that she had time for books. Indeed, since Harriet and Lydia often forgot to invite her upon their morning visits she had plenty of time for books.
She was also surprised they did not see the benefits of being seen at Donaldson's; it was like promenading on the Steyne, one did not have anything to do with exercise any more than the other had to do with reading.
"Oh Lydia, I meant to tell you, Chamberlayne asked especially if we were attending the Assembly tonight."
That was a silly question. Unless there was a privately organised entertainment, the Forster party always attended the public assemblies; they attended everything they possibly could if it proved to have even a modicum of entertainment.
Lydia gave a sly smile, "Chamberlayne is a dear sweet boy, but he is nothing to some of the other officers. Kitty may dance with him."
"Thank you very much," was Kitty's response. Lydia did not notice her sarcastic tone.
"Indeed, now that I have seen all the officers here in Brighton," Lydia did by now know them all by sight if not by name, "I think I was much taken in by those in Colonel Forster's regiment. Perhaps with one or two exceptions…."
Kitty did not like Lydia's sly smile at Harriet. It spoke to a secret between them and Kitty hated not to be part of a secret. An intrigue would be just the thing to cap their stay, and to be kept out of it would be hateful.
"Well, I am going to go to Donaldson's!"
If Kitty hoped her declaration would bend her friends to her will, she was much mistaken in their temperament. They were content to let Kitty go, so they could continue abusing another Colonel's wife's outfit and ranking the officers by whatever virtue they had decided upon that day.
Harriet did throw out one sop to propriety and asked her maid, Betsey, to attend Kitty to the library and back.
Kitty was usually glad that Harriet's chaperonage was not worthy of the word and that Colonel Forster was content as long as the ladies were not complaining. However, it was usual to send a man-servant, but except for their first visit to the sea side it was always Betsey. A town full of rowdy soldiers and tourists from London sometimes needed elbowing.
It was freeing not to have to hear any of her eldest sisters' strictures on her reading material, or whether the plays they were seeing were quite proper. At the same time, Kitty missed being able to talk with Jane and Lizzy particularly. Jane would always enter into her delights, and Lizzy was fond of a novel.
They were willing to listen. Lydia never listened to anything that did not concern her and Harriet was no better.
Sometimes Kitty wondered if Colonel Forster regretted marrying Harriet, since she did not seem at all interested in her husband beyond his ability to allow her to go to parties with plenty of red coats. Kitty did not profess to be an expert in marriage, except she thought one was supposed to like one's husband.
If she thought about it further, it seemed those thoughts had come from novels rather than examples in her life. Although surely her father must have at one point found her mother's exuberance amusing? But Kitty could not think of one reason Charlotte Lucas had chosen to marry Mr Collins.
It was in the pursuit of romance unfettered by reality that Kitty was eager to venture to Donaldson's. She had finished the second volume of The Mysterious Hand the night before. Lydia had been so disagreeable that Kitty had had to read downstairs in the freezing sitting room. The volume ended with the hero on trial for his life, and Kitty could not wait to see how Theodore and Julia were to be together: for it was impossible to countenance that the novel should not end with the good happy and the wicked unhappy. This was not a novel by Richardson. Kitty had been duped into reading Clarissa by Mary who had assured her it was a novel full of spice. Kitty had had the headache, otherwise Mary would not have been able to cheat her so.
The library was sparsely attended, but it was early in the morning and Brighton was known for its evening pursuits (except for promenading on the Steyne). Several elderly women attended with their maids, and some older gentlemen. Kitty searched for a red coat to prove to Lydia and Harriet that they were incorrect in their judgement of officers and books, but to her disappointment she discovered none.
She did, however, catch the eye of a lanky youth in an ill fitting coat. He was very handsome but very young with perhaps even still a spot or two, and Kitty thought he would look very fine in a blue coat. Kitty felt no compunction in smiling at him and then looking away in a highly practiced manner.
This minor flirtation resulted in a victory when Kitty discovered that the third volume of her novel was out of her reach. The young man swiftly crossed the library and fetched it for her.
"Thank you, sir," said Kitty looking up at him in what she hoped was an appropriately grateful manner.
"Are you here alone, Miss ….?"
"Bennet." Kitty delighted in being Miss Bennet in Brighton. It leant one distinction rather than being the fourth of five sisters. "And I am not. You see my - " Kitty turned to gesture at Betsey only to discover that Betsy had disappeared. Betsy had a habit of doing so; Harriet thought Betsey had a gentlemen friend. Any other mistress would have had strong words to say to a maid that abandoned her duties for a flirt, but Harriet found it such a good joke.
Kitty usually did too, but it seemed outside of enough to be abandoned in such a fashion when she had not even asked Betsy to leave her alone with a gentleman.
The gentleman, noticing that her party had vanished, moved a little closer and Kitty felt a little alarmed. They had not been introduced, and she did not have the opportunity of being able to flee back to a gaggle of other young ladies. The benefit and enjoyment of flirtation, she found, was the ability to retreat at any moment.
Lydia might like lovelorn suitors who did not leave one alone; indeed she had no heart when it came to them and she often laughed at their tokens but Kitty always felt sorry for them and made an effort to be nice. This effort was never noticed by the gentlemen she really wished for, and Lydia mocked her for stooping to picking up those gentlemen Lydia had dropped.
"And what brings you to Brighton, Mr … "
"….Cheveley. And flirtation." Mr Cheveley leered at her and Kitty rather thought he was looking straight down her gown; when she looked back up at him he gave her a cheeky grin.
Kitty extricated herself from Mr Cheveley, and wished him a good day. She hoped moving away to find another interesting looking novel would be enough to dissuade him. Kitty had always found that unless she was paying complete attention to a gentleman they would never look twice at her. Mr Cheveley, it seemed, was made of stronger stuff and he pursued her around the library, making comments that would have been highly flattering if made in a less suggestive manner and in a situation where she was not defenceless.
She had picked an Ann Radcliffe, which she had already read, for nothing else but to give her an excuse to ignore Mr Cheveley. However, he did not take the hint. Instead he closed his hand over hers and looked at her intently.
Kitty did not know what to do, until an arm reached between them to retrieve a book. Kitty took the opportunity to step backwards and reclaim her hand.
"Excuse me, sir!" exclaimed Mr Cheveley, turning to confront the interloper. She expected a confrontation, but Mr Cheveley had a surprised expression on his face and looked vaguely as if he was a little boy who had been found pilfering cake from the larder. Mr Cheveley stammered something inaudible and did not seem to notice that his pulling at his cravat was ruining it, not that it had been well tied to begin with.
"I believe the young lady is in no more need of your assistance, are you, Miss Bennet?"
Kitty could now look at the gentleman who had interrupted them and she was startled. It was the gentleman from the shore and from the assembly. Now she could observe him up close and as much as she chose, she found him much older than Mr Cheveley and in a far better tailored coat and he certainly had no spots. She had not thought it possible but he was far handsomer; it was perhaps the fact he was as dark as Mr Cheveley was blond (Kitty always preferred dark to light) and was far more assured.
"Thank you for your assistance, Mr Cheveley." Kitty was surprised she could speak so firmly, so much was her mind disordered. A third encounter!
Kitty did not think that would end the matter, but it did. Mr Cheveley retreated in the face of a very quizzically raised eyebrow, leaving Kitty, Ann Radcliffe and the gentleman alone.
"Thank you, sir."
"May I offer some advice?" He did not wait for her response, "A good stamp of one's foot on the instep, and a retreat is a straight forward way to deal with unwanted advances. At least one made in such a public place."
Kitty doubted she had the strength to cause any real damage and said as much.
"Perhaps not, but your intention could not be clearer, particularly to those around you."
As they approached the counter, so that Kitty might withdraw her novels, conversation naturally came to a close as the person conducting the transaction seemed curious and the gentleman apparently did not wish to oblige.
Kitty was happy to have his company, at least until she found Betsey. As they stepped out of the library, she was glad she had brought her parasol for the sunshine had grown brighter since she had entered. She took the moment it took to unfurl it to recover some of her countenance.
"How did you know my name? Were you eavesdropping?"
The gentleman inclined his head. "All in a good cause. Now have you truly lost your party?"
Kitty was hoping Betsey would be on the seashore canoodling with her young man but she was not in sight. "It would seem so. My maid is quite unreliable."
"Well then, may I accompany you home?" He offered his arm and Kitty was not sure why she hesitated. If before today such a handsome man, in such a smart coat had offered her anything she would have leapt upon him without a single thought.
"A short sharp shock to the instep, Miss Bennet."
Kitty laughed and accepted his arm, although it took her a moment to juggle her parasol to hide her face from the sun.
"Have you been long in Brighton?" He matched his pace to hers, and Kitty was glad to see while he was tall he was not so tall, or perhaps she was not so short, that it made conversation ridiculous. Kitty looked curiously at him, did he not remember her? That made her disappointed… or was it that he was being polite? After all, he had been laughing at her enthusiasm.
"Several weeks. I am staying with Colonel Forster, do you know Colonel Forster?" Kitty could not imagine that he would, for surely they should have been introduced before now.
"I am very sorry to say I do not."
"I think sometimes that he knows everybody, as much as that is possible in Brighton. What brings you to Brighton?"
"Sea bathing." He did not sound serious, but he could not have picked a better topic of distraction.
"Oh, sea bathing." Kitty could not keep her disgust out of her voice. She had been so excited for sea bathing and it had not been a pleasant experience. She understood now why it was listed for its health benefits, like gruel. It had taken her several days to extricate all the bits from unmentionable places.
"You are not fond of sea bathing?"
"It is less pleasant than described."
He laughed. "I would venture a guess it is even less pleasant for a young lady."
Kitty turned her head away, if any of the officers were to make such a comment she should have - or Lydia should have - made a highly suggestive comment back allowing the conversation to descend to rather obscene depths. She found, curiously, that she was shy but she did not want him to think her stupid.
"It is not a subject for Mary Wollonstonecraft, but perhaps it should be another freedom for men only."
She said a little prayer of thanks to God for making Mary one of her sisters; otherwise she could never have sounded so grown up.
Their conversation continued on in a pleasant way. She discovered that he, too, took pleasure in a novel, that he was in Brighton with his brother and expected another to join them any day and then they were at Kitty's lodgings. Kitty felt keenly disappointed; she was about to invite the gentleman in when he made his bows and goodbyes.
Kitty found herself blankly standing in the hall, wishing she had not indulged in imagining Lydia and Harriet's stares as she introduced her handsome stranger.
"You have been an age, Kitty, and only two books! We have wanted you to fix our gowns for the ball tonight!" Lydia's voice brought her back to life, and revived some of her happiness. The dance! Surely he would be at the ball; she could ask the master of ceremonies …
Then she stopped short; that would not do for she did not have his name.
How silly of her not to ask. How silly of him not to offer it. Although they had not been properly introduced, the manner of their meeting should surely overcome propriety? Perhaps he was a stickler for good manners?
That would be an oddity in her flirts, thought Kitty. Neither the officers nor the men at home stood upon strict propriety.
She reassured herself that there could be no doubt that he would be there - for what else was there for a young man to do on a Monday night?
While she helped Harriet sew some pearl beading upon her gown, Kitty dreamed of his approaching her at the dance and of Harriet and Lydia's astonished looks. For he was fearfully handsome, for all he did not wear a red coat and was older than the officers.
If nothing else, he appeared to be the kind of gentleman that would drive the other officers wild with jealousy. He was assured and distinguished and men put such a store on tailoring and the tying of one's cravat. In that, he put all the officers to shame.
Kitty's plan came to nothing, she should have expected it would not; none of her schemes ever came to anything.
The gentleman was not at the Assembly. Kitty was so consumed by her attempts to discover him that she almost refused Chamberlayne which would have been fatal if she had found her quarry. For she would have been then honour bound to sit down every dance. Lydia never remembered this etiquette for herself but when it came to Kitty, Lydia could suddenly recite a conduct manual.
While she was whirling around with Chamberlayne, keeping one eye on the door and only half an ear on his conversation, she noticed that Lydia was standing up again with Wickham. She could not blame her sister, Wickham was everything a young man should be, and to capture him for two dances certainly made Lydia the envy of many a young lady. Though it seemed out of character with her plan to make all the young men fall in love with her and then repudiate them all.
"I say, Miss Bennet, you are looking frightfully pretty in that gown, is it new?"
Kitty blinked at Chamberlayne. He normally wasn't one for such romantic declarations; perhaps even without the appearance of the mysterious gentleman, he could be used to further her ambitions. It seemed her distraction was alluring to Chamberlayne.
He was nothing but solicitousness after their dance, and she noticed that several of the other officers were wondering what it was about Miss Bennet was keeping Chamberlayne trotting at her heels. Denny even fetched her a glass of lemonade and seemed to have no desire to leave their party.
Kitty felt herself grow under the attention, but not to the point that she did not see that Lydia did not leave Wickham's side for one moment during the ball. It was a deliberate act of partiality that would be remarked upon.
It was only a small piece of gossip in such a scandalous place that it was of little consequence, until Kitty thought she saw Wickham pass her sister a letter, which Lydia then secreted in her bosom. That was shocking enough, but that Harriet was looking on approvingly was the last straw.
Posted on 2013-03-22
Lydia liked to think of herself as an enigma but she was an open book. If George Wickham had passed her a note of a personal nature, she would invariably hide it in her hat box.
It was the work of a moment to find it. It was a love letter and Lydia had not told her about it! Lieutenant Wickham was in love with Lydia and she had not told anybody of it - except perhaps Harriet.
That could only mean one thing: that she loved Wickham in return.
"What are you doing in my things? Kitty, that is a private letter and not for your eyes." Lydia snatched it from her hands, and then, because she was Lydia, she continued in a crowing tone, "It is a love letter from George Wickham."
"I can read, Lydia."
Lydia laughed and sat down upon her trunk. "Oh can you believe it? George Wickham is violently in love with me."
"Was that not your plan all along, for all the officers to fall violently in love with you?"
"What a good joke! But I did not expect that Wickham should - is he not the handsomest, most charming man, Kitty? All the young ladies were wild with envy when he danced with nobody but me last night. Just imagine when I am Lydia Wickham."
Kitty was astounded that the love affair had moved along so quickly. She joined her sister on the trunk. "He has proposed?"
"Not yet, but surely it is only a matter of time. And to think I shall be the first to marry and I only just sixteen."
"Why did you not tell me?" Lydia never kept anything from her; Lydia never kept anything from anybody, especially not a conquest like George Wickham.
Kitty tried to think over the past days whether she had had any other sign of Wickham and Lydia and found she could not think of any. It was peculiar for Lydia to be so circumspect while a wild flirtation was growing. It must mean that Lydia was serious in her affections for Wickham.
"Do you not think it would have been such a good joke, Kitty, to surprise you all?"
"We should have known before the wedding, Lydia; it would not be such a surprise."
Lydia shrugged off this prosaic remark. "But Harriet suspected when he was so attentive to me on my birthday, and he had particularly asked what flowers were my favourite."
Kitty had not enjoyed Lydia's birthday. She did not begrudge any of her other sisters or friends their special day but Lydia had a way of making the day peculiarly unpleasant for any other young lady. She excused her bad mood on the fact Harriet's interpretation of Wickham's behaviour on the day did not quite match with her own recollection.
Wickham had certainly been there, and he had certainly bought a token to lay on the altar of Lydia, but it had not been any more or less than any of the other officers. When she thought back, perhaps Lydia and Wickham did speak more than usual together after dinner.
"If you truly wish it to be a surprise, then perhaps you should not be so inseparable, I should think even Colonel Forster could ascertain your partiality from your behaviour at the ball last night."
Lydia rolled her eyes. "Colonel Forster is a bore. I should not imagine he sees anything unless it is waved under his nose."
She allowed Kitty to reread dearest George's note, as she discussed his many perfections.
"I think it a shame that that odious Mr Darcy should have disinherited my George."
"Was he not to have been a clergyman? Should you have liked to be a clergyman's wife?"
Lydia had forgotten that point and made a face. "No, indeed. George would be wasted as anything but a dashing solider. How fine he looks in his regimentals. You know when we visited the camp, I thought he was so strict with his men." Lydia sighed.
Kitty thought she should feel jealous of her sister, but she found herself swept up in the excitement. This was a proper romance, not like the tepid flirtations at the Meryton Assemblies with young men they had known all their life. Here there was a real possibility that Lydia could become Mrs George Wickham.
"Oh, how glad I am that we have come to Brighton," said Lydia.
"How sad we shall be to go home," sighed Kitty and she meant it; for all she missed her sisters, she would rather they were here than she there.
"Oh I am not going back to Longbourn. Not for all the money in the world. To go back to darning by the fire, listening to Mary's sermons and the same tale about Mrs Long's chaise for the hundredth time? No, that will do very well for you, Kitty, but I could not bear it. My heart should break."
It did paint a singularly depressing prospect. Kitty could not imagine not being able to walk to the theatre and to meet new people every night. To only be able to have an assembly every month, supplemented by tepid card parties where Mrs Long played for low stakes, it was inconceivable! Even the circulating library in Meryton was in every way inferior to the libraries in Brighton.
There would be no chance in Meryton of walking past the same handsome stranger on more than one occasion and for chance interactions. That was a lie: there was every chance, but then someone would see and then it would become the subject of hushed gossip - 'Did you see Miss Catherine Bennet with the new lawyer?' - and everything would be tainted.
"When you marry Wickham, you must invite me to stay with you as your companion," Kitty begged.
Lydia was very gracious. "Of course. Once Wickham and I are married, I shall find you a husband. Unless of course you… "
"If you say Chamberlayne, Lydia, I will not be held accountable for my actions! I expect someone at least as handsome as Wickham…"
Lydia finished brushing her hair and allowed Kitty her time at the dresser.
"After you are married, I will find husbands for all my sisters, even Lizzy … although she would never thank me for it."
Kitty put down her hair brush. "Lydia….Lizzy!"
It took Lydia several moments to grasp her meaning and she rolled her eyes. "It serves her right. She had every opportunity to convince Papa to come to Brighton. I hope she is still in love with him."
There was no persuading Lydia to think more charitably of Lizzy and her now ill-fated love for Mr Wickham.
Once they were in bed and had blown out the candle, Kitty moved closer to her sister. "When you are standing up in Longbourn church, do you think Mama will need more than one handkerchief? Oh how she will lord it over Lady Lucas. For who would trade George Wickham for Mr Collins?"
Lydia scoffed, "Oh we shan't be marrying in Longbourn church. We shall elope."
"Like in a novel," sighed Kitty.
Lydia was not serious. She would not trade the opportunity to marry in front of all of their friends and to show off her ring and her handsome husband. It was like the plot of a novel: handsome young solider and a beautiful young lady away from home…certainly in a novel they would most likely have to elope because of the devious machinations of a moustachioed Count.
"Though if it were a novel, Wickham would be more entangled with Lizzy and there would be no hope of your marrying right until the end," Kitty concluded but Lydia was already fast asleep.
Lydia had not taken Kitty's suggestion to be more circumspect to heart; she showed just as much of a marked preference for Wickham the very next evening at a card party hosted by Mrs Sharp.
Wickham himself spread his charm about, but Kitty noticed his eyes were on Lydia more and more. Kitty found herself playing chaperone as it was clear Harriet had no intention of doing so, nor did any of the other young matrons. So when she noticed Wickham and Lydia slipping away behind a curtain she followed.
While her sister's face spoke her displeasure, Wickham did not seem perturbed by the intrusion.
"Miss Bennet," he took her hand and kissed it before moving closer to Lydia to allow her to sit on the small window seat. "I have not had a chance to speak to a great deal since our arrival in Brighton."
He had had many opportunities, but when he smiled Kitty forgot that and was happy for the flattery.
"You have had many duties to attend to."
Wickham smiled, "I am fortunate to have such understanding company."
"If only you had your proper inheritance, you would be a man of leisure," said Lydia in a petulant voice.
He shook his head sadly, "But if I were a man of leisure I should have never been billeted in Meryton and met the Miss Bennets. So you see, I cannot be unhappy. Fortune may pave the way, but it does not guarantee happiness. You have seen for yourself the truth of this in the form of Mr Darcy. Did either of you feel he was a man blessed with happiness? No, I feel nothing but pity for him, he will never really understand, never see the world for all its glories because he has never had to work at anything. To lose one's position is character forming to be sure and humbling, but the world unfolds in front of you. All events become opportunities and new directions."
Wickham had both young ladies hanging upon his very lips, and Kitty thought Wickham was far more generous than she would have been if someone had snatched a fortune that would have allowed her freedom for all one now had opportunities and new directions.
"The only think I regret is that it makes me such a poor prospect…" he shook his head sadly.
Lydia and Kitty rushed to reassure him that only a fool would think him a poor prospect. Kitty was surprised he did not realise how eager their mother would be for a son-in-law like Wickham. Even Mr Bennet could find little to object to. Wickham had a career, and with this war, even though he was in the militia, he had prospects of advancement. Wickham himself by his character and address should recommend himself to anybody.
But Wickham merely sighed and then excused himself.
Kitty contemplated the sad lot of Mr Wickham, for all he made the best of it, as she sat sipping some punch. She had deliberately hidden herself, for Chamberlayne's attentions had become particularly marked.
"Have you seen Miss Bennet?"
Kitty drew her skirts in around her tighter, for as if called, Chamberlayne's voice drifted towards her.
"Miss Kitty? No," that was Carter.
"Why 'D-damn?'" stuttered Saunderson.
"It is alright for you and Denny, you have your flirts, and the men know how you succeed - I must have somebody."
Saunderson protested at being left out of Chamberlayne's list but was shushed.
"It is just you have no address with women," said Carter. "You have made a good choice in choosing one of the Miss Bennets. An even better choice at Miss Kitty. They are easy …" he lingered on that word with a laugh that made Kitty's hands tighten around her punch cup "…good natured girls. You could do much worse."
"But if I cannot even land such an easy target…"
Kitty could not hear any more as the group moved off - no doubt in search of her, or more easy prey perhaps. She was well aware that gentlemen spoke more freely when not in the presence of young ladies, but to speak so slightingly of herself? Of Lydia? She had thought them friends.
Friends did not stand on ceremony with each other! Her manners with her friends showed them that they were indeed her friends and that they could trust her, and share amusements with her. Did they instead think that her easy manners made her somewhat less of a prize? She was sure it was not so for Lydia! Did all gentlemen think so?
She could not hide the slight shake in her hand or the accusatory look in her eye as she stood next to Wickham later in the evening when coffee was to be served.
"Miss Bennet, may I bring you a drink? Here we can sit down upon this sofa most comfortably."
He was so solicitous that she allowed him to guide her even though she felt none of the joy usually attendant on being the focus of Mr Wickham's attention.
"Has something upset you, Miss Bennet?"
Kitty looked at him directly. "I heard the other officers speaking…about myself and Lydia."
Wickham shook his head. "I can imagine what they said. It is difficult sometimes to be an officer - all the talk of arms and campaigns and targets. I should not refine upon it. I do try sometimes to turn their minds to better thoughts but …" he shrugged.
"But you do not think that way of Lydia?"
Mr Wickham smiled. "Not at all. Your sister is all that is good and amiable. I would never mistake her behaviour for anything but what it is. Truly."
Kitty felt heartened. Wickham really was a hero: handsome, kind, truthful and with a tragic history.
"Kitty, I hope you are not monopolising Wickham, other young ladies want the opportunity to claim him." Lydia stood before them with a saucy grin. Wickham grasped her hand and kissed it.
"Miss Lydia, I have all the time in the world for other young ladies."
Surely it could not be long now before a proposal, thought Kitty watching them. So romantic and she would be a bridesmaid, and she would always be flitting between their household and Longbourn: one with all the amusements and the other where she would be a prime source of news and entertainment.
Posted on 2013-03-30
Kitty watched with pleasure the continuation of Lydia and Wickham's attachment to one another. Harriet had by now noticed that Kitty was in her sisters' confidence and it gave them another avenue of conversation.
"It is a great pity that Wickham has no money," said Harriet as she watched Betsey arrange some flowers.
"What is money to love?" said Kitty, having finished a novel which satisfied all her desires with regards to romance.
Harriet laughed. "If one could eat on love no one would go hungry. Do you think I loved my husband when I agreed to marry him? No. If money were no object I would have married Denny when he asked."
Even Lydia was surprised by this admission of Harriet's. "Denny. Our Denny?"
Harriet nodded with a laugh. "My father was less than polite with his rejection. Poor Denny was too embarrassed to speak of it, and, well, my parents did not want to spoil Forster's advance - so I am not surprised it did not get out, and a good thing, too."
Kitty saw Harriet's sly smile and rather thought she was lying. Not about Denny proposing, but that she was in any way apprehensive about it being known that she had been courted by more than one man, especially one like Denny.
"But Wickham … "
"Has no money." Harriet shook her head in matron like wisdom, which never failed to annoy either Kitty or Lydia. Harriet was only some months older than Kitty; when she attempted to play the lordly lady, it was ludicrous.
"Your mother wants you to marry well, and you have what? 50 pounds per annum, and what with his expenses, his uniform alone, Wickham would struggle to match that!"
Kitty did not think that could be. It was impossible that Wickham should be so poor, not when he was so smart. Surely Harriet was mistaken? She would have a better idea of the expenses of a military man, although Kitty did not think Harriet was much of an accountant. When in Meryton she talked a lot of anticipating quarter days when either her father or Forster would give her pin money.
Harriet certainly was mistaken if she thought her words would persuade Lydia to abandon Wickham. Any obstacle in her way only made Lydia more determined to reach her goal.
"I should not expect it to be anything but a summer flirtation, my dear. You are only sixteen, there will be other gentlemen. Admittedly not as charming as Wickham, but far more eligible I assure you." Harriet tipped her head to one side, "And most likely more accommodating. I expect Wickham to be a jealous man."
Harriet gave a little giggle which rather contradicted her statement. Kitty thought Harriet wished Forster paid more attention to her and confronted her in a jealous strop. Harriet didn't seem to wonder that neither Kitty nor Lydia giggled with her.
"Help me with my hair, Kitty!"
Kitty had not even finished putting on her gown, but she duly assisted her sister.
"Harriet is a horrid cat. I shan't be telling her any more of my secrets, shall you, Kitty?"
Kitty shook her head. Lydia had dismissed Harriet's talk as nonsense. If she could help it, Lydia never thought much of money and had no conception of it: it arrived and she spent it and that was it. Kitty didn't blame Lydia for this attitude to money, it was her own after all at least until she had arrived in Brighton. Now seeing her folded bills disappear, rather than just being able to ask her mother or beg a sister for more, Kitty was appreciating the importance of tracking one's purchases.
That was why Harriet's comment had stuck longer with Kitty. It was such a bald thing to be discussing money when happiness was at stake, but she could not deny that to be without means would be very uncomfortable. Only heroines in novels could be sustained by love.
She remembered that Lizzy had tried to reason with them that it was important not to marry imprudently, when their hearts had broke when Wickham had turned his attention to Mary King, Kitty had not thought about it particularly when Wickham had returned to the fold but now it seemed that her sister had a valid point.
Now the idea struck her more, and if Harriet's sums were correct it was more the pity that Wickham did not have his own private income
Musical soirees were not the fashion in Brighton but one hostess had decided that rarity would lend her evening distinction, while allowing some young women to shine more than others.
"She thinks that because we cannot sing and play as well as her sisters that we shall fade into the wallpaper," whispered Lydia, "She cannot realise that while her sisters are chained to that pianoforte, we shall have the field to ourselves."
Kitty was not sure whether Lydia was talking on behalf of all the unmusically inclined young women at the party, or just themselves. She did not have a chance to ask because Lydia flitted off.
She was surprised when she saw Wickham loitering outside the performance room (a young lady was playing from the Mary Bennet School of music and it was quite plain and boring). Kitty had expected Lydia to go straight for Wickham.
"Miss Bennet. "
She curtseyed and wondered if she should take her chance. "May I ask you a personal question?"
Wickham looked at her and then smiled, "Of course, Miss Bennet. I am an open book."
"Mrs Forster spoke a little of a military man's income and …"
"I am surprised Mrs Forster has come to grasps with the ins and outs of military payments. That is not an aspersion on Mrs Forster's intelligence. I have been with the militia for six months now and it is still a mystery to me."
"In what way?"
"There is my rate of pay, then my allowances, then allowances for baggage, and then my allowance as a commissioned officer. One cannot expect one simple sum when one can have many lines to add up! If Mrs Forster has been quoted my rate of pay, I cannot imagine she thinks very well of my prospects for her friend, but of course that is not the end of it. There is no end to the supplements. I used to think when I watched my father steward the grand estate of Pemberley that it must be a complicated task to keep all the streams of income together, now I see that it was easy compared to my task as a mere lieutenant! My case is not as hopeless as it may first appear, Miss Bennet."
Wickham dazzled Kitty with his vast and amusing stories of the quartermaster of their regiment and then smiled again at her. "I hesitate to offer my hand to any young lady who I should be depriving of some level of society if she should plight her troth to me. But I do not just have my heart to give; we should certainly have more than just a maid of all work, and if a woman should take me for that I should know she loved me. Now if you excuse me, Miss Bennet, I see Carter gesturing to me, and I must discover what he wants."
Kitty was satisfied, even if she did not understand quite how Wickham had his income. Though she did not understand how her father earned his money, he had Longbourn and thus they were provided for. When he was gone they would have a share of the money their mother brought to the marriage, and nothing more.
She had not thought him discomforted by her questioning but she did notice he became more than unusually distracted as the evening progressed and she could not blame it entirely on the dire entertainment. The hostess had given up and thrown back the carpets so they could all dance, an activity Wickham and Lydia enjoyed immensely. Kitty had preferred to play at speculation.
He smiled and danced, and flirted charmingly but his heart did not seem to be in it.
Lydia said nothing about his behaviour, but it was not the work of just a night. He excused himself from a promenade the next morning and then that evening he was just as distracted.
Kitty was pinning up her gown (a rather clumsy young gentleman from Worthing had torn it while they were dancing) when two ladies known only by sight entered the withdrawing room.
"I see Mr Wickham is distancing himself from that shameless Bennet girl."
They did not hear Kitty's gasp as she kept herself concealed in the corner of the room.
"Well might he - and her sister - that whole set indeed. No sense of decorum. To be chasing young men around ballrooms brandishing swords and allowing them all sorts of liberties. I have seen them."
"Does the Bennet girl have a sister?" The elder woman sounded surprised. "There are two of them?"
"Oh yes - did you not perceive her? I own perhaps she is not so loud and not as successful as her sister. I am not sure why, for Charles tells me he prefers her beauty, but of course I forbid him to speak to her."
Kitty was not sure whether she should be grievously offended at being so overlooked, or happy she was not immediately branded a shameless hoyden by these stuffy women.
"I shall have to keep my eye upon them to see which one you mean. I do feel sorry for them in any case."
"Sorry, what should you be sorry for?"
"Well, Mrs Forster is married - who on earth would think her a suitable chaperone for anybody? I saw her two nights ago tossing up her accounts into a pot plant, and do not try to tell me she is breeding. It was the glasses of goodness knows what she was drinking to keep up with the officers. La what was I saying? Oh yes. Mrs Forster is married so unless her husband divorces her then she is safe, but the young ladies? They cannot know they are just sport! No man shall marry them, wild portionless girls? I saw Miss Kensington - well I cannot actually say what I saw her doing, I should bring on my palpitations."
They continued on this way for several moments more before leaving, allowing Kitty to breathe once more and come out from behind her concealing curtain. Kitty was mortified. She and her friends, they had fun, there was nothing shameful in that, but to have two perfect strangers make such judgements!
In some cloud of thought she rejoined the party and found her hand claimed by her next partner, just as she would have rather found Lydia and spoken to her.
She watched for Wickham or Lydia from her spot in the dance. She saw Wickham just as he chased Lydia laughingly out onto the balcony for some cooling night air… but he seemed more serious than that action should imply, and Kitty herself wished they had not gone out onto the balcony alone considering what she had just overheard.
She had to wait until her own partner would release her before she could follow them.
"Oh, George, no!" Lydia looked close to tears and had Wickham's hands clutched to her bosom.
Kitty was inured to moments of love making, it was hard not to be at parties in Brighton, particularly if one peered behind curtains, but this seemed particularly blatant and just what those women had been talking about.
Wickham perceived her, but he made no move to step back from Lydia. "Ah Miss Bennet, you find me all undone."
Kitty feared that her discussion of money had made Wickham think more practically and he had decided to give Lydia up. That would be the action of a hero, to let his beloved go so she might be happier and richer.
"Wickham is to leave Brighton…" said Lydia. "To leave all his friends... when he promised me so faithfully that he should find a solution."
"But why? Surely your duty will be swiftly executed and you may return to us." Kitty did not understand it, and could not understand that Lydia had apparently had prior knowledge that Mr Wickham might leave. Lydia usually could not prevent herself from reciting at least twelve times every word her dear Mr Wickham said to her.
Wickham shook his head. "I am afraid it is not as simple as that. You see, your conversation to me recently, Miss Bennet, made me inquire some more … "
Lydia accused Kitty of perfidy but Wickham shushed her. "No, my dear, your sister was concerned only for your well being, as she must and I was happy to soothe her fears. Then I thought at once how serious it would be if I asked…" Wickham broke off and squeezed Lydia's hands, "no matter, but I undertook to convince myself that I was not a fool and a villain."
Kitty did not understand what Wickham meant at all, but it seemed Wickham was happy to explain.
"I am afraid I have found myself in some difficulty in Brighton. As a man of honour, I cannot remain here a moment longer. I placed my trust in some of my fellow officers and they have quite betrayed me. I am quite ruined. It will of course be settled once it is discovered, as it will be, that I have played no part - but I fear that if I am on the spot… Well, you know too well the judgement people make with so little evidence and understanding. "
Kitty did indeed know; she had just heard such a dose of judgement.
"If it is a matter of money…" Kitty had not spent all of the money both Papa and Mama had slipped to her; there was still a very little remaining, but she would happily give it to Wickham.
That did make Mr Wickham step away from Lydia and take her hand and kiss it - "I could not part you or your sister from your money. That I could not live with! It is my error, my naïveté and trust in the goodness of my fellow officers. I could not strip that away from you, too."
"But you could live with leaving Brighton? And leaving me?" said Lydia with tears in her eyes.
"My heart …" Wickham broke off in distress.
"I will come with you. I love you, George. We spoke of eloping, let us fly to Gretna Green and then they can never part us, and my father must help you then."
"Lydia, my dear Lydia. I could not ask you to plight your troth to such a sad man as I."
"Nonsense, you are the handsomest man in all the world! And I should love it above all things to write a note to Harriet, and then write to Longbourn signing my name Lydia Wickham. The best of all good jokes!"
Kitty felt that she was intruding on an intimate moment and turned to leave when she was stopped by Mr Wickham.
"Miss Bennet, I do not wish to throw any doubt on the virtue of your sister. Please stay to lend us credence."
They whispered together for several moments and Kitty feigned deafness, though she knew they had come to no conclusion. At last Lydia flew off in high dudgeon, leaving Wickham and Kitty regarding each other.
He took Kitty's hands. "I trust that you shall console your sister? Please, for my sake, turn her mind away from mine. My heart is broken but I should not wish hers to be so; she is young, it will mend in time."
Kitty thought Wickham rather underestimated Lydia's affections for him … and the depth of how much Lydia disliked not getting her own way.
"I shall try, Mr Wickham."
He kissed her hands. "You are the very best of women."
Mr Wickham's resolve broke first, Lydia wrote letter after tearful letter to him the next day and even slipped away to surprise him at the camp.
When she returned she had a sly look in her eye.
"He has arranged our flight for tomorrow night. We have no engagements, and I shall pretend to be ill and go to bed early." Lydia ignored Kitty's gaping at her and thrust a letter in her face. "Wickham has written to you."
The seal was broken, so Kitty did not even question Lydia as to whether she had read Wickham's words. Those words were passionate declarations of the violence of his feelings and his begging of Kitty's forgiveness and his complete understanding if she should try to throw his plans asunder.
"You shall not," said Lydia firmly before turning to choose which two of her gowns she should take with her to the border, after all it was sure to be colder as they travelled north.
"I shall come with you." Kitty finally said. She did not wish to part her sister from her lover. She did not wish to be the cause of Wickham's distress either. Then there was the consideration of how an elopement would look, while it would prove those gossips wrong - Wickham did want to marry 'one of those girls' - but it would also be another mark against Lydia's name if she wished to return to Brighton a married lady. Surely there could be less to say against a young lady and her sister leaving town with her fiancé to be married?
Lydia glared at her and raised strong objections.
"But, Lydia, an elopement! If I were to go with you, then it should be romantic and proper, surely you see that."
"I do not see that, why must that be? You are only jealous that you do not have a handsome young man who wishes to elope with you. And that I shall be Lydia Wickham at sixteen."
Lydia continued her complaints until suddenly she brightened/ "Oh what a good joke! Yes, Kitty, you should come with us. I should want one of my sisters to stand up with me; I should not wish to be without all my friends."
Kitty was glad her sister had seen sense and did not much think upon what thought had struck Lydia that she should change her mind so decisively.
On the night in question, after Kitty had packed their valise, Lydia had declared Kitty should make herself useful. They had room for little else but nightclothes and one change of dress. Lydia thought they could easily purchase something upon the road. Kitty thought since they would return to Longbourn from Gretna Green they would soon be reunited with their wardrobes.
Every stroke of Lydia's letter to Harriet was taken with some glee. "I should not want them to worry. And of course Harriet will be wild with envy. I shall be Lydia Wickham and have the handsomest, most amiable man of the regiment as my husband."
She did, of course, make Kitty carry the valise as they made their way to their meeting point just after the stroke of midnight. Wickham was monstrously surprised at Kitty's presence, but after Lydia's laughing explanation of her wanting a sister to stand up with her and Kitty's addition that it would be far more proper to have a companion he seemed to take her presence in good humour. He led them through more streets to where he had concealed the carriage.
Kitty gratefully handed over the valise and waited to make sure it was safely secured.
"Oh Kitty! I have dropped my handkerchief!" cried Lydia from the window. "Oh it is just there."
Kitty turned and saw a piece of white lying on the other side of the road and ran to pick it up. There was some confusion as Wickham was calling for them to hurry; it seemed he too had seated himself in the vehicle. Then she heard Lydia laugh.
She could scarcely credit her eyes. They were driving off. She saw the shock in Wickham's eyes and knew then that while he really had been surprised at her presence he had accepted it. No, it was Lydia who had tricked her; she had never changed her mind, just lulled her sister into a false sense of security.
Lydia had thought it a good joke to leave her standing on an unknown street in Brighton in the dark while she eloped with her prince.
Posted on 2013-04-05
Under normal circumstances Kitty prided herself on her ability of navigation. Pride was perhaps the wrong word, for it was only an ability she was much better at than the majority of her friends. She would, however, be ashamed if she found herself unable to find her way back to her lodgings in a town she had been familiar with for two months.
But these were not normal circumstances. It was the middle of the night and she had had a terrible shock. Similarly recalling their flight from their lodgings, it now seemed somewhat baffling; it was possible Wickham had backtracked and gone a circuitous route to avoid detection. At the time she had not cared, for she had no intention of returning.
Now all she managed to do was walk to the corner, which proved to be a more major road than the mews Wickham had chosen from which to board his carriage. This however gave her no clue as to her location, and she could not ascertain in which direction lay Colonel Forster's.
She knew not how long she stood there, wondering what she should do and from whom she should seek assistance.
Then she heard noises and noticed that a pair of gentlemen staggered up the road. Their condition quashed any desire she had in throwing herself on their mercy. Kitty stepped back against the wall, hoping to conceal herself while they passed by, but they noticed her.
Their being drunk and her being a young woman alone on the road in the middle of the night, it was not at all surprising that they made certain assumptions. Her protestations and incredulity did not cause them to waver from their task and Kitty was given quite a lesson in the value of certain business transactions before they decided perhaps Kitty was free.
It was at this point that Kitty remembered the sound advice she had been given and stamped down upon one of the men's feet. This hardly helped, as there were two men with a pair of feet each.
Except then suddenly the men were upon the ground. So focused was she in protesting her innocence that she had not noticed that two other gentlemen had appeared and had come to her rescue. One had, it appeared, what she was sure Denny would term a punishing right. Her other saviour was engaged in hauling them to their feet and throwing them down the street.
The first, who did not even need to shake his fist so little did the punch affect him, once he was sure his companion was chasing the men off, turned to her. "Ma'am - Miss Bennet?"
Kitty felt the earth should open up and swallow her there. This was indeed a romance novel, but it was surely the kind where the heroine languished in tragedy before she expired and then everybody discovered they had thought well of her all along.
One of her saviours was her handsome stranger. It was too much and Kitty felt her emotions overtake her.
"Miss Bennet, how do you - " He broke off and she could see his mind working. He had taken her for a simple country girl but now he was wondering if he had been mistaken.
"My sister - " was all Kitty could respond before a wave of emotion overtook her.
"Is she unwell? Have you perhaps come out to fetch a doctor?"
"No - No - Sir, she has eloped, I was to join her but...but..."
Kitty was not sure why she had not just said Lydia had eloped and then feigned she had gone looking for her sister, but it was out before she knew it and then the gentleman seemed to still as if he intended to make no more enquiry.
She could not bear that he was making a judgement of her, however well it was deserved. Kitty tried to find some halting way to explain her predicament, feeling more mortified as the seconds passed. What had sounded like a romantic fairytale sounded more and more sordid when she had to discuss it with someone who was not Wickham or Lydia.
How had she thought this a sensible plan? How had she not thought of the risks to her reputation and to Lydia's reputation? To hand herself over to a gentleman in the middle of the night and trust in him so implicitly…?
Kitty felt she was just adding fuel to her guilt, so ended her sad story with a halting - "It seemed so unfair to Mr Wickham."
The other gentleman, who Kitty now saw was wearing regimentals and was a Colonel, had rejoined them and had kept a sober face throughout her stuttering, but at the name of Wickham he started.
"Wickham? George Wickham? Of Derbyshire?"
Kitty could only nod in bewilderment. It seemed that that name was a talisman and a new aspect overtook her two saviours. The Colonel began to question her most violently about Mr Wickham, until the other put a hand on his chest.
"Never mind that now, Richard." He turned back to Kitty and gave her an encouraging look, "Let us take you back to your , Miss Bennet." … which was how Kitty found herself standing on the steps to the Forster's between a Colonel and her handsome stranger.
The servant who responded to the rapping of a walking stick seemed equally bewildered by the turn of events, as did Colonel Forster when he was finally roused.
"Miss Lydia? She is abed I am sure of it … "
That seemed a particularly stupid thing for Colonel Forster to say. If Kitty were out of bed, why would not Lydia be also?
"I am afraid, sir, that seems not to be the case," said her stranger drily.
At this point Harriet arrived, stopping half way down the staircase. Kitty could not help but think Harriet looked a fright having been dragged from her bed. It seemed an odd thing to focus on but Kitty could think of nothing else.
"Harriet, what is this? These gentlemen have brought Miss Bennet home and have said Miss Lydia has eloped with Wickham?"
"Nonsense!" she replied, but Kitty could sense a tremor in her voice. "Lydia!" Harriet ran back up the stairs.
"I should send at once to Mr Wickham's lodgings and those of his friends to discover his plans," offered the Colonel. "Miss Bennet is unaware of anything but Gretna Green."
Kitty cringed; she had not even had the sense to inquire as to their route and manner of their journey.
"And you, sir, are?"
"Colonel Fitzwilliam of the 10th regiment at your service."
The introduction made Colonel Forster stand up a little straighter and take the proceedings more seriously.
"Forster!" Harriet sounded alarmed as she rushed back down the stair. She held Lydia's letter in her hand and held it out to her husband.
"You silly girl," she cried at Kitty, who could not argue with the criticism.
After reading Lydia's note, it seemed Colonel Forster needed no more convincing. "It is likely they have taken the most direct route to London, although there are only two possibilities in any case. Ready my horse."
"I shall go with you, I am acquainted with Mr Wickham," said the gentleman, who had still not been introduced; there had not been a good opportunity to do so before.
"I should not like to entangle you in our concerns, Mr … "
"Lord Ashbourne, and I am afraid Mr Wickham's character is known to myself and my brother, so you see it is rather my concern as well."
Kitty blinked - she wondered if some ill-natured fairy named Puck was about to arrive and announce that this was in fact a dream. Her handsome stranger was….not a gentleman but a nobleman?
"My lord - " responded Colonel Forster, sounding surprised himself.
"Let us not waste time arguing, sir. At the very least there are two roads, and two of us."
Colonel Forster acquiesced, and the two men departed.
Colonel Fitzwilliam, it seemed, was to be in charge of ferreting out any accomplices - other than Kitty, of course - and to keep the household from falling into chaos.
Harriet was already quite hysterical and Kitty felt her nerves about to fail her once again.
"Perhaps, Mrs Forster, you should take Miss Bennet to lie down." Colonel Fitzwilliam sounded firm but not unkind.
However it was not to be thought of that Harriet Forster would restrain herself from venting her spleen.
Kitty could only exclaim that she did not need to be reminded of the fact. "If you had but … "
"Oh. is it now my fault that your sister is a lightskirt? I see how it shall be, I shall be blamed, Forster will certainly blame me."
"But we are here under your protection." Harriet had been entirely uninterested in restraining Lydia's behaviour, or her own, or Kitty's. Harriet had loved to use Lydia's wildness to attract the handsomest men to her side without drawing too much censorious comment. Kitty knew Mrs Forster had failed in that respect; at least two women found much happiness in tearing apart her behaviour and where there were two women there were likely to be more.
"He shan't marry her, and they shan't find her," was Mrs Forster's happy prediction of the evening's outcome.
Kitty did not know how long it was before she heard the outer door open and close, but she jumped up and ran down the stairs.
She caught sight of Denny awkwardly trailing Colonel Fitzwilliam into the sitting room. Kitty followed them and stood at the door.
"I am afraid, sir, I have no information with which to help with the rescue of Miss Bennet. Wickham did not disclose to me any plans of any nature. Otherwise it would have fallen to me to inform Colonel Forster of his intention to desert. I cannot deny that Miss Lydia Bennet has shown a strong partiality for Wickham, and her sister too, but it is a childish fancy. Wickham is a man who understands his own interest, and attaching himself to a family of no fortune, and deserting his regiment…that is not in his interest indeed. If Miss Bennet or her sister had been - " Denny broke off, "well I should understand a man losing his head, but in this case…"
Kitty could not have felt more wretched if Denny had come over and slapped her in the face. She suspected that Denny too had not thought as well of Lydia and herself as his behaviour to their face supposed… but this was Denny, who had been a firm friend, and a confidante in their eyes. Kitty had hoped what she had previously overheard to be a misunderstanding, some ribald talk between men that was not spread amongst the officers, but to come under such circumstances and to speak in such a slighting manner of Lydia and herself? Kitty was devastated.
"I understand it was you who helped Wickham gain his lieutenancy and you tell me you do not stand on intimate terms with him?" Colonel Fitzwilliam looked every inch what Kitty thought a Colonel should be, and the comparison to Colonel Forster struck Kitty.
Denny shifted his weight. "Indeed. But that does not mean I am privy to all his closest concerns."
"Does Wickham owe much about town?"
Kitty had not told either the Colonel or Lord Ashbourne, or indeed anybody, about Wickham's sad state of affairs being monetary in nature. That was another thing in which she must have been deceived. The likelihood that Wickham would have to flee Brighton because he had been innocently embroiled in the matters of others seemed now very slim. Now that she could think more clearly, she saw that his monetary problems must be of his own doing.
Denny smiled, "Not at all, at least no more than the average officer, including myself."
"Then he has changed a great deal from when I knew him. Or you and I have a very different opinion of the average debts of an officer. You see, my cousin grew up with Mr Wickham, Captain Denny. I know him capable of every vice. So there is no reason to dissemble with me. I already think the worst, and I can tell you I apportion no blame to any lady unfortunate enough to be caught up in his snares. "
Denny walked to pour himself a drink from the decanter the butler had fetched when the house had fallen into uproar. "I knew he was to desert. He has debts all over Brighton. Over a thousand pounds by my reckoning."
That sum shocked Kitty. How could half such a sum be got through in two months?
Colonel Fitzwilliam did not seem shocked. "And quartered here all of two months. Debts of honour or has he merely screwed shopkeepers out of their livelihood?"
"I am afraid that I do not know the extent of his losses at cards, I imagine they are substantial. Some creditors had tracked him from our last billet, although those are not debts of honour in the usual manner at least. Meryton was not what you would say a great place for cards; everyone played for very low stakes."
Kitty wondered where Wickham had found the time to gamble; he seemed too busy flirting and dancing to play seriously at cards. Perhaps there was a 'Gentleman Only' time in Brighton when all the young ladies had been packed off to bed.
Denny stiffened, "Flirtations. And the usual transactions - Wickham has never had cause to force a young lady to do anything. I swear upon my honour, although I see you do not think much of that, that I did not know he intended to take Lydia Bennet with him, or her sister. I would have thought them an encumbrance - some of the fellows he owes money to … let us just say I would not like to have them upon my tail."
"I will take your oath, Captain Denny. Have you any other light to shed on this matter?"
"I do not know where he has gone; it is certainly not to Gretna Green. But he would have taken the swiftest road to London and once there, I do not know."
"Luckily for you and Mr Wickham, I can make some guess as to where he will go, but let us hope it does not come to that."
Denny saluted the Colonel and stiffly walked out of the room, only pausing when he saw Kitty. He looked then a little sorry and bowed to her. "Miss Bennet."
Then Kitty was left only with Colonel Fitzwilliam's kindly face, and it was too much for her to bear. She fled back to her room.
A gamester, who fled from debts of honour, was always the villain. But he had been so charming. It seemed to Kitty that she had awoken from a dream; once she had had time to think and seen the shocked expressions of strangers and friends alike, she realised how stupid she had been. If Wickham truly loved her sister ,he should wish to declare it in front of the whole world, not allow her to sneak off with him like a rat in the night.
Her only comfort was that she and Lydia had not been the only ones deceived. Lizzy, who always counted herself such a good judge of character, had been taken in by him! Kitty wondered if his tale about Mr Darcy had been quite correct. Wickham had spoken of growing up with Mr Darcy only to be abandoned to his fate, and Colonel Fitzwilliam had spoken of his cousin growing up with Wickham. It would be a very small world indeed if Colonel Fitzwilliam turned out to be the cousin of Mr Darcy.
No more so than the fact Mr Collins was the rector of his aunt, thought Kitty. Now she thought of it, Kitty did think Lizzy or Maria had mentioned Mr Darcy's cousin at Rosings. She had paid attention because he was a Colonel, but then Maria had said he was not at all handsome and Kitty had lost interest. It was true that Colonel Fitzwilliam was not at all handsome, but he was certainly a gentleman to know in a crisis.
And this indeed was a crisis.
Posted on 2013-04-13
Kitty did not wish to be lost in her own thoughts, nor did she wish to be surrounded by Lydia's belongings which she had strewn about the room trying to find just the right gown to wear for her flight. It seemed very long ago that Kitty and Lydia had been giggling here.
Mrs Forster had shut herself up in her room and Kitty refused to beseech her to open her door; Mrs Forster might prove a distraction but it would not be a happy one. So Kitty wandered despondently to the ground floor.
Colonel Fitzwilliam had ordered a fire in the sitting room and was idly kicking at the hearth. She could not make up her mind whether she wished to join him or retreat. But then he noticed her hovering at the door. "Miss Bennet, should you like a drink?"
Kitty nodded and accepted something rather stronger than she had ever drunk before. "Did you mean it when you said you did not blame Lydia?" The 'or me' she hoped was implicit.
Colonel Fitzwilliam nodded, "I do not know what it is about George Wickham that makes sensible ladies lose all reason, but … "
Kitty thought it was best she did not disabuse him of the notion that either Lydia or herself were sensible ladies. She had never even heard the term directed at either of them before!
"Will everybody else understand?"
"No." He was blunt. "That is why the best outcome is that your sister is recovered tonight and this can all become a mere nightmare that everyone can wake up from."
"Is that possible?"
"Yes, it has happened before."
Kitty wanted to ask him what he meant, but the look on his face did not invite questions.
They sat quietly as the clock ticked over, until they heard the door open again and Lydia's shrill tones filled the entrance hall. Kitty had not thought she would find herself thanking God for Lydia's shrieking. But she did most fervently.
Kitty ran out into the hall to embrace her sister. "Lydia!" But her sister did not return her joyful greeting.
"I hate you," was all Lydia would say before she wrenched herself out of Colonel Forster's hold and ran up the stairs.
"Wickham?" asked Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Lord Ashbourne removed his greatcoat, which was much stained with mud. "I told him the carriage was turning around with or without him, and he chose without. I expected more mettle. We left him some distance from Cuckfield. Colonel Forster first rode ahead to send out someone to fetch Wickham, if he has not melted into the fields. Colonel Forster only rejoined us several miles from Brighton, so there is some hope Wickham will not escape."
"Paltry fellow," said Colonel Fitzwilliam. "Though I am not surprised he did not make a fuss, for all that he must have taken his sword with him."
"Indeed," was his lordship's dry retort, laying his greatcoat upon a small table with a slight clunk.
"Gentlemen, if you should like some refreshment, I cannot even begin to thank you for your efforts this evening, and your information, my lord, of Wickham's character. I thought the man a little unsteady, but not a blackguard," said Colonel Forster with false vigour.
Kitty attempted to add her thanks, but the gentlemen either did not see her, or ignored her. That more than anything, even the fact that Lydia had shut her out of their room and she was forced to sleep with an unfeeling Mrs Forster, caused her to cry herself to sleep.
To the best of Kitty's knowledge, none of the ladies went down for breakfast, even if they were awake at a reasonable hour. Kitty had slept fitfully and only rose from her bed - well, Mrs Forster's bed - when Betsey came to request her presence in the sitting room.
She heard Colonel Forster remonstrating with Lydia through the door to her room, as she descended the stairs and wondered if he would have any success.
He did, as he led a defiant Lydia to her seat not ten minutes later.
"I have, of course, utmost trust in the servants who were privy to last night's incident."
Kitty had no trust in Betsey, and the rest of Mrs Forster's servants were no better. Colonel Forster would have had to offer them strong inducement not to gossip about the night's doing and Kitty hoped that he had done so and was not just presuming their discretion.
Colonel Forster cleared his throat, "But I do think it best that you - "he gestured at both Kitty and Lydia - "were removed from Brighton. It should not be remarked upon that you have returned to your parents. You have made a lengthy stay, and of course some family emergency can easily call you home."
"Where is George?" said Lydia.
"Mr Wickham has no doubt been returned to Brighton, where he shall be forced to answer for his desertion of his post and to his creditors, of a mercantile and personal nature."
"I wish to see him; you cannot keep me from my intended."
"I can and I certainly will. If Mr Wickham is in Brighton, then you most certainly cannot be, and as your father has not given his permission for Mr Wickham to court you, he is certainly not your intended."
Lydia descended into a sullen silence.
"It is too late to depart today, and as I have no desire to spend a night on the road we shall leave at first light tomorrow. You may both write to any acquaintance you choose, but I shall be reading all letters that leave this house."
Kitty wondered where this stern man with such attention to detail and propriety had been when they had been making their mistakes. He had been much wanted, certainly more here than overseeing his regiment.
"You have both behaved very badly and it seems to me to be owing to a great deal of luck that neither of you have been much hurt by it."
It certainly did not seem as if Colonel Forster should take much credit for it. It was certainly more to the credit of Colonel Fitzwilliam and Lord Ashbourne that Lydia had been rescued and Mr Wickham's character exposed.
At that Lydia, stalked out the room, followed by Mrs Forster who sensed that Lydia was in a divulging mood.
"Thank you," said Kitty quietly. "Will you be telling Papa?"
"Do you think I have a choice?" Colonel Forster snapped, sounding every inch the man who had had no sleep and had averted a disaster to his own reputation.
Kitty shook her head, and tried not to cry once more.
Colonel Forster lost patience and left her to her contemplation. Kitty very much doubted that Lydia would bestir herself to write to any of their friends, or not in a manner that Colonel Forster would allow to leave his door.
So it fell to Kitty, who asked for some paper and a pen and set about writing short notes to some of the women they had been particularly intimate with, Mrs Sharp and the like.
If the recipients were in any doubt over Kitty's sincerest regret at leaving Brighton so suddenly due to a family emergency, the water blots that found their way to the paper would convince them.
When Kitty had finished she took the unsealed letters in to the small room Colonel Forster had put aside to be his study. She was surprised to find him not alone, stopping suddenly in the doorway when she saw Lord Ashbourne.
He stood and bowed, and all Kitty could do was curtsey. "I did not think - my letters, Colonel Forster. I do not think Lydia will write any. So I have written on both our behalves."
Colonel Forster crossed the small room to take the letters from Kitty, and then he firmly closed the door.
Kitty stared at the door, and might have pressed her ear against it, except for the maid sweeping the hall floor who gave her a strange look. So she loitered in the sitting room, taking a seat that kept the door in full sight. At length, Lord Ashbourne left Colonel Forster in his study and Kitty judged she had a moment while his gloves and hat were retrieved.
She took a moment to observe him properly now that she knew he was a lord. She did not know his rank, but the closest Meryton came to nobility was Sir William Lucas and he was only a knight. There was a baronet who occasionally attended an assembly, but he was old and of no consequence. Any other aristocratic families in the area did not patronise Meryton and the local families.
Kitty was glad she had not known who he was when she first met him, because she could say with truth that she had found him handsome and amiable without any prejudice. Everyone had found Mr Darcy the handsomest man of their acquaintance upon discovering his £10,000 a year, until of course his character had shown him to be rude and awkward, and then good sense prevailed.
He had finished putting on his gloves and Kitty judged the time was now or never.
"My lord," Kitty twisted her hands behind her. "I cannot leave Brighton without thanking you once again."
"Completely unnecessary, I assure you. That you and your sister have not suffered from your connection with Mr Wickham that is the only thanks I require."
He held out his hand and Kitty found herself hoping her hand was not damp, but he did not kiss it, he shook it. "I wish you a safe journey from Brighton. I suspect you will be glad to see the back of it."
"Not all of Brighton…" was all Kitty could find within herself to respond, but he did not answer.
She watched from a window as he walked off in the direction of the Steyne and she gave a little sigh. Handsome noblemen definitely did not associate with young women who willingly ran off with villains.
If Kitty had thought their journey to Brighton had seemed interminable, it had nothing on being shut in a carriage with a Lydia who was still not speaking to her.
"Lydia, you cannot - you left me in the street. If anything I should not be speaking to you."
Lydia snorted, "It is not my fault that you cannot walk two streets."
"How was I to get back into the house without waking the household?"
That did make Lydia pause. "I should have found some way, if it were you running away with Chamberlayne."
"I would not run away with Chamberlayne," Kitty was happy Lydia had not picked one of her favourites, otherwise she could not have been so firm in her assertion.
"Yes because he would not have asked you. You even had to invite yourself to my elopement."
There seemed little point reminding Lydia that Kitty had been trying to lend the flight more countenance. That had been her motivation, but she knew how foolish it had been, and to defend it was impossible.
Kitty was glad Colonel Forster had chosen even in the inclement weather to ride next to the carriage, so that his opinion of them was not lowered any further.
She knew he had sent an express ahead of them, but she did not know what it contained. She hoped it had merely announced their arrival so that the household would not be thrown into too much confusion. If it were possible, she should like to add her own voice to Colonel Forster's when they attempted to explain what had happened only two nights before although it already felt like years.
Her father's face as they pulled up the drive put that hope out of her mind.
All Kitty could hope now was that their mother had not been told. For if their mother went into hysterics, the whole house would know of it, and if the whole house knew of it, the village would know if it, and if the village knew of it, Meryton would know of it - and, well, Colonel Fitzwilliam's assurances that it could be forgot like a bad nightmare would not come to pass.
It was the first time Kitty had thought how good it would be if people were not so open, and no doubt this was the reason Jane had kept such close counsel. Not that it had served any purpose, everyone had gossiped anyway and perhaps Mr Bingley had not realised how much she truly had loved him.
Mrs Bennet was not waiting outside, neither was Mary nor the Gardiner children; it was only Mr Bennet and Jane. Colonel Forster addressed himself to Mr Bennet, while Lydia pushed past everyone, asking for her mother and upon being directed upstairs she ran in that direction.
Kitty looked from Mr Bennet's stern face to Jane's kind one and flung herself into Jane's arms.
She had hoped to listen to what Colonel Forster would say to her father; she could not blame him precisely, but she felt he would be unfair.
However, her feelings got the better of her and Jane had to lead her upstairs. Her sister pulled at her bonnet strings as Kitty tried to breathe naturally.
Jane murmured some good natured remark that absolved Kitty and Lydia, as well as Mr Wickham, of all blame.
Kitty shook her head, "No, no, Jane. We were so stupid! So silly. So taken in. I thought it would be just like a romance novel. She was so in love with him and him a villain after all."
Jane, despite her goodness and inability to think ill of anyone, realised that her sister needed to express her thoughts and after smoothing out Kitty's travelling coat, she sat down upon Lydia's bed with the expectation of a long conversation.
Kitty, pacing around the small room, managed to convey to Jane the delights of Brighton, and how many balls and parties and fine gowns there were. How it had seemed that Brighton was everything romantic - the lapping of the seas, the flirting with the gentleman. She explained how at first Lydia and Wickham had been nothing more to each other than they had been at Meryton. How an attachment had grown and then how Wickham had been so badly used and …
The story ended with the aborted elopement and all of Kitty's feelings of mortification. "So you see, Mr Wickham is a gamester who owes over a thousand pounds, and Lydia was happy to leave me in the middle of the night on a road in Brighton."
Jane seemed unable to speak, such tales of shocking behaviour quite overset her, and she folded her arms around Kitty for a moment. "We must believe that Mr Wickham truly loved her and it was the thought of parting from her that drove him to sanction such a … "
"No, Jane, No," said Kitty and Jane subsided.
"Did you say it was Colonel Fitzwilliam, the same Colonel Fitzwilliam that Lizzy met at Rosings, that came to your rescue, he and his brother?"
Kitty had glossed over Lord Ashbourne. It seemed quite enough that she had to confess her childish and wild behaviour leading to a social misstep that could have seen all of the Bennet sisters barred from polite society. To confess she had spent a great deal of her time in Brighton fantasising about a handsome stranger who had then seen her at her worst was inconceivable.
"Colonel Forster did not mention him in his express?"
Jane shook her head. "He was very blunt in his express but vague upon details. Mama was quite shocked until she apprehended that you and Lydia were quite well and now …"
Jane and Kitty could hear Mrs Bennet through the walls, laughing with Lydia and Kitty was sure she had heard the words 'London warehouses'.
"Well then we cannot rely upon her to convince Lydia that Mr Wickham will not be returning, even if he should want to, Jane. It should have been a true love match if he had courted her properly, but in debt …"
"You really think he had no intention of…" Jane looked pained.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam hinted he knew of other incidents when Mr Wickham had 'eloped' with young women, and we all know him not to be married," Kitty was suddenly much struck, "or maybe he is?"
Jane could not countenance that Mr Wickham could be that shocking for all he was a gamester and a rake.
There seemed little else to say on the matter so Kitty turned the subject, "How is Lizzy? Has she found anything to object to in the Peaks?"
Jane smiled, "She seems to be having the most delightful trip. They have taken in all of the grand houses upon the way. I expect they will be sick of such things by the end of it."
"Did you write to Lizzy?" It was not necessary to talk on what subject.
Jane shook her head, "No. I did not wish to worry Lizzy unnecessarily. "
"Yes, I am sure she will hear about it upon her return. How have our little cousins been?"
Nothing was more likely to put Jane in a better frame of mind than to talk of the dear little children.
Colonel Forster only stayed the night, and there was an uncomfortable supper, although Lydia had claimed exhaustion from the journey and stayed above stairs. Mrs Bennet managed to restrain herself from any exclamation beyond her general regret at her girls having to leave Brighton. Kitty hoped that Colonel Forster thought her mother meant what she should mean, rather than what Kitty knew her mother meant - which was that she regretted that Lydia had not been married and she cared not whether her girls married over the anvil or in a church.
Kitty watched the Colonel depart from one of the upper windows. Lydia had kept entirely to their mother's quarters, demanding that Mary swap her tiny single room to share with Kitty. Mary had not agreed or objected but Mrs Bennet had already asked the servants to swap the girls belongings. Kitty did not wish to watch the move and descended to face her father.
Mr Bennet was sitting in his library, which doubled as his study, but did not appear to be reading.
"Shut the door, Kitty."
She did so and advanced to stand awkwardly upon the rug in front of his desk.
"Well, I cannot say I was not warned. Your sister spoke so eloquently to me of the disasters awaiting my giving you permission to go to Brighton. The worst did not come to pass, but well …" Mr Bennet spread his hands. "I understand from your mother that Lydia expects Mr Wickham at any moment and is quite distressed that her plans were upset. What say you, Kitty? What say you?"
Kitty could not say anything except what she had promised herself she would not do, which was cry. She had thought she would talk rationally, although since she had rarely done so in the past she wondered why she had thought she could so now.
Her father was clearly moved by her distress and came out from behind his desk to comfort her, and they moved to sit upon one of the sofas, where Kitty could pour out her troubles and her distress at novels being so utterly unhelpful when it came to reality.
"Well, Colonel Forster did not mention these gentlemen to me," Mr Bennet noted at one point during her tale. "Then again he did not mention he rarely attended assemblies with you or that his wife was quite so silly."
"Perhaps they did not wish their contribution to be known," said Kitty. Neither Colonel Fitzwilliam nor Lord Ashbourne had spoken to her of their desire for anonymity but that did not mean anything.
"Well, these fine gentlemen often don't want to have persons such as us presuming on an acquaintance, as though we should under such circumstances."
Kitty did not think that would be the case, or maybe her father meant that they would not want to further an acquaintance with a family of flighty ill-bred young ladies and he was too tactful to be so frank.
Mr Bennet looked at Kitty kindly and smiled at her, "Well, Kitty, perhaps I was not entirely incorrect in my summation of the Brighton scheme. I did not take into account blackguards who eloped with women no matter their circumstances, but I rather did think it would do both of you quite good to notice your own insignificance. I count myself blessed that one of you learnt that lesson at least."
It took great strength not to cry at that, for her father was correct: it was her own insignificance that had been brought to her attention in Brighton, and how small she was that one little misstep could not be fixed for she had no other virtues but…her virtue.
"There now, I intend to make several changes here at Longbourn, but I expect with some good behaviour they will not trouble you for long."
Mr Bennet's plans were unfurled with some rapidity. It would be rather surprising if, without any reason, the younger Miss Bennets were suddenly not out in society. Mr Bennet instead proposed that the younger girls should accept fewer invitations and should be far more restricted in their movements.
Mary made no comment on her being included in these plans despite her not behaving badly in Brighton. Indeed it was only Lydia who complained loudly along with Mrs Bennet.
"But if, as you say, child, Mr Wickham is due at the door any moment to claim your hand, then these restrictions will not last very long."
Mrs Bennet nodded and Lydia subsided, probably thinking - like most of the table - that Mr Bennet never stuck to his notions.
However, when an invitation to dine at Lucas Lodge arrived, Mr Bennet declined for his three youngest but to lessen the blow accepted for himself, which was a very rare thing indeed and quite an honour. For Mr Bennet to choose one's society over the company of his books, the society must be very grand indeed.
Lydia declared she would walk to Lucas Lodge anyway but when the time come she instead shut herself in her room and wrote another impassioned letter to George Wickham that would end up in the fire in Mr Bennet's study.
Mary spent the evening playing the pianoforte very ill, as she had just bought new sheet music in Meryton, so Kitty took the opportunity to slide another book off a shelf in her father's study and left her older cousins to beg to be allowed to go to bed.
Kitty had decided she would improve herself by extensive reading. That was something that Lizzy would surely recommend and their father always said Lizzy had the most sense of all his daughters. At the beginning she had been searching for Debrett's peerage for she desperately wanted to look up Colonel Fitzwilliam and Lord Ashbourne. Kitty had not wanted to ask her father if he owned such a book, so she had searched for it herself and not found anything even resembling a peerage.
The peerage was the only reason she was disappointed not to be going to Lucas Lodge. Sir William would have the most up-to-date peerage in his library, Kitty was sure.
It was during her search that Kitty thought perhaps she should extend her mind by reading and swear off novels. She did not know where to start and her father was likely to tease her, so she had begun by picking a book at random off a shelf and, unless it was a Volume two or three, reading it no matter what it was.
She had challenged herself to read at least a quarter of the tome before giving up. This was particularly hard when she picked up a catalogue of diurnal Lepidoptera of the family Satyridæ, which just seemed to be a list of Latin names referring to butterflies or perhaps moths. Kitty decided that if she got a catalogue again she would give herself leave to replace it. A natural history was more entertaining, although Kitty was upset that there was so much information about horses and oxen and only five lines on zebras, which looked from the drawing to be most interesting creatures. Kitty was now on Volume Two of the History of England. Kitty had not changed so very much that she was not very glad she had picked up the abridged version, which was only two volumes and not the ten or eight which she thought was the state of affairs for the unabridged version.
Only Mary noticed her sister's new regime and slid some of Hannah More's work in Kitty's direction. Kitty found she did not like Miss More's work a great deal, and argued with her sister about it when they went to bed.
Kitty found she did not much mind a little sedate life after the delights of Brighton. The mortification she had felt there began to fade, especially since Lydia and Mrs Bennet's exclamations to the neighbourhood at large that they were soon to have a marriage with one 'George Wickham Esquire,' slowly faded away as the man himself failed to appear.
A day or two before Lizzy was to rejoin them after her month away, her father called Kitty into his sanctum.
"Well, it seems we were mistaken, Kitty." Mr Bennet was holding a letter.
Kitty suddenly felt her heart sink. Had Mr Wickham somehow extricated himself from his difficulties and written to claim Lydia? It would make him much less a villain but such a match could not result in Lydia's happiness.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam has written."
"Oh." Kitty sat herself down, now apprehensive but for another reason.
"He apologises for having delayed his letter; he and his brother had sorted it that he should write, and then regimental duties caught up with him. It is a very good letter, I find."
"Can I read it?" Kitty wondered how much Colonel Fitzwilliam had written about Lord Ashbourne.
Mr Bennet hesitated. "No, I think it might be best if you did not. He writes with some conviction about Mr Wickham. I did not realise at first he was the cousin of our proud Mr Darcy, and he certainly has a different view than the one we heard from Mr Wickham's mouth. It sounds as though Mr Darcy has committed no more offence than the usual offences of a bad tempered rich young man. Colonel Fitzwilliam writes - in some vague terms which leads me to believe it was a closer acquaintance than a mere report - that this is not the first time Mr Wickham has attempted such an elopement, although I gather the first attempt was for monetary gain rather than …" Mr Bennet stopped and shifted in his seat. "He has reassured me that Mr Wickham is to blame and not my daughters. I do not think he had much to do with Lydia if he thinks her entirely blameless."
"I am not blameless either, Papa; I see that now, I promise you."
Mr Bennet smiled, "Good girl. And Colonel Fitzwilliam speaks highly of your sense after a shock. I was very surprised at this, but now that I think of it you are a very pretty girl. Well, I think I now can hold myself absolved of any blame in the whole Brighton affair. I am very obliged to Colonel Fitzwilliam."
Kitty blinked. She was not surprised that her father would take any opportunity to salve his conscience; it was that her father should think her a very pretty girl. That statement took her to her looking glass and she was still attempting to figure her thoughts when she was putting Mary's hair into curlers for bed.
It had taken a great deal of convincing and (Kitty was not ashamed to say) some whining, before Mary had given in and allowed Kitty free range with her hair. Kitty had always played with Lydia's hair, so with Lydia still very cold towards her and now in her own room, Kitty descended upon her elder sister.
Mary now sported a much more becoming hairstyle if Kitty said so herself.
"You know very well that the sea air has much improved you, " said Mary shortly.
"You keep looking at yourself in the glass. I can only imagine you require my assurances that you will still be quite the second prettiest Bennet sister upon Lizzy's return. I cannot give you that assurance, but that is because gentlemen seem to find Lizzy peculiarly attractive. I expect it is her wit."
Kitty could not but stare at her sister, who continued on her train of thought.
"You always were prettier than Lydia. But the sea air and I think a little weight in the face has proved it."
Now Kitty just gaped.
"I do not expect you to give me any such assurances. I am happy that my virtues are of a moral nature rather than of an accidental nature like yours."
"And after I read Fordyce's sermons for you last night when you lost your spectacles!" said Kitty, pulling her sister's hair, but then she hugged Mary and kissed her on the cheek so their sibling quarrel was quickly over.
Please Archive Note: So when I began posting and I was around Chapter 15 in the writing I realised I had written myself into a corner.Continued In Next Section
I begun this story with the premise of 'What would happen when Kitty went to Brighton and stopped the elopement?' I wanted to explore what would happen to a) Kitty and b) Darcy/Lizzy because I believe that Lydia's elopement and how Darcy found out about that etc was what gave Lizzy the jolt to realise eventually she was in love with Darcy and gave Darcy the jolt to make him realise just how much he was willing to do for Elizabeth
Now I realised around Chapter 15 that in writing such a tight Kitty POV I was essentially going to have to drop b) or have Kitty turn into a cartoon character with extendable ears and hide herself into bushes to 'overhear' the D/L plotline which was ridiculous and made her story suffer.
I decided in the end to take another option and write a mirror story called 'The Pemberley Effect' beginning at Chapter 9 of this story. That story will be Lizzy/Darcy POV and each chapter will cover roughly the same period of the corresponding Brighton Effect chapter.
I feel it is a secondary story but I have to the best of my ability tried to make it a stand alone story (for those who may not read non Lizzy/Darcy focused stories) and you can definitely read *this* story without reading it, but well it certainly made me a happier author! So I'm hoping it pleases some readers. (Also I had lots of fun writing the same scene from two POVs and how people certainly misunderstand each other!)
I will be posting the corresponding mirror chapter the day after I post the Brighton Effect Chapter.
And yes I did get permission from the archivers, there was only a small amount of bribery involved :)
Thanks for reading!