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Beyond Longbourn

May 17, 2017 01:44PM
This story was started some months ago ( along with a number of others - all unfinished). It's a WIP with, I think about 65% completed with 17 chapters written. The story line exists in a bare-bones fashion so I may well wander down a different track should my muse take such a detour. I do promise to finish the story; however, to give myself some latitude in writing I will be posting only weekly on Wednesday.. I have had Beta assistance from one who wishes to remain unknown and PhryneFisher. Thanks ladies! All the stupid mistakes and poor writing are mine and mine alone.

Oh - and the angst level is pretty low. smiling smiley

Blurb: Elizabeth makes a fortunate acquaintance in London before tragedy strikes the Bennet family. This is a Regency, HEA story.

Chapter One

Gardiner Residence
Gracechurch Street
London, England
January 1809

The young lady stepped out the door of the house on Gracechurch Street. Closely followed by an imposing young man clad in the plain livery of a servant, she began to walk briskly towards the park that lay nearby. The day was bracingly cold. Small pools of water still retained a skim of ice that had formed overnight and had yet to be completely melted by a sun that was warming day-by-day. The ground crunched underfoot as she made her way. It was an altogether perfect winter’s day for a walk. Cold with only the faintest touch of wind, it permeated through her coat. Her own breath hung in the air before drifting away as she walked. The young lady clapped her hands together, an exuberant affectation she allowed herself only when alone. Her pace began to pick up and there was a determined briskness to her stride that few could have matched. The footman who followed her huffed in exasperation; his thoughts of a leisurely stroll evaporating as quickly as the steam from his breath. He knew he should expect it by now, for the lady walked ever thus when alone.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet was as content as she could be away from her beloved home in Hertfordshire. If she could not walk with the solitude permitted in the country, and if the walks were not as varied and entrancing as those to be found down country lanes, she would take what pleasure there was to be found in the exercise itself. She was quite aware that John, the footman accompanying her, believed her love of exercise quite unladylike, but his opinion bothered her not at all. Her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, with whom she was visiting and with whom she was on the closest terms, were familiar with her need for exercise and solitude. They would allow her to enjoy both if she was protected and, thus, her companion – a footman.

She had walked the circumference of the small park twice when she heard a lady’s voice cry out. The sound came from the other side of a nearby small copse of tall shrubs towards the centre of the park. In seconds, she had run around the bushes. Behind her, she heard John call out, “Miss Bennet!” and then curse.

She hoped he would follow quickly, for she had heard, intermixed with cries from the lady, a high-pitched voice, although what was said was indistinct. She quickly espied the woman. She was on the ground and two young men – boys really, probably only twelve or thirteen but nonetheless larger than the lady they were accosting – were wrenching at an object that appeared to be wrapped around her arm. Her reticule, Elizabeth supposed. One of the boys raised his arm as though to strike the woman. Elizabeth cried out and he looked up, first at her and then behind her. His companion turned, releasing the object he had been attempting to steal. She heard a shout from behind her and then almost before she knew what had happened, Elizabeth had reached one of the boys. She reacted without thought, memories of her childhood returning. She had had more than a few scraps with the sons of her neighbours and these boys were not so much bigger as to intimidate her. She struck out at the closest boy but he retreated before her blow could land fully. She only grazed his face and then both boys turned and began to withdraw further. She supposed that John had followed upon her closely, for with muttered curses that she heard and understood very easily, they scampered off before he could reach them. In a matter of moments, they had disappeared and John was trotting back to where Elizabeth had knelt by the lady who had been attacked. He stood by, looking almost helpless, as Elizabeth spoke to the lady who appeared as much angered by the attack, as distressed.

“Are you injured, Madam?” asked Elizabeth.

The lady was slow to answer and appeared to be contemplating her answer. Her composure was rapidly returning and Elizabeth marveled at it. She was sure that were she to be so assaulted, she would not recover so quickly. Elizabeth found that she had, perhaps, underestimated the lady’s discomfit, for her voice was noticeably shaky when she at last replied.

“I do not know.” she said, “if you will assist me to stand, then. . .”

Elizabeth and John knelt by either side of the woman and, each with a firm grasp of an arm, began to help her to stand. She had barely moved when the woman cried out and they quickly lowered her back down. Where she had been clutching her shoulder, she now cried, “My back!” and then reached a hand towards her lower back. She struggled to regain her composure. “I do not. . . think, my dear, that. . . I can stand. I believe I . . .must have injured my back when that. . .that creature threw me to the ground. And my shoulder pains me as well. How. . .”

Elizabeth quieted her gently for the lady was obviously becoming distraught at her situation. A few questions determined that she lived some distance away - certainly too far to be carried. There was only one recourse. Elizabeth gently unwrapped the strap of a bag that had wound itself around the woman’s arm and then turned to her footman.

“John. You must run home and bring my uncle and several other man-servants. As well, bring some strong blankets for a litter, for we must carry Mrs. . .?”

She looked at the lady expectantly.

“Powell. . .Mrs. Powell.”

“Hurry, John. Oh, and have someone send for Mr. Harper. Immediately! Quick now, John, there’s no time to be lost. The ground is cold and we should not want Mrs. Powell to become ill. Hurry!” Elizabeth discerned that John was reluctant to leave her alone and unprotected. “I shall be well for the few minutes you are gone.” She looked about her, “There are too many people around, for you to fear for my safety. Now go!” In truth, there were only two or three people and while they appeared to be studiously watching the two women, none had yet approached them.

After John had left, Elizabeth turned back to her companion. “I should, I suppose, introduce myself. I am Miss Elizabeth Bennet. And we shall we be carrying you to my aunt and uncle’s home which is nearby. Mr. Harper is the family physician and will attend you there.”

“I cannot be such an imposition! Perhaps you might arrange for a carriage to take me home.”

“You cannot stand up, and I doubt you capable of walking. A carriage ride is impossible, or at least it shall be until Mr. Harper decides it safe for you to travel. Come, let us be sensible. There is room enough at my aunt’s home for you and I know she would not wish you to risk your health.”

Mrs. Powell lapsed back, a shake of her head all that she could manage by way of objection. Elizabeth suspected that her injuries pained her more than she wished to reveal and thus, in the interest of diverting the lady, Elizabeth began to talk of other things. As she spoke, she regarded the woman more closely. She appeared to be rather elderly, perhaps nearly seventy years of age which made her resistance to her attacker more startling. Her garments were of superior quality and her speech, once her emotions were brought under order, was refined and her voice pleasant despite being strained by her attempts to control any display of discomfort. She was, in short, a very elegant, elderly lady and Elizabeth rather thought her Aunt Gardiner might present the same appearance in the distant future. It was a pleasing thought, for she greatly admired her aunt, and wondered if this lady was cast from a similar mould.

"You were very brave." whispered Mrs. Powell. “No, do not deny it. That boy was about to strike me when you screamed at him.”

“I did not realize I had.” chuckled Elizabeth. “I was so concerned when I saw him raise his arm that I acted without thinking. I screamed? It is a good thing Mama did not hear, for she would be quite annoyed with me.”

“I cannot think why. If you had not acted, I am sure I would be the worse for it.”

Elizabeth continued to speak with the lady, mainly to distract her from her pain, until her uncle and several servants arrived Mrs. Powell was gently lifted onto the makeshift litter and carried carefully to the Gardiner home. Mr. Harper arrived about a half hour later, made his examination and presented his findings to Mrs. Powell, Elizabeth and the Gardiners.

“Mrs. Powell is not to be moved.” he declared firmly, “It would be injurious to her health. I do not believe her injuries to be life threatening. . .if she remains immobile for at least a week. She appears to have wrenched both her shoulder and her back, and the latter rather severely, and I cannot but be concerned that more serious and permanent damage could arise, should she attempt to be moved. A carriage ride is most definitely out of the question.” He glared at Mrs. Powell who looked mulishly stubborn and whose voice was as firm as she could manage, given her injures.

“I shall, I assure you, be quite capable of travelling by coach tomorrow, if it travels slowly. I will not impose on these good people and I wish to be in my own home.”

Mr. Harper appealed to her once more, “Mrs. Powell, I am sure you do not wish to further injure your back. I cannot guarantee that such will not result should you attempt to travel now. You must be sensible, Madam. I do not overstate the danger, for I have seen other cases where an injury to a back was not accorded the proper respect. One such case made a man a cripple for the remainder of his life.”

Mr. Gardiner was quick to add his support, “It is not to be thought of. Mrs. Powell may be assured of every attention while she remains here. She will be no inconvenience at all. However,” and he paused, “If Mrs. Powell is uncomfortable remaining in my house – I am engaged in trade, after all – I will quite understand her desire to remove to her own home.”

Mrs. Gardiner echoed her husband's assurances and, after several repetitions, Mrs. Powell was persuaded to accept them, after assuring the Gardiners that she was not so high in the instep as to object to staying in the house of a tradesman. At the Gardiners’ house, she would remain until the doctor felt it safe for her to leave. He was to return in several days to see how she fared; after several more words of encouragement and instructions for her care, he made his departure.

It is always difficult to be confined to a bed with limited amusements to wile way the time. If Elizabeth was not particularly involved in Mrs. Powell’s personal care – that task falling to the servants – she did make it her responsibility to entertain their guest and alleviate her boredom. It was, she found, quite a pleasant task. Mrs. Powell was a well-read woman, with a love of literature, a fondness for the theatre, museums and exhibitions to be found in London, and the means to enjoy them all. During Mrs. Powell’s sojourn at the Gardiners (which lasted slightly more than a fortnight), they had ample opportunity to determine that she and Elizabeth shared an appreciation for such amusements. A resolution was thus formed to partake of those entertainments together - once Mrs. Powell’s health would permit. A firm friendship had been established, despite the disparity in their ages.

Elizabeth was to learn that Mrs. Powell was a widow, her husband having died some ten years past. He was a barrister with a prosperous practice and she, the only child of a gentleman from Leeds, had married him almost fifty years ago. They had only one child – a daughter who died while young. She had few relatives as both her parents had been an only child and her husband’s family had also been small. His closest relative – a distant cousin connected through her father now deceased – lived in Kent and, as Mrs. Powell declared, “A more unpleasant mother that child has, you cannot imagine. My husband and I saw no more of them than was necessary, although the mother would insist on visiting us in town every year when she came for the season. We could not escape the acquaintance altogether.”

Mrs. Powell was to learn that Elizabeth was not yet nineteen, lived on her father’s estate, Longbourn, in Hertfordshire, and visited her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner as often as she could. She had four sisters, a silly, rather vulgar mother - although Elizabeth would not have said as much but Mrs. Powell could take her own measure of the woman from Elizabeth’s description of her actions - and a father who, while intelligent and held in considerable esteem by his daughter, appeared (to Mrs. Powell) to be indifferent to the situation facing his family. His estate was entailed away from the female line and he had no sons. As well, his daughters had only small portions and moved in a limited society within which there were few eligible young men. Their prospects were poor and Mr. Bennet seemed either blind to the situation or unwilling to exert himself to remedy it.

When Mrs. Powell was deemed fit to return to her own home, she wished to maintain her connection to Elizabeth. A correspondence was agreed upon and Elizabeth was induced, after only a token resistance, to agree to visit Mrs. Powell in several months’ time.

“For” declared Mrs. Powell, “I shall have the pleasure of being able to accompany you to those entertainments we discussed and, as I live an easy distance – no more than a brisk walk – from Hyde Park, we shall find a surfeit of entertainment there. You must come for two months complete and we shall walk every day in the park and laugh at the antics of society. You will enjoy the spectacle, I am sure.”

“And, my dear Elizabeth,” she continued, “I shall have no more of this Mrs. Powell nonsense. You shall call me Aunt Susan, for I am not yet ready to be called Grandmama. Perhaps, when you marry and have a child, I shall own to the title.”

Powell Residence
______ Street
London, England
Spring, 1809

Elizabeth first visit had been several months after Mrs. Powell had returned to her home, had lasted for over a month and was enjoyed immensely by both ladies. The society within which Mrs. Powell moved differed from that of the Gardiners. By virtue of Mr. Powell’s successful career as a barrister they had moved very comfortably in that tier of society falling just below that graced by the most eminent and titled personages. Mrs. Powell’s home was modestly sized, located on the perimeter of the most fashionable area and comfortably furnished. Her enjoyments were of an intellectual nature – apart from daily walks in Hyde Park - and her friends were of a similar age and disposition. She enjoyed their society by calling on them, and being called upon in turn. Elizabeth was quite content to share such pleasures. It was, however, beyond Mrs. Bennet’s understanding why Mrs. Powell did not put Elizabeth in the way of eligible young men, but as neither Elizabeth nor Mrs. Powell were disposed to worry about that matter, there was little for Mrs. Bennet to do but complain. As it happened, Mrs. Powell’s acquaintances were much of an age with her and had grandsons enough to satisfy even Mrs. Bennet, it was simply a matter of mischance that the gentlemen were absent during Elizabeth’s visit.

After Elizabeth’s first visit, Mrs. Powell was so pleased at her easy acceptance into her society that she resolved on introducing Elizabeth into more and better society than she could find in Hertfordshire. After informing Elizabeth of that intent, she added, “I am feeling better and more myself with every week that passes. You shall visit me again this autumn during the small season and we shall have the pleasure of more lively society.”

Elizabeth’s attempt to decry the need for more lively society and to express her contentment with that already provided was dismissed by Mrs. Powell.

“I was never to have the pleasure of sponsoring my daughter into society and had no nieces to remedy the deficiency. Allow me the pleasure. We shall have a most enjoyable time.”

“I do not,” she continued after a brief pause, “have the endurance to suffer through a full schedule of activities. Some of my friends speak of two or three events per day. No, do not look so alarmed. We shall be more sensible, shall we not? I believe that two or three events a week will do us quite well. I enjoy dining out, if the company is pleasant and intelligent, and I have seen that you do so as well. Perhaps a ball or an assembly or two but nothing more.” She considered Elizabeth carefully. “Yes, and you must come to stay a fortnight before the season starts that I might outfit you properly. No! No! Do not argue with me. I never had the pleasure of dressing my daughter and you must not deny me it now.”

Elizabeth shook her head, “Aunt Susan, I cannot accept such generosity. I have several gowns and I am sure my father will allow me funds to buy a few more. I shall be quite content.”

“But I shall not! I must update my own wardrobe and to add a few more gowns for you is a trivial expense. And,” her gaze became teasing, “shall I inform your mother that you have refused my offer?”

Elizabeth began to giggle at the thought of her mother’s reaction, “That is unconscionably unfair of you.”

“I quite agree. Is it sufficient, do you think, to persuade you to accept?”

Elizabeth could see that her friend was not to be denied. She knew that Mrs. Powell had always regretted not having more children and that the loss of her only child had been a source of much unhappiness. She could only nod, adding, “Although, I would not wish you to be excessive. I will petition my father for some extra funds. You must allow me this much.”

Beyond Longbourn

PeterMay 17, 2017 01:44PM

Re: Beyond Longbourn

PESMay 19, 2017 10:31PM

So glad to see another story by you!

LisaZMay 19, 2017 05:40AM

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Lucy J.May 19, 2017 05:18AM

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