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They must have heard about Mary. Chapters 5 & 6

July 18, 2015 11:13AM
Chapter Five

It was to take something quite out of the ordinary to shock Mary away from constant thought of Captain John Robinson. Whilst missing Lizzie, who she knew would return in a short time once the Gardiners tour of the midland regions was complete, life must go on. Aunt Gardiner originated from Derbyshire and there was a plan to spend a short time there, but the rest was a roaming meander where fancy would take them. Lizzie would relate it all to them on her return. Mary, never previously being particularly of an outdoor inclination, was becoming increasingly aware that a life existed outside a music room and four stone walls. Suddenly, every breeze perked her imagination away from the waving grass and tree branches of the Hertfordshire countryside and into billowing ship sails and the rolling blue seas of the English Channel. Captain Robinson, she thought, may well practice his violin in his quiet moments, but he would also stand on the bridge of his ship, face to the horizon and sweeping the ocean with his narrow-eyed gaze. What was he doing right now, she wondered? Was he seeing the same blue sky that was above her and feeling the same summer breeze? Did he indeed, possibly spare a fleeting moment thinking of her…?

As he stood near the prow of the ship, Mary was not in John Robinson’s thoughts at that very moment. He was thinking deeply, not just of the weather and a fair wind home, but also of the pair of French Xebecs that his telescope had picked out some two miles to the south west of H.M.S Dragonfly, the naval Frigate that he was commanding as escort to the Spanish cutter La Mar Azul on the voyage back to Dover. Originally he was to captain the sloop until the ageing admiral of Dragonfly fell down steps from the poop deck on the Dragonfly and was confined to quarters by the ship’s surgeon. The original plan of a short sail from the French coast to Dover had been changed at an admiralty whim and he had received fresh orders and been redirected to the northern Spanish port of Santander to collect and escort the cutter and sail back across the Bay of Biscay, around Brest and the Channel Islands and back over the channel to Portsmouth. The first two days of the voyage home were mainly uneventful. They had seen clement weather and no sign of any opposition vessels. The wind was not strong but they were making fair, if watchful, progress. Away from the coastlines of main ports, French and Spanish vessels could still be found under privateer captains chancing their luck at sea as freebooters now that the war was ended. Effectively they were naught but pirates out for personal gain. Now, John Robinson spent some time watching their course and progress. The Xebecs, similar to large Arab Dhows, were small by comparison with the frigate, extremely light and very fast under their unusual butterfly sail arrangement and were also well armed and crewed. One would have been little problem to a thirty gun ship of the line like the Frigate, but two hunting as a pair was a totally different problem if they could get below the angle of the Frigate’s guns or attack from the rear . If they should decide to attack, the lightly crewed sloop would be an easy target and the Dragonfly would have its work cut out if the Xebecs attacked astern using the sloop as cover. The light bow-chasers mounted at the rear would be of little use from there. There was but one thing to do if the attack came, he would have to strike first. To get too close would be a bad situation indeed. He sighed in frustration and it was at that moment that his thoughts turned to Mary Bennet. Would he ever see her again? .……

With the Gardiner children to take up her time, Jane was somewhat recovered in spirits, although she could occasionally be seen gazing distantly into space and seemingly deep in thought. On several sunny and warm days Mary had persuaded her to take up a butterfly net and walk out with her and the children away from the mindless chatter that always seemed to centre around scarlet coats whenever Kitty came along. Kitty was still prone to some spells of envious complaint that she was not in Brighton with Lydia, but overall the good weather and the demanding summer activities of extreme youth made everyone brighter and in good spirits. Even Mrs Bennet had now accepted that Charles Bingley was a person of no further interest, or at least she so claimed, although Mary was not quite convinced this was the case. She did wish her mother would omit to mention him in Jane’s hearing and indeed had heard Lizzie say the same. It was amongst this period of relative content, long, lazy summer days of lemonade, croquet and games for the children in the gardens, that an event causing great consternation hit them all with the force of a minor hurricane. It occurred a short time after midnight one night at a time when the whole house was abed. A thunderous knocking on the front door woke everyone and announced an express message from Colonel Forster, the militia commander with whom Lydia had gone to stay in Brighton. The news it contained was shocking indeed. Lydia, hardly just turned sixteen, had eloped with George Wickham!.....

Colonel Forster was apparently hastening to Hertfordshire in the wake of the letter and would be with them as soon as passage would allow. The shock was all the greater because no one had suspected any form of attachment between Lydia and Wickham. Mary did not know quite what to think or do. In the latter case, what could she do? Jane, bless her, was of a mind to see a more positive solution to the matter and thankfully, in addition to the time she gave to her young cousins also took over the tending of their mother who was inconsolably hysterical. Who else would want such a task? It was at such a time that Mary saw the true goodness in her eldest sister. Jane also would write immediately by express to Lizzie, who would by now be in Lambton, a place just five miles from Pemberley, the grand estate that Fitzwilliam Darcy lived in and owned in Derbyshire. Lizzie would be frantic with worry and would surely hasten home with all possible speed with her uncle and aunt. Mary found herself in shocked disbelief that such a thing could happen. What could a fortune hunter like George Wickham hope to gain from a young girl with no dowry worth a mention? And father? Outwardly furious as was rightly expected, but what emotions must really be running through his head and heart? It was not the best time for her to be passing opinions, well-meaning or no, although the sheer thought of the scandal and shame for the family in the wake of such an event was strong indeed. Mrs Bennet’s reactions were helping nothing or no one. Kitty had been found out as knowing of the association between George Wickham and her foolish youngest sister, and there was something to be counted as credit for her father in that, despite his great anger he did not make Kitty responsible for seeing Lydia’s confidence sharing as a need for blame. Oh, what a tragedy that Kitty had not seen the foolish and very dangerous path her sister was treading and spoken up. But could she have done that? It would be utterly wrong to look in any direction of blame but that of Wickham. A mature adult, he just had to be fully aware of Lydia’s immature and naïve vulnerability yet chose to ignore the consequences of his actions and please only himself. Despicable, despicable man.

Mr Bennet, after hearing Colonel Forster’s less than heartening news, had left with him for London. Wickham, it seemed had been discovered within the militia as an untrustworthy and dishonest man and the Colonel held no real hope that anything good could come of any of it. Even Denny was now of the opinion that Wickham never really intended marriage to be any part of his devious plans, for Colonel Forster, despite his great efforts had been unable to find any evidence of them going north to Scotland. London, it seemed was always on Wickham’s mind. What a state dear Lizzie must now be in when Jane’s letters reached her. Speed her swiftly home, Mary prayed silently, and despite not giving credibility to her own concerns, a fleeting thought occurred than she might include another in the prayers…..

The mood at Longbourne was terrible indeed during Mr Bennet’s absence and only the presence of the Gardiner children, blessedly too young to understand what was taking place, kept some resemblance of reality about it all. The eldest girl, Veronica, was a well-mannered and lovable child who looked after her six-year old sister and two small brothers with delightful competence well beyond her tender years. Fortunately at such young ages, listening to stories and early to bed played a big part in easing the responsibility of their care. Mr’s Bennet’s cook and maid, Hill, also was a firm favourite with the children and made all sorts of delicasies to be used as treats for good behaviour. Mary was very instrumental in bedtime story telling. Using her own talents she mixed up characters from Gulliver’s Travels and ommited anything too adult in favour of a new hero, a dashing sea captain called Captain Jack. Thus was everyday life at Longbourne where a forced normality was ever overshadowed in awaiting news from their father. Lizzie’s arrival was greeted with great relief by all and absolute joy by Jane and Mary. To Mrs Bennet she was just another target for her woes as was Aunt Gardiner and her brother. Her concepts of everything were skewed with blame for just about everyone except Lydia and the sheer injustice to herself and her poor nerves. She rambled about Mr Bennet fighting Wickham, the pair marrying immediately and how much money Lydia should have for clothes until everyone was glad to leave her to her rantings and retire waving mental white flags of surrender in their wake. . Lizzie was less than pleased to find that Lady Lucas and Aunt Phillips had both been involved in the bad news discussions because soon, inevitably, all the town would know of their shame. It was little consolation that this was already happening with Wickham seen as the villain. His name and bad reputation, of which Lizzie possibly believed half was true, were as the mud beneath coach wheels. Mr Gardiner decided to wait until the next morning to see if the day’s post brought any news from Mr Bennet. He left immediately on finding nothing appeared. Aunt Gardiner and the children would remain at Longbourne, a decision welcomed by all. Uncle Gardiner’s intention was to locate Mr Bennet and send him home to be with the family, whilst he himself carried out the search for Lydia in an area familiar to him. Mr Bennet’s lack of communication, despite his known aversion to prompt reply to much at all, was distressing even in its anonymity, particularly under such disastrous circumstances. If Mary expected any great disclosures from Lizzie about happenings at Pemberley after meeting Mr Darcy and his sister, she was to be disappointed until much later when she would find out so much had happened to her sister both at Hunsford and Lambton. What was current was Lydia, and Lizzie was so very upset and annoyed when Jane produced a letter that Colonel Forster had brought for them. It was written to his wife Harriet by Lydia herself and was the epitome of all foolishness. Lydia seemed totally oblivious of any wrong she had committed and regarded the whole thing as “a good joke”. Lizzie was beside herself with anger at her crassness….

And still no news emerged from Mr Bennet. ….

The waiting was a harrowing time for them all. Time passed on leaden feet until, at last, something. . Mr Gardiner wrote a letter to his wife to say that Mr Benett was with him at their home in Gracechurch Street and was not inclined to return home quite yet. Many and various things were being planned, searches of hotels and communications from Colonel Forster, disclosures of the sheer level of deception Wickham had practiced upon almost everyone, gambling debts hinted at a thousand pounds and many unfilled debts of honour amongst colleagues……and still now word of Lydia’s whereabouts. Jane meanwhile had been told by her father to open any correspondence in his absence. In accordance with that instruction, when a letter arrived from Mr Collins she read it with Lizzie in attendance. In the letter, in line with Mr Collins’s usual practice of hardly being able to draw breath without a mention of her, Lady Catherine figured largely in it because he had received notice of Lydia’s “ heinous offence” and of course dashed off to inform her immediately. The letter was completely filled with pompous outpourings of self-righteous condemnation and tactless advice that related almost parrot-fashion Lady Catherines views that he obviously did not have the courage to stand up against, contradict or defend the family against her views. As such the whole letter was best ignored. At last a correspondence arrived from Uncle Gardiner to say that he had advised Mr Bennet to be at home with his family and he had agreed and would return next day. Aunt Gardiner decided it was time to return home, and she and the children left next day as Mr Bennet was arriving home, the coach taking them the first half of the journey and bringing Mr Bennet back on its return. . …..

At the northern end of the Bay of Biscay, Captain John Robinson gave the order to stand by to open fire to his gunners. The Xebecs were not going to go away and he had no choice but to engage them in battle…….

Chapter Six.

If the news of their father’s return may have given some hope to everyone in as much as any news was better than none, Mrs Bennet considered him wrong in not coming home with Lydia or staying behind to fight Wickham. Mary sighed in quiet despair at such foolish talk and the others were by now prone to ignoring their mother’s rantings. As a mother, her worry for Lydia was understandable, the rest of her views not so. When Mr Bennet did arrive he had nothing to say and took himself off to his library, a sure sign that he knew nothing of consequence and would not involve himself in specualtion. Mary was also quite puzzled by Lizzie’s somewhat odd moods. Had something happened whilst she was away to cause her to appear so deep in thought when she was alone? She desperately wanted to ask Lizzie, especially after she and Jane had had several conversations together that ended abruptly when she came within range of them. Was there some secret topic involved, and if so, why did neither of them want to talk of it ? It was very strange indeed. She wanted to talk about John Robinson but could hardly do so without any reason. Oh how desperately she longed for some communication to say he was home safe and coming to visit. Against that, it would never happen against the background of Lizzie’s scandal. With a sudden stab of fear she realized that such a happening might just be seen by him as now unacceptable and their acquaintance undesirable. Oh, Lydia, what have you done? If only she could have some word of his safety or whereabouts, but it was impossible; there was no one she could ask. No one……but wait, there was someone. There was …..she recalled their first meeting…

“Mary dear, this gentleman is the brother of a close acquaintance of Mr Phillips. He has been admiring your playing and asked for an introduction. Captain John Robinson, this is my niece, Mary Bennet…!” …and she had drifted away at a wave from Mrs Bennet. Mary had been instantly charmed by the tanned, handsome, smiling gentleman in naval dress uniform….could she, dare she…? Yes, she would visit Aunt Phillips and try to get casual mention and perhaps even some news of the man who had so impressed her. Under normal circumstances she may have been able to wheedle her mother into a casual enquiry of her sister, but in her present state Lydia was all Mrs Bennet thought of. With no new word of her wayward sister, visiting her aunt would perhaps help pass the time in addition to…..

“Fire”….With no options left but to engage rather than await an attack, John Robinson roared the word to his gunners. The deck shuddered beneath him as the Frigate’s starboard side fifteen guns thundered their obedience in the direction of the two foremost of the French privateers…….

The chances of a letter from sea in a reasonably short time were remote indeed, and Mary had no real expectation of any news of Captain Robinson. It mattered not, her mission was in his name and affected no one but her. She also had to listen to almost twenty minutes by aunt Phillip’s mantle clock, of opinionism about Lydia, Wickham’s villainy and how such a thing would never happen in her house, before she suddenly opened the door to Mary’s hopes as she passed her a plate of biscuits.

“ And what did you think of the young man I introduced to you a short time ago? Is he indeed not a handsome man and so very smart in naval uniform”?

Mary felt herself blush slightly but either her aunt did not notice, or affected not to do so. She was then informed that Captain Robinson’s brother had received a letter via a ship returning from France to London and onwards via the mail coach only yesterday. He had but arrived across the Channel and his orders had been changed. He was to sail to northern Spain and pick up a sloop to sail back to England. As the letter was a personal family correspondence to a brother, nothing more was said except that John Robinson looked forward to a safe journey home as soon as it was feasible. Mary cared not. He was safe, he would return home and she would wait. To hope further might well invite great disappointment, but for now she was satisfied. She returned home to Longbourne much lighter of heart than when she had left it……

Excitement! There had been news from Uncle Gardiner of which, at first, only Jane and Lizzie had been parties to. It all came out that Lydia and Wickham had been found, Lydia was at the Gardiner residence and that she would be married after all. Quite what all the relevant details were, Mary neither knew or particularly cared about . She was not going to ask her father, that was for sure, because he had been highly annoyed at Mrs Bennet, still abed and being served tea by Jane. Mary also was present to hear him tell Lizzie she had been right to advise against letting Lydia go to Brighton. At mention of the reckless runaways returning to Longbourne he reacted most angrily, and Kitty, foolishly interrupting him, was spoke to with threats of never dancing at Assemblies again unless it was with one of her sisters. Poor Kitty, but in part she had brought her chastisement upon herself. Quite what arrangements had been made was not openly discussed, and only Jane and Lizzie had spoken of matters with their father, but it seemed that when all was settled legally, Lydia would marry from the Gardiner home and then travel to Longbourne. Mary had a quiet laugh at her mother’s behaviour at the news, as she flew out of her bed and across the bedroom like a nightdress clad phoenix rising from the flames of deepest despair into an ecstatic flight of animated joy. She immediately declared she would travel to Meryton and spread the good words - Were there any such things to be thought of as good under the circumstances? - making wild statements about clothes money and houses. It was better than a pantomime, Mary decided. Jane and Lizzie had eventually persuaded their father, albeit unwillingly, that they could visit. It was also declared by Lizzie that Wickham was leaving the militia and taking a commission in a regiment of the regular army, with a posting in Newcastle in the north of England. Mary realized with something of a shock that three months had passed since Lydia had set off for Brighton for her stay with the Forsters. The household simmered on a hotpot of mixed emotion as they waited for the newly-weds to arrive. Mary’s fingers touched the leather-bound book of sea songs in her apron pocket and wondered, hoped…..

Off the coast of Brest the thunder of guns sent startled seagulls climbing for height to escape the scene of activity taking place above the mild roll of ocean waves far below……

“They are here. Lydia is home at last! ” …………….
SubjectAuthorPosted

They must have heard about Mary. Chapters 5 & 6

Jim G.MJuly 18, 2015 11:13AM

Re: They must have heard about Mary. Chapters 5 & 6

terrycg_not_logged_inJuly 21, 2015 01:25AM

Re: They must have heard about Mary. Chapters 5 & 6

ShannaGJuly 20, 2015 06:12PM

Re: They must have heard about Mary. Chapters 5 & 6

LisetteJuly 20, 2015 02:26PM

Re: They must have heard about Mary. Chapters 5 & 6

Lucy J.July 19, 2015 02:59AM



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