Welcome back to Austen Promises!
I’m back with a revised edition of last week’s story. I read the feedback last week and made some changes to the first part. It’s been suggested to me that I need to try to like Mrs. Bennet myself if I’m going to make Darcy do it. Quite frankly, I’m not fond of her, at all, and this is a difficult process. Anyway, here’s the story, with additions. I’m curious about what kind of feedback I get this week. 🙂
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Fanny Bennet hurried from her sister Phillips’ home toward the milliner’s shop. She had forgotten to pick up a purchase of lace she had made for a gown she was remaking, and had left her five daughters with her sister so she could do it now. The milliner was a few doors down from the Phillips residence and just the other side of the haberdashery. She noted the open doors to that particular shop as she passed it and smiled to herself. The proprietor of that shop preferred fresh air to that of a closed up building, and every day that weather permitted, he had the doors wide open. Suddenly, she stopped, her eyes going wide at what she heard. She glanced in the windows beside the door and, realizing that if one of the speakers turned, he would see her, took a step forward and then pressed herself against the side of the building where she could hear but not be noticed.
“What do you think of the local ladies, Wickham?” Lieutenant Denny asked his friend who had only been a member of the militia for a few days.
“There are some beautiful women in this town,” Lieutenant George Wickham replied. “Especially those Bennets.”
Outside, Mrs. Bennet beamed, a grin spreading over her face.
“Ah, yes, the Bennet ladies. All five are pleasant to look upon, though the middle one is not as handsome as her sisters.” Denny agreed.
“If she dressed better, she would be,” Captain Carter observed as he joined his fellow officers. “She certainly has the shape the rest of her sisters do.”
“True, true, but her manner is off-putting. Miss Elizabeth is far more welcoming,” Wickham replied.
Mrs. Bennet shook her head. I have tried, she thought. I do not know where she gets it from. Must be Mr. Bennet’s side.
“Ah, but Miss Lydia and Miss Kitty are even more so,” Denny said. “There is not a single Bennet lady who is not happy to see us when we enter a room.”
On the sidewalk, Mrs. Bennet’s wide smile had returned. She nodded at an acquaintance who passed by but turned her attention back to the discussion in the shop.
Wickham snickered. “I venture to say any of them would be pleased to receive our attentions at any time or place.”
“Miss Lydia would certainly like to entertain you, Wickham. Denny and I noticed that weeks ago, at the Gouldings’ card party.”
“Yes,” Denny added, “I would venture to say that she is a peach ripe for the picking if you would just crook your finger at her.”
“She is a delectable morsel, I grant you, and based on the behaviour I have witnessed, she is rather round of heel. Any one of us could have her for the asking, if I am reading her correctly.” Wickham grinned lasciviously.
Mrs. Bennet’s mouth dropped open and tears filled her eyes. How could they say that about my Lydia? Her hands came up to prevent a sob from escaping. She vaguely registered the gentleman who approached, but her mind was fully engaged by the conversation.
“She is quite the flirt,” Carter agreed. “I have seen her throw herself at every man in the regiment.”
“The officers, anyway,” Denny sniggered.
“Yes, the officers,” Carter amended. “She seems rather fond of the red coats; I think if the soldiers had such bright uniforms, they would also be in danger.”
“You may be correct,” Wickham agreed, “but she is a gentleman’s daughter; I would imagine even an enlisted man with a bright coat would not have enough income to suit her desires.”
“What does that matter? None of us plan to marry her.” Denny asked.
Wickham and Carter laughed. “I certainly do not plan to marry a chit with nothing but good looks to her name. What about you, Captain?”
“Oh, no. Not I. My parents have made it perfectly clear that they expect a marriage to a girl from the best of society. If they witnessed Miss Lydia’s wanton behaviour and heard her wild speech, they would forbid me from even speaking to her.”
Mrs. Bennet, still standing outside of the shop on the wooden sidewalk, slumped against the wall. When a handkerchief was thrust at her, she accepted it, wiping her eyes and nose. Wanton? What do they mean? My Lydia is a good girl! Can this truly be their opinion?
“If her parents do not take the trouble to check her, she will ruin the whole family,” Denny stated. “As it is, her undisciplined character reflects badly on the rest. I would bet a month’s pay that she manages it before Christmastide.”
“That would be a shame, though I have no doubt it will happen. Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth are true ladies, and I would hate to see their reputations ruined.” Captain Carter added.
“They are,” Wickham agreed, “especially Miss Elizabeth. She would never share her favors willingly. She is an example her sisters should follow.”
Denny agreed. “She is. I admire her greatly. It is too bad she does not have a bigger dowry. She would make anyone an excellent wife.”
“Yes, I admire her, as well, but with a sister like Miss Lydia, she may never marry.” Wickham offered. “What say we lay odds on her ruin? You know how I enjoy a good wager.”
The other men laughed at Wickham’s eagerness.
“I think that is a capital idea,” Denny declared. “I will take the day before Christmas. Captain, are you in?”
“Indeed, I am. I say she will be ruined in a fortnight from today.”
Denny’s voice carried a laugh. “What say you, Wickham?”
“Let us see … I will split the difference. In three and twenty days, Miss Lydia Bennet will have ruined herself, and her sisters along with her. I am eager to see which officer manages the task.” He chuckled as his fellows laughed with him. His voice and the voices of his friends faded as they moved further into the shop.
Mrs. Bennet listened to the officers finish their conversation, feeling that heart was broken, as though someone had reached inside, grabbed it with both hands, and ripped it apart. Her mind was numb; the only thought in her head was, Is that how the neighbors view my Lydia? What do I do? Suddenly she realized that she had company.
Fitzwilliam Darcy had ridden his favorite gelding, Apollo, down the high street of Meryton on an errand to the book shop. He was staying with his friend, Charles Bingley, at a leased home with a poor library. The shelves were nearly bare in the well-appointed room. Bingley was not much of a reader, being a gentleman who preferred to be with people and out doing things, and so the lack of books did not bother him. It did Darcy, however, and he was set on gifting his friend a few good tomes to get him started.
Darcy had just passed the haberdasher when he noticed his friend’s neighbor, Mrs. Bennet, leaning against the wall. He could see distress in her features. Tears made wide, wet tracks down her cheeks and he was certain he heard a gasp behind the hand she had pressed to her mouth.
Mrs. Bennet was not Darcy’s favorite person. She was loud and excitable, and talked about things that should not be spoken of in polite company. He thought about moving on, attending to his errand and forgetting he had seen the lady, but his training as a gentleman would not allow him to pass by any female in distress. So, with a sigh, he pulled Apollo to a stop and dismounted, tying the beast to a post and approaching Mrs. Bennet.
Gently, Darcy spoke. “Mrs. Bennet, may I be of some assistance?” The lady did not seem to hear him, but had her head cocked toward the doorway of the shop, listening to the conversation within. Darcy quieted as he began to make out the words. His eyes closed as the speech got worse and worse. No wonder the lady is so distraught, he thought. He pushed his handkerchief into her hand remained silent beside her. When the voices faded, he turned to his companion.
“Mrs. Bennet?” Darcy touched her arm.
Mrs. Bennet started when she felt Darcy’s fingers touch her. She looked up, her brow creased.
“Are you well? May I help you?” Darcy braced himself for a loud exclamation. He was shocked when all the matron did was whisper.
“I-, I-, I do not know.”
Darcy looked around. He did not know if Mrs. Bennet had come to town alone, or if one of her daughters had accompanied her. Clearly, she was distressed, and with good reason; Darcy was certain she would rather be at home to deal with whatever it was than to wander the streets, confused.
“May I see you home?” Again, Darcy’s tone was gentle and soft. He was unused to emotional women, though his sister was at an age where tears were more likely than not. He watched his companion carefully, and when she nodded, he offered his arm, tucking her hand to his side when she accepted it. He turned them around, untied Apollo, and began the trek to Longbourn, walking slowly so as to accommodate Mrs. Bennet with the horse walking behind.
They had not walked far when Mrs. Bennet, who had until now remained silent except for the occasional sob into the handkerchief, spoke.
“They said such awful things about my Lydia. About all my girls.” Mrs. Bennet’s voice trembled.
“They did, and I am heartily sorry you had to hear it.” Darcy’s tone was, as usual, grave. Inside, he cursed Wickham, whose voice he had recognized, for his unguarded tongue and unchecked manner.
“They-, they said that all of my girls were welcoming, but they did not mean that in a nice way, did they?” Mrs. Bennet turned her blotchy and tear-streaked face up to Darcy’s.
Darcy sighed inwardly. He hated that he must have this conversation, but there was nothing for it. “No, madam, they did not, I am sad to say.”
Mrs. Bennet was silent for a few more minutes, and then, “Is this how my daughters are truly perceived? It cannot be! They are all very good girls. Lydia is high-spirited, yes; she is very much like me at that age. She is not a strumpet, though!” She looked up at him again, her eyes pleading for reassurance. “You are a gentleman. Do you see my daughters …” she could not say the words. “… as the officers do?”
Darcy swallowed and fought the urge to pull at his cravat. He did his best to avoid a direct response. “Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth are everything lovely and proper. You should be exceedingly proud of them. The other girls are very pretty, as well, and …” he searched for a word or phrase that would accurately describe them but not offend their mother.
What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment for me! <3