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Beyond Longbourn - Chapter Seven

June 21, 2017 11:14PM
Chapter Seven

Bennet Residence
______ Street, London
Monday, December 30, 1811

Elizabeth was discovering that it was quite a different thing to be mistress of one’s home rather than a guest in another’s. They had been settled in Mrs. Powell’s home, now hers, for almost a week now. She was only just beginning to accept the reality of the change. It was a great help that they had been able to persuade Mr. and Mrs. Hill to accompany them to London along with a Longbourn maid, Sarah, and a footman, Robert. Longbourn’s cook had declined the offer, as she and Tabitha, the other maid, had been offered positions in Meryton. Thus, they had been required to hire only a cook and another maid to staff the house. Mrs. Powell had not kept a carriage, not wishing the expense involved in hiring grooms and caring for the horses. Elizabeth could still remember her acerbic comment on the matter.

“It is a great deal of expense and bother to maintain a stable which one rarely uses, and is done solely to impress those who care for such things. I do not - and have no aversion to hiring a hackney or coach should the occasion warrant the expense.”

As Elizabeth was of a like mind, the stables at the rear of the house remained unused. Perhaps she might rent them out should someone express an interest in them. Perhaps, when their mourning period was over and they were more active in society, the matter could be revisited; but for now, a carriage and horses were an unwarranted luxury. She had been here nearly a week and had required a hackney but once.

Their Uncle Gardiner had taken it as a matter of urgency to hire a companion for them and would not allow them to move into the house until one had been secured. His application to several agencies had produced a flock of candidates which he and his wife, with Jane and Elizabeth’s assistance, sorted through, selecting three to be interviewed. All three ladies met with general satisfaction; however, one possessed an advantage that made her selection obvious. Mrs. Alice Sutton was a woman of about forty-five years, a childless widow whose husband had died about five years before. She was the youngest daughter of a Baron and, while her jointure was sufficient for her to live on, it was not sufficient to support her at the level to which she become accustomed and her own family was unable to provide much assistance. Her choices were to remove to a less expensive locale, or, if she wished to remain in London, as was the case, she must find employment. The income was essential and employment her preference, for she was not inclined to remarry, nor to idleness. She had, therefore, once her year of mourning had ended, sought and obtained a position of companion to the daughter of a prosperous landowner from the south of England with whom her family was acquainted. The daughter was to make her way into society and needed the guidance of one familiar with London society, an office her own mother could not fill.

Mrs. Sutton had respectable connections which had allowed her to successfully guide her young charge for the past three years until the young lady, by having married, no longer required her services. In the performance of her duties, she had both improved upon her circle of connections, a circumstance which Mr. Gardiner greatly appreciated as he could provide nothing comparable to advance his nieces’ interests. When informed that she was to guide two young ladies into society, her only request was to meet her potential charges beforehand. She was not discouraged by the more limited financial means at the disposal of her charges. Mr. Gardiner assured her that additional funds could be made available should the need arise. Once having met and conversed with Jane and Elizabeth for a half hour, Mrs. Sutton was quite pleased to accept the position. She was willing to start at once and so, when the two Bennet sisters moved into their new home, Mrs. Sutton accompanied them.

Elizabeth’s thoughts drifted to the week that had just passed. Most of their belongings had been shifted from the Gardiners’ home before the move into the townhouse and they had visited several times to organize things to their preference. Thus, it had taken them only a day to settle in. Once they had done so, a funeral wreathe was placed on the front door and the knocker put on. As Elizabeth explained to Jane, “We cannot expect any visitors on our behalf as we are known to very few, but Mrs. Powell was known to her neighbours, as was I, although to a much more limited extent. I should like to give them an opportunity to express their condolences. More importantly, it will also allow us to establish our presence here.”

The knocker remained up for a se’nnight before being removed once more. In the interval, many of their neighbours made brief visits to express their regrets at Mrs. Powell's passing and to learn about the new residents of the house. Those with whom Elizabeth had the closest acquaintance were made privy to the circumstances of the Bennet sisters and it was a matter of only a few days for most of the neighbourhood to understand that they were mourning the loss of family members as well as Mrs. Powell. Mrs. Throckmorton and the Misses Spurrell, May and June, had been closest to Mrs. Powell and expressed their intention to maintain the connection with Elizabeth.

“I visited Susan on Tuesdays and she returned the favour on Thursdays.” declared Mrs. Throckmorton in her usual manner which allowed for no dissent. “I have missed her company excessively and you must continue the practice, Miss Elizabeth. I shall call every Tuesday – you may count on it – and shall expect to see you on Thursday next. I quite depend upon it!”

The Misses Spurrell, who always happened to call at the same time with Mrs. Throckmorton, nodded eagerly and Elizabeth smiled pleasantly at the three ladies. They were uniformly kind and, if the Misses Spurrell were inclined to enjoy gossip, it was never performed in a malicious manner. She could see that Mrs. Throckmorton’s reserved, rather severe manner had disconcerted her sister and resolved to speak with her later. It had taken her some time but she had gradually earned the lady’s respect and she owed her a debt of gratitude for her warning regarding Mr. Townsend, although his own actions had rendered it unnecessary.

“I shall be delighted to call.” Elizabeth replied.

Jane, who had recommended herself to all three ladies by her gentle manner, added, “We have, by circumstances, been required to remove ourselves from our closest neighbours. It will be most agreeable to find new acquaintances here.”


In the weeks since the fire, Elizabeth had come to terms with her own grief. The passing of Mrs. Powell had been compounded by the unexpected deaths in her family. If those deaths had taken some time to occur - if they had lingered for some months - their passing would have been anticipated. Death might even have been welcomed, if they were suffering greatly. She wished to console herself with the thought that her sisters and parents had been so overcome with heat and smoke as to be spared any prolonged suffering. She hoped that was the case at least. She resolved to remove from her memory, those remembrances of them that were unpleasant and think of them only in those instances where she found happiness and comfort in their company.

She had few occasions to speak with Mary since they left Meryton. She, along with the Philipses, had visited briefly on Christmas day, but there had been little opportunity to talk. From her letters, Elizabeth suspected that Mary, who had been slighted by everyone in the family with the possible exception of Jane, did not mourn the loss of her family as greatly as her sisters. In fact, Elizabeth thought that Mary was happier and more content now than she had been in years. With her aunt and uncle Philips, she was an integral part of their lives and the sole object of her aunt’s affections. It spoke poorly of her parents, Elizabeth believed, that a child would mark their passing with so little regret. But she supposed one could not slight and insult a child for years and then expect that child to think well of you. Mary gave voice to all the usual platitudes, but Elizabeth could discern no overwhelming grief, and she had never seen her sister cry. If Mary felt anything, Elizabeth could only suppose, from something she said during her visit, that she felt a degree of remorse for not regretting their passing as her religious teachings suggested was right and proper. She appeared, however, to bear her suffering with considerable equanimity. Elizabeth was pleased that Mary was content in her new existence and, if she herself would be driven to bedlam by her Aunt Philips, Mary suffered her effusions quite easily and happily.

Jane had yet to be reconciled to the loss of her parents and sisters, although one not accustomed to her manner might not be aware of her distress. She grieved, but as was her wont, she did so in private and allowed few signs of that grief to disturb her equanimity or the serenity of her countenance. She had always been her mother’s favourite, although that appreciation was based on nothing more substantial than Jane’s beauty. Mr. Bennet had also regarded his eldest with approbation, for her common sense and equitable manner. Jane had, somehow, found it within herself to view even her youngest sisters with charity and, with their loss, had endowed them with all the good attributes that she had longed to see in them. Their good qualities were embellished and their many faults, forgotten. Consequently, the mother and sisters she mourned were much kinder and more genteel in death than they ever had been in life. Her gentle heart would have it no other way and Elizabeth, although not similarly inclined, was unwilling to more than mildly disagree.

Elizabeth could hear the murmurings of Jane and one of the maids as they busied themselves in the hall, removing the Christmas decorations. The festive season was over. The Gardiner's had come to ______ Street on Christmas day to celebrate the occasion along with the Philipses and Mary. It had been the first time Elizabeth would act as hostess in her own home and she confessed, to herself alone, that the prospect had made her nervous. Mrs. Sutton and Mrs. Hill seemed to understand her desire to impress and had driven the staff to thoroughly clean the main rooms. Elizabeth doubted that even the Regent himself would find fault with the cleanliness of her home or with the elegance of her arrangements. The day had passed in the most agreeable fashion. If memories of Christmases past intruded, there was a determined air on the part of everyone to push them aside and, for the sake of the children, make the day as cheerful as possible.

Elizabeth looked around in satisfaction. This was her study and served also as the library. She had inherited an impressive array of books and, if not as extensive as the library at Longbourn, her bookshelves were full to overflowing. She rather thought she might have to add additional shelves, for she fully intended to add to the volumes already owned. She might dislike Mr. Darcy but, on this one matter they were of a like mind. She also could not contemplate the neglect of a library. Mr. Hill knocked and entered upon her command, the post in his hand. A letter to Jane was amongst them and Hill was directed to give it to her. Elizabeth had received several letters, all involving accounts from various shops and one was in a hand she readily recognized. Charlotte Lucas had written and Elizabeth was pleased to hear from her and learn of events transpiring in Hertfordshire. Her accounts could wait a few minutes more; she opened Charlotte’s letter first. Much of it was simply a recounting of the various activities, marriages, births and sundry minutiae that comprised life in a small community. Leavened with Charlotte’s wit and slightly sardonic outlook, it produced a wave of homesickness – not for Longbourn or Meryton, but for her friend’s company. Charlotte was the only person she regretted leaving. It was not until the end of the letter that her friend mentioned something of particular interest.

I must confess something to you, Eliza, that I have no doubt will distress you. It relates to your cousin, Mr. Collins. I had noticed his attentions to you at the Netherfield ball and, from what your mother related that evening, it was clear she expected him to make you an offer of marriage. It was obvious to me, from knowing you so well, that such an offer would be unwelcome. I did not doubt but that your sensibilities would be offended at the prospect of a lifetime as his wife. That your father would require you to marry him, I thought most unlikely. You were, I know, still sanguine as to your prospects and would not settle for a life with a man for whom you held so little respect and esteem. I am not so fortunate and cannot be overly particular. It serves none of us well to ignore the fact that my circumstances and prospects are bleak. The presence of an eligible and respectable gentleman, with a decent living and an excellent future situation (forgive me for saying so but it is too obvious to ignore) could not be disregarded. You refused his offer as I expected. My invitation to him to dine with my family had an ulterior motive beyond alleviating your distress at his presence. I wished to secure him for myself and I believe, were it not for the calamitous events that followed, I would have been successful. I can almost see the expression of distaste on your countenance now. But you know I am not romantic and I could tolerate Mr. Collins’ foibles quite well, if my future was secured.

However, once established as the owner of Longbourn, Mr. Collins’ attitude changed. While he remained with us for several days, his attentions to me ceased. I do not think it to be, at first, an intentional action on his part but rather he was much involved in matters relating to Longbourn. I also understand he sent a letter to his patroness, probably seeking her guidance, for he seems to do little that she does not support or recommend. In any event, he received a return post several days later and removed himself almost immediately to the Meryton Inn. His attentions to me were clearly over. I have heard gossip to the effect that he is now seeking a wife with a dowry sufficient to rebuild Longbourn and I, with the small portion I would bring to a marriage, am no longer suitable.

My father gives us to understand that Mr. Collins intends to return to Kent and resume his duties as a clergyman. Longbourn will be left under the direction of a steward and the income from the estate accumulated until sufficient to construct a new manor house. My father says that Mr. Collins intends to rebuild the house to a much finer and prestigious standard. Perhaps like Netherfield. Given Mr. Collins’ admiration for Rosings Park, I suspect it will be grand indeed. If there is any good from this matter, it is that my father is very much offended on my behalf at Mr. Collins’ inconstancy. I do not know how long it shall persist, but for now I enjoy his sympathy.

Elizabeth shook her head in dismay. She had never seen Rosings Park, but her cousin’s descriptions had left her with an impression of gaudy and senseless extravagance, masquerading as elegance. Mrs. Powell, who spoke of Lady Catherine no more than essential, had indicated that she had cause to visit there but once and had concluded that taste and refinement were claimed but sorely lacking. If Longbourn was to be rebuilt as a poor replica of Rosings Park, Elizabeth could only fear for the financial security of the estate. While her father had been an indolent master, little inclined to improve the estate for the benefit of his heir, he had not materially harmed it. Mr. Collins, stupid where her father was intelligent, and more active than her father, could do irreparable harm. His heir might well inherit an estate in such poor condition as to require years to recover. And could Longbourn even support a house such as Rosings Park, or even Netherfield, without limiting the income left for the family? She doubted it very much. She returned to the letter.

My father also took your uncle’s warning about Mr. Collins’ behaviour seriously and made inquiries at Longbourn amongst the staff that were present on the night of the fire. No one revealed anything of significance, although my father believes that one or two were particularly reluctant to answer his questions. Given their dependence upon the estate and its owner, this is not altogether unexpected. There was, in the end, no cause to pursue the matter further.

I must relate one matter of concern, Eliza. It appears that the information that Mr. Collins was in Longbourn’s kitchen shortly before the fire was believed to have started, has been made a subject of rampant gossip. I have heard suggestions that he caused the fire, although no proof that he was involved has been offered. My father has been requested, more than once, to investigate and has done so. It is the circumstances of the matter that weigh so heavily against Mr. Collins. He benefited from the fire; he was the first out and admits to being in the kitchen shortly before the fire began. I do not see him as culpable in the matter but the talk has not died down. I fear he will not be well received when he returns to Longbourn

Elizabeth could not credit that Mr. Collins had caused the fire. There had been no sign of guilt when the question of the fire had been discussed. He had been uncomfortable when pressed on the matter of his presence in the kitchen but he had asserted that he had left and she had no reason not to believe him. She could not believe a clergyman would act in so reprehensible a manner as to start a fire and cause the deaths of her parents and sisters. It was everything impossible; however, that he might make little effort to save them, she could not disbelieve.


Mrs. Sutton entered the library. As she had anticipated, Elizabeth was curled up in the large armchair beside the fire, her feet tucked underneath her. It had been much too cold for one of Elizabeth’s usual walks, for which Mrs. Sutton gave earnest thanks, for she was Elizabeth’s occasional companion when she could indulge herself. Mrs. Sutton took little pleasure in any activity that exposed her unnecessarily to excessive cold and this winter had been much colder than usual. The Thames did not freeze over very often. She seated herself in the matching armchair on the other side of the fireplace and waited for Elizabeth to acknowledge her presence. Her patience was not unduly tested.

“Mrs. Sutton,” said Elizabeth with a small smile and laying her book aside, “as you have not brought a book with you, I am to assume you wish for conversation.”

Mrs. Sutton returned her smile and nodded. “Indeed, Miss Elizabeth. You recall, I hope, a conversation between us shortly after my arrival?”

“About my lack of accomplishments?” Elizabeth smiled to herself. She could not help but remember Miss Bingley’s overbearing listing of what constituted the proper accomplishments of a lady. Elizabeth had no doubt Miss Bingley felt herself in possession of each and every one. For herself, she had recognized that her own were deficient and Mrs. Sutton had not hesitated to propose to remedy her shortcomings and those of Jane as well.

Mrs. Sutton nodded once again. “I have,” she replied, “undertaken to investigate the services of several masters – one who will instruct on the pianoforte and another proficient in French and Italian.”

“I confess that my abilities at the pianoforte could benefit from instruction; however, Jane does not play at all.”

“Miss Bennet,” said Mrs. Sutton “must learn. I have been given to understand that her mother felt it sufficient that she be beautiful. I am sure you realize that London is home to many beautiful young women and most will have accomplishments to offer as well. Your sister needs to improve her situation and now has the time and opportunity to do so.”

“And the language master?” asked Elizabeth, knowing well the answer.

“You all are quite deficient in that area and must make the effort to obtain at least some proficiency in French and Italian.” replied Mrs. Sutton grimly. “You have a working understanding of both, although there is much room for improvement. Your sister, however, has no proficiency in either language. Consider the cost an investment in your futures.”

Elizabeth reviewed mentally her budget and their expenses so far. They faced, to her knowledge, no immediate or pressing needs and their income should well support hiring two masters. After querying Mrs. Sutton as to the cost and frequency of instruction – the music master to visit twice a week and the language instructor, four - Elizabeth requested that her sister join them.

Jane surprisingly proved most resistant to the idea, for she had no natural inclination towards music or languages, despite owning a pleasant singing voice, and had never been pushed to acquire the rudiments of either. To make the attempt, at her age, filled her with anxiety and she could only be convinced to exert herself by the assurances, readily given by Elizabeth and Mrs. Sutton, that she would not be pressed to display until she felt ready to do so.

The two masters were duly hired. If Elizabeth could take solace in the music master being pleased at her level of skill, although insisting it could be markedly improved, his insistence on more rigorous and systematic practice did not please a great deal, for as she complained to Mrs. Sutton, “I can find more enjoyable means of wiling away my idle hours than sitting down before a pianoforte.”

Mrs. Sutton, whose expression of sympathy was scant, only smiled, patted her shoulder and directed her to the instrument.

Jane’s reservations regarding the pianoforte were not without justification; however, the master was convinced that she could become proficient enough to perform simple pieces, if only for her own amusement. He was excessively pleased with her singing voice and suggested that a special master be hired for her instruction. As Jane preferred to sing rather than play the pianoforte, her request for a singing master was agreed to. She was not, however, allowed to forsake her lessons on the pianoforte.

Madame Fournier, the language master, was a woman of a certain age, a native of southern France and fluent in both languages. Fortunately, it proved expeditious for the Bennet sisters to take instruction together and they made rapid progress in each language with lessons held daily, excepting only Sundays and days when they received music instruction. Elizabeth, who had gained the rudiments of both French and Italian in order to read foreign literature, struggled somewhat with speaking either language. Mrs. Sutton, who was fluent in both, encouraged their efforts by requiring them to speak on alternate days in one language or the other. One of their preferred activities became reading foreign novels aloud in the evening. Surprisingly, Jane’s progress was remarkable. She appeared to have a natural gift for languages which Mrs. Sutton suspected had to do with her singing ability. She had excellent pitch when singing and quickly was able to merge that ability with songs in Italian and French. It became a favourite activity for them to practice duets with Elizabeth playing the pianoforte and Jane singing.

______ Street, London
Mid-January, 1812

She watched him as he rose from her bed. His clothes had been carelessly thrown at a chair and were strewn about it with more having landed on the floor than on the chair. He had been eager to have her, for he had been unable to visit for several weeks. He had taken his pleasure quickly with no thought to hers, although, as she acknowledged to herself, he had always considered her pleasure in their intimacies as secondary to his own. It was not that he was a poor lover, for he could be quite competent in that regard when he chose to make the effort. It was his basic selfishness that interfered. She was his, much like his horse, his carriage and any other possession. His mistress. Bought and paid for. To be used for his pleasure when it was convenient to his needs. If, on occasion, he gave thought to her satisfaction, it was, she understood, no more consideration than he might accord his horse. He rode them both for his pleasure, not theirs. She wondered sometimes that he would incur the expense, for keeping a mistress involved not a trifling sum, but supposed that the security of the arrangement, the freedom from risk of contracting a disease which not even the most expensive of brothels could guaranty, was a primary incentive.

She knew that he would not be satisfied with just the one encounter and, after allowing him some minutes to recover, had applied herself to rousing him again. Fortunately, he was a young man and it had taken little effort on her part. His second “ride” – for that seemed the most appropriate term – had lasted longer and given her some pleasure as well. It was well that hers had arrived before his, for she doubted he would have been attentive enough afterwards to have satisfied her needs. He had fallen asleep almost at once and slept for more than an hour before waking and demanding her again.

He would not stay after that, rising almost immediately from her bed. That was his way. He arrived at night, usually after her neighbours were abed. A note in the afternoon was all the warning he would afford her. He came to her twice a week (Sundays and Thursdays without fail if he was in town) and she was to be home to him those nights – his note was simply a courteous gesture. He left well before any of the servants in her neighbourhood were awake. She had once questioned him on it; his answer was revealing, “I simply do not wish my reputation to be compromised in any way.”

They had never encountered one another in public since she became his mistress. She had, however, seen him on one occasion, quite by accident, when they both attended an art exhibit. He had been in company with another gentleman and several young ladies, one of whom appeared to be the object of his attentions. The young lady gave every evidence of enjoying those attentions and, while a closer inspection was impossible, she appeared to look remarkably like herself in colouring and figure. She wondered if her master preferred women with particular looks. It was not, she thought, that she was of a jealous nature. He stirred no romantic feelings in her. The only interest she harboured was to ensure that their final separation came at her convenience and not his.

She had served him well for three years now. Her circumstances were such that this was her only means of living a comfortable existence. Her husband's death had left her almost impoverished at the age of twenty-seven. Her master, for that was how she thought of him, had had a slight acquaintance with her husband, had dined with them once or twice, and, after her husband’s passing, had called upon her with his offer. He intimated his knowledge of her circumstances, although how he came by such knowledge he had never imparted to her. For her part, with only her beauty and a small jointure of less than two thousand pounds to support her (for her husband had almost as many debts as assets), her choices had been limited. She could move to the country and try and subsist on an income of less than a hundred pounds a year or accept a gentleman’s protection. After the latter had made his interest known, she had accepted his offer. His generosity was not excessive. She had a decent home, two discreet servants and had effected a modest lifestyle so that, from her income, she might put aside sufficient funds as to live modestly when he tired of her. And he would tire of her, she knew. All that she required was another two or three years and she could retire to a small cottage in the country where she was unknown - a widow of more than thirty years would not be conspicuous.

Claire, she called herself when she was with him. It separated her from whom she had been and who she would be in the future. She did not like what Claire had to do. It was necessary, the intimacy was not unpleasant – he was not a cruel or violent man – but neither did she feel the same pleasure as she had shared with her husband. Her master, for she rarely called him by name, had, when requested, laughingly accommodated the request to call her Claire, for it mattered not at all to him. She doubted he understood the reason for her doing so or would even spare the time to think about it, for that would suggest his concern or interest extended beyond her bed and body. She was certain it did not.

His consistency of behaviour pleased her, however. His attendance was regular and his demands, simple. The only alteration in it for the past three years had been the past autumn when he had been out of town for two months. She found she had missed his company, abbreviated as it usually was, for marriage had created within her an appreciation for marital intimacies and their absence for so many weeks had made her restless. His return had been unexpected. His note to expect him on a Wednesday night had surprised her, for she was unaware he had even returned to town. He had arrived at his normal time but his behaviour had been almost savage as he had used her forcefully several times. If it had not been for her own desires, she might have found his efforts excessive. As it was, she was as sated by the experience as he and when he called upon her the following night, as was his custom, she wondered what to expect. However, it appeared that whatever devils had ridden him the night before had left and his manner was as it usually was.

”Till Sunday, then.” he said as he opened the door to her bed chamber. And then he was gone. She lay back in her bed and allowed her hands to roam. His last effort had left her wanting and such solace as she needed could now only be provided by herself. Some fifteen minutes later, she finally relaxed and found her own sleep.

Philips Residence
Meryton, Hertfordshire
Late January, 1812

Mary Bennet was, for the most part, extremely content with her decision to live with her aunt and uncle Philips. For the first time in her memory, she was a central and cherished member of a family. Her aunt bore many similarities to Mrs. Bennet but in two aspects she was radically different. First and foremost, Mary, by virtue of her wishing to live with them had become the most important of their nieces. There was little she could not ask and have it granted. The Philipses, for instance, did not own a pianoforte. Mary had only to express a desire for one and offer to pay for it, when the first was agreed and the offer rejected.

“My dear,” said Mrs. Philips, “We had no use for an instrument as I never learned to play, but now that you are here and take such delight in playing, we shall, of course, acquire one. I believe Mrs. Taylor has one that her daughters, who have all grown and left home, used at one time but, of course, she does not need it now. I shall inquire of her directly. And shall you wish for a master, Mary? I know that Mrs. Small is quite proficient. Shall I inquire of her also?”

Mary was quite amenable to both suggestions, and within a week the pianoforte had been moved from the Taylor residence to that of the Philipses and Mrs. Small had visited to provide her first instruction. As it turned out, there was little in Mary’s technique that required improvement but a great deal in her understanding of the music and her manner of playing. Such correction had not been readily welcomed by Mary but, after listening to Mrs. Small perform, she had conceded the superiority of that performance to her own. Lessons proceeded more smoothly thereafter and her proficiency improved apace.

The second difference between Mrs. Philips and her sister was the absence of an all-consuming desire to see Mary wed. Mrs. Philips, to be sure, did wish her niece to find a respectable husband, but as her future security did not depend upon it, she was wont to forget the matter for whole days at a time. As well, she was inclined to assist in the improvement of Mary’s appearance rather than to disparage it; consequently, her niece became comfortable with modest changes that, despite her mourning garments made her more attractive. If there was one area in which Mrs. Philips and Mrs. Bennet were very much alike, it was in the desire for society and gossip. Mrs. Philips, despite being in mourning, curtailed her social activities only slightly and, though Mary might disapprove of the number of visitors they received and the frequency with which they dined out, she felt obliged, by courtesy and affection, to endure such activities as pleasantly as possible.

It was at the Gouldings that she overheard a conversation that gave her some concern. Several militia officers had attended in company with Colonel Forster - Mr. Wickham amongst them. She had been in the latter’s company on several occasions and had heard him relate a sad tale of mistreatment at the hands of Mr. Darcy on one such occasion. The tale was subsequently related to her in greater detail by the gentleman, although why he should favour her with it or that she would even be concerned, she could not comprehend. But relate it he did and she had no difficulty in determining his displeasure when she rebuked him for spreading gossip, and possibly slander, about a gentleman who was not present to defend himself. She attached a biblical quote which Mr. Wickham did not appreciate and when he shortly moved away, his loss was not repined. She had seen nothing in Mr. Darcy’s behaviour, nor that of Wickham, to lend credence to the latter’s story.

At the Gouldings, however, she found herself sitting near enough to her aunt, who had been joined by Mr. Wickham, to overhear their conversation. The beginning was innocuous enough.

”My dear Mrs. Philips,” said Mr. Wickham, “I was just remarking to Lady Lucas how kind it was of you to offer a home to Miss Mary.”

Mrs. Philips smiled at the compliment and acknowledged that they were pleased to have Mary’s company. “We would have welcomed her sisters as well, but as Lizzy had inherited a house in London, my brother thought it best for them to live there.”

Mr. Wickham spoke easily of the benefits of living in London, which he informed her, had been his principal residence for several years before he joined the ____shire militia. Mrs. Philips, whose familiarity with that city was largely limited to the area around Gracechurch Street, which she had visited several times to stay at her brother’s house, was much interested at what he had to say, finally volunteering to note, “Elizabeth’s house is quite superior and my brother has stated that it is happily situated near the Mayfair district.”

“Your niece was very fortune to have inherited such a house. And she and Miss Bennet live there? Alone?”

“Dear me, No! My brother would not hear of it. They have a companion and several of Longbourn’s servants accompanied them to London. Dear me! It would have been quite improper for Lizzy and Jane to have lived alone.”

“I am a little surprised that Miss Elizabeth did not marry her cousin. I had heard that their marriage was quite the certain thing.”

Mrs. Philips huffed, “Lizzy would not have it so, despite her mother’s wishes. I cannot think it a sensible decision, for she would have been mistress of Longbourn and her inheritance could have rebuilt Longbourn House. As it is, Mr. Collins refuses to stay in Longbourn village and has not funds sufficient to undertake the rebuilding.”

“Was Miss Elizabeth’s fortune so great then? It would not have been inexpensive to rebuild Longbourn.”

Mrs. Philips nodded enthusiastically. “Lizzy inherited, I understand, more than ten thousand pounds as well as the townhouse. I am sure a suitable building could have been constructed. Mr. Philips believes that seven or eight thousand would have been adequate for the purpose. And a Bennet would have lived at Longbourn.”

“Well, with her inheritance and ten thousand, she should be able to live quite well in London. Her sister has a small inheritance also, I understand, which will make their situation that much better. They are fortunate, indeed.”

Mrs. Philips agreed that they were, spoke warmly of Jane’s prospects, “I cannot understand why Mr. Bingley did not return. It was poorly done, for I am sure that his affections for Jane could not be mistaken.”

“I suspect we have Mr. Darcy to thank for that, Mrs. Philips. His pride and conceit would not wish for any of his friends to become attached to a lady of such limited consequence. I do not speak to disparage your niece, but Mr. Darcy moves in such rarified circles as to make him disdain the more humble society of Meryton.”

Mrs. Philips thought of this for several seconds and acknowledged that Mr. Wickham might have the truth of the matter.

“I wonder, Mrs. Philips,” said Wickham with some hesitation, “I had planned to visit some friends in London for a week. I would be greatly pleased to call upon your nieces, if that were to meet with their favour.”

Mrs. Philips could see no reason to object and, when pressed by Wickham for the direction to the Bennet townhouse, provided it willingly.

“I am sure,” said she, “that my nieces would be delighted to receive a call from such a handsome and gallant gentleman.”

Mary realized that her sisters and Mr. Gardiner would not appreciate such a call, for Elizabeth had been clear in her observations to her that they were receiving visits from family and close personal friends only. She was sure that Mr. Wickham did not qualify on the latter score. She moved directly to her aunt and Mr. Wickham.

“I apologize,” she said, ”but I could not help but overhear the latter part of your discussion. I do not think, Aunt, that Mr. Gardiner or Lizzy would wish for Mr. Wickham to call. They are observing very strict mourning and have accepted visits only from family and close friends. I do not believe Mr. Wickham can claim such a friendship. I would suggest, sir, that you apply first to my Uncle Gardiner, who is their guardian, for permission to visit.”

Mr. Wickham did not look pleased at her interruption; however, he quickly mastered his countenance, acknowledged the propriety of her suggestion and requested the direction to Mr. Gardiner. This was soon supplied. He remained only a short time with Mrs. Philips and her niece before moving away to speak with a fellow officer. Mary was left to wonder what he would do but, as he had indicated that he would contact Mr. Gardiner, thought of it no more. She had learned Mr. Wickham was presently paying his addresses to Miss Mary King who, according to her aunt’s gossip, had recently inherited a small fortune and was receiving Mr. Wickham’s attentions with pleasure. If he was courting Miss King, he could have no intentions towards Elizabeth.

Beyond Longbourn - Chapter Seven

PeterJune 21, 2017 11:14PM

Re: Beyond Longbourn - Chapter Seven

AlidaJune 22, 2017 07:44AM

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Teri_mCJune 22, 2017 05:29PM

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Sabine C.June 23, 2017 09:22AM

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blackhandJune 23, 2017 03:35AM

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KarenteaJune 23, 2017 11:25PM

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elleJune 22, 2017 11:39PM

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