Posted on 2015-07-10
It is a truth universally acknowledged that an intelligent young woman, accomplished in music and of pleasant appearance, will rarely want for offers of interest from the male sector. With the latter predominantly to the fore as the first criteria, many a man's idle interest in music may suddenly blossom like spring daffodils when such a one appears . His reception, however, may well depend upon his financial status as much as his musical appreciation, for a talented musician needs something to live on just as does a tone-deaf one. " If music be the food of love, play on" as a certain well known bard once had stated.
Mrs Bennet let out an exaggerated hiss of annoyance.
"Dammit, Mr Bennet, sir; have you heard, Netherfield Park is let at last. How utterly inconvenient. Michelmas upon us and some young popinjay from up north has taken the let on it. Now you will have to go visiting and be all sociable just when I had the next couple of days all planned out, for he is sure to attend the Assembly. Shopping today for new bonnets, ribbons, shoes and cloaks for the assembly, tea and crumpets with Mrs Long at four, and a family discussion on the latest dance steps this evening. You were supposed to exercise the horses this morning and shoot a few dozen pheasants and grouse or something this afternoon, because unfortunately it is our turn to entertain the Crampets and Wilberforces this weekend. There have been rumours of a buzzard flying around Longbourne, so Mrs Long tells me, whatever one of those is, and I've never tried it as a game delicacy. No doubt she will get to try it first unless you can kill it and claim it. The new tenant will probably want to call and cast an eye over our girls when he hears about them, if indeed he has not done so already, but I doubt he has enough money to cater for all of us. He has probably heard about Mary. This wedding fiasco with the girls is so very tedious. What on earth your silly ancestors were doing handing our beloved family home over to a complete strangers in an entailment when you expire, totally escapes me. But for that we should be rich enough to spend a few months in France now that the war is more or less over, and not have to worry about living in a tent like a bunch of Gypsies when we got back. Entailments are very silly things indeed and quite beyond me! "
"Since most things are beyond you my dear, why should an entailment be any different?. So you think a few months in France would be very beneficial to you and would see me off do you? Ha, well I have no intentions of quitting the human race for a considerable time yet , I assure you my dearest, but if you see any indications of my doing so, please be sure to inform me and I shall be sure to get roaring drunk for a full week and be as totally objectionable as possible. "
Mr Bennet puffed out his cheeks in mild frustration and his fingers tapped out a tattoo on his knee. This was dashed inconvenient news indeed. He had no plans to go social-visiting anyone really, but tradition must ever be the servant of society and therefore better to get the task out of the way tidily and promptly. He would ride Thunderbolt, his faithful cob, the three miles to Netherfield and back, as he had not heard his wife arranging for any rain that day and no doubt, as accomplished as she was, it would still be pleasant to escape Mary's constant homage to Mozart's Requiem for an hour or two. Lizzie and Jane were out strolling around somewhere, probably on Meryton main street contemplating on the merits of pink versus lilac as Assembly dress choices, and Kitty and Lydia would no doubt be hiding in the hedgerows, on the way to Meryton, attempting to waylay anything in a uniform into hysterical flirtation mode . He would, he decided, suffer no great pangs of loss when the scarlet clad minions of the militia moved onwards to metaphorical richer pastures. With a resigned sigh he rose and headed off in the direction of the stables. Hopefully, tomorrow evening the family would depart en-masse to the Meryton Asssembly for a few hours, and leave him to his library a slice of cold pork pie and a small glass, or possibly two, of vintage claret. Yes indeed, that would do nicely.
The following day was a mad whirl of activity involving sartorial elegance and matters of terpsichorean importance as the female sector of the Bennet family prepared for a full-scale assault on Meyton that evening. Mr Bennet was only too glad to escape the house and carry out the tasks that visiting Netherfield Park the previous day had delayed. The new young tenant, Charles Bingley by name, had seemed gentlemanly enough and welcomed his visit warmly. A very pleasant young man in both manner and appearance he had expressed a wish to meet the members of the Bennet family at the assembly. He had also presented his two elegant sisters who made respectable, if somewhat languid noises of welcome. Rather fortunately, today, there were no sightings of the villainous aforementioned buzzard and, with the season now arrived, he could confine his shooting to better known varieties of game birds, which he, together with his dogs and a couple of bearers, did with some gusto. His day passed well enough and evening arrived all too soon.
" Come girls, hasten now. We must not be last to arrive in case we miss any snippets of gossip or anything of interest, and I want our carriage to be seen before Mrs Long's hack chaise. My, Mary, you do look exceedingly well tonight. Jane and Lizzie are more striking it is true, particularly Jane, but without a shadow of a doubt you look decidedly well. Whenever I look at you, I see myself twenty years ago, I do indeed!"
Mary gave a small smile. Totally without vanity she was unaware of her own beauty and appearance was not her first consideration. Whereas Jane and Lizzie had naturally curly hair that needed constant attention, her own tresses were long, dark and straight and worn in a simple fashion. Tall and slim, her features were elegant and a trifle serious in appearance, but she possessed lovely dark brown eyes that, when viewed closely spoke of intelligence and humour. Her thoughts were far from dancing partners however. Tonight, she was secretly and rather ungraciously hoping that the pianoforte player in the Assembly quartet might have one of his seasonable attacks of gout and she would be asked to deputise for him and play. Of what value were men who danced, against the supreme majesty of music? None at all, she decided. Music was superior to any man on the planet and a pianoforte preferable to the finest curricle. Soon they were all crowded noisily into the carriage for the short journey to Meryton. Kitty and Lydia chattered incessantly about the twelve ladies and seven gentlemen that Mr Bingley was declared as arriving at the Assembly with, but their main topic was officers of the militia and their relevant status at flirt-worthy targets. With their father absent and a mother who made no attempt to check their facetiousness, their imaginations knew no bounds and bordered enough on almost indecency that the other three sisters grew quite annoyed at them. To Kitty and Lydia, such a triviality was hardly worthy of notice and easily dismissed in their eagerness for sightings of scarlet clad males. King George himself would pale into insignificance against men in regimentals.
The subject of their father's neighbourly visit duly arrived with a somewhat smaller entourage than predicted: Bingley himself, two sisters, the rather stoutly built husband of one of them and a tall, dark and somewhat severe looking stranger who stayed to the rear of the party as introductions were made amongst the others. In a very short time indeed local intelligence sources declared Bingley as a five thousand a year man and assessed his his friend's fortune at ten thousand a year, give or take a bucketful of sovereigns or two. The Bennet girls and their mother arranged themselves in advantageous positions at the front of the dance floor. Mary was rather deeply disappointed to find the pianists foot seemed to be gout-free and stamping the instrument's pedals with gusto. When Jane drew her attention to Bingley's friend and announced her hopes of an introduction to all the newcomers, she looked across at him, fleetingly catching his eye for a few seconds.
"Do you not think him very handsome Mary? Shall I seek out Mrs Long and get her to fix him as a partner for you? He does appear quite the gentleman, does he not? "
Mary shrugged with no real attention as her foot tapped along with the lively reel that the band of musicians were playing. One of the fiddle's strings was out of tune and needed tightening, she decided. Maybe she should mention it? She saw that Jane was awaiting an answer to her query on the stranger with Bingley.
"He is tolerable looking I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me. Far too severe. See how even a merry reel such as this cannot raise a smile out of him. Somewhat of a sourpuss I would say !"
Behind her, Bingley's friend, who intelligence had discovered was one Fitzwilliam Darcy from the county of Derbyshire, raised an eyebrow in shocked disbelief at her words. She had hardly uttered them loudly, but a lull in the music allowed him to hear quite clearly her remark. He turned to Bingley, a stunned expression on his face as they walked off.
"Charles, did you hear that young lady declare me "tolerable"? Tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt her to dance with. Good Lord, who is she, the Queen of France or someone? Has she any idea who I am? You must find out who she is and make her aware of who she thinks of as "tolerable". Insupportable..."
Bingley tried to smother a grin at his friend's obvious annoyance. He too was surprised at the words of the somewhat elegant girl who was obviously totally unimpressed by Darcy's magnificence, but secretly he was more than a little amused. This was not an occasion often encountered as even his own sisters paid homage to Darcy's importance in the society world. " Not handsome enough to tempt me" The words echoed in his head as Darcy, grievously wounded by such an insult strode off in search of the sympathetic ear that his sister Caroline was certain to provide. Once again, Bingley smothered a smile. This was capital. Meanwhile, the eldest Bennet girl, Jane, was of more than passing interest to himself. She was quite delightful. He would seek an introduction and ask her to dance, always assuming she found him "tolerable" and possibly handsome enough to dance with.. The thought caused his smile to widen into a laugh that he made no attempt to check.
Darcy's mood suffered no improvement as the evening progressed. He danced distantly with both of the Bingley sisters and was rude enough, even by his own standards, to express no wish to dance further when Mrs Bennet tried unsuccessfully to partner him off with her second eldest daughter Elizabeth. He paid scant attention to her in his wounded state of insupportability that a young woman of any level in society should find him but "tolerable". Mrs Bennet shared his sense of outrage in her own way, less than pleased that he should not find her daughters irresistible. Whilst he simmered silently like a pot of white soup on the hob, she made no attempt to disguise her disgust at his bad manners. Half the room were suddenly less than enamoured with Fitzwilliam Darcy.
If Darcy made a bad impression, Bingley dazzled all within his acquaintance by his cheery friendliness and likeable personality. Jane Bennet was partnered not once but twice because there was a rather obvious mutual attraction between them already. He also danced with Lizzie and her friend Charlotte Lucas and was declared a very fine young gentleman indeed by all the local members of the personality jury. Mary Bennet got into conversation with members of the small orchestra and was invited to play a couple of airs with them whilst the pianist partook of refreshment both solid and liquid. Darcy, assuming she had left the Assembly in disgrace when informed of her grievous error, failed to look in the right direction when scouring the hall for his new nemesis. He was hardly sorry when, much to Bingley's disappointment, the evening came to an end and they took their carriage back to Netherfield. The word "tolerable" continued to disturb his peace even when he lay in the faint moonlit darkness of his bedroom and he realised he could not even conjure up a mental image of the girl who had uttered it. "Mary Bennet", Bingley had called her. Who was Mary Bennet? Tomorrow, he would find out, he decided, and slipped off into an uneasy sleep in which he was surrounded by the Meryton locals all pointing at him and calling out..intolerable
Posted on 2015-07-12
Next morning, whilst Jane exchanged views with Lizzie on her attraction to Charles Bingley, Lizzie's good friend Charlotte Lucas came to visit and the discussion soon turned to the extreme differences in manners between Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Despite comments from others on his handsome demeanour, Lizzie found him of little interest personally and was slightly annoyed at his lack of attention to the rules of dance etiquette in leaving ladies, including herself, without a partner. They all loved to dance and although matters of marriage and acquaintances were ever present at assemblies, dancing was a highly important part of their social scene. She was also more concerned and happy that Jane was so very impressed with Charles Bingley and a mutual attraction was seeming already much in the offing. Jane also brought up the topic of Mary's view of Fitzwilliam Darcy, raising smiles all round. Mary, herself joined in the smiles at the memory, but she could hardly remember what the man had looked like. She was quietly perusing a copy of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, at first attracted by its unusual title, then intrigued by the thought of being marooned on a desert island with her beloved pianoforte, and perhaps.... but no, she pushed the thought of a tall bearded castaway firmly from her mind with a smile. She had never seen a printed book so lengthily titled as Defoe's adventure tale....
"The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates"
..and bought it immediately. Now, it had become her constant companion. The assembly events, partners and gossip flowed over and around her as unobtrusively as a smooth pebble in a stream, without over much impact, interest or concern. Soon, she would excuse herself to practice her beloved music. ....
Some three miles away from Longbourne , the Assembly and the previous evening's events were also under discussion in the breakfast room of Netherfield Park. Darcy had somewhat regained his composure, admitting only to himself, that a few glasses of wine had possibly magnified the importance of what had seemed like a mortal insult the previous evening. As he dressed that morning he had even almost smiled at the memory, almost...It had not however, diminished his interest in knowing who the young woman was who found him not handsome enough to tempt her to dance. He knew he was not wrong in thinking of himself as a highly desirable target for a considerable number of single women in the society he normally frequented, the halls and balls of aristocratic entertainment and devious temples of the worship of the golden guinea, populated by a hundred manipulative mothers. Brought up shrewdly by a careful and financially intelligent father, he was also aware that romance was but a secondary consideration to be treated with great care. An inadvertent glimpse of a lady's ankle was sufficient reason to throw oneself to the ground hiding the eyes in shame less accusations of attachment be hinted at. Any indication of the mildest form of personal compliment must be sure to be made safely from behind at least half-a-dozen stoutly built chaperones. One could never be too careful.
With these facts in mind and backed by his considerable wealth, it was obvious that Mary Bennet -for her name was now impressed upon his memory- could not know of whom she had dismissed so lightly. At the very least, she needed to be made aware of that fact. This should happen at the very first opportunity. Caroline, currently in full flow about the crass and common locals of Meryton, could be relied upon to administer the reprimand. These people were just a temporary amusement until they all moved on. They could not be taken seriously. He should not concern himself about them. They were of little consequence to him. He paid little heed to Caroline and Louisa decrying almost all the locals as beneath their notice. They did, however, agree that Jane Bennet was an extremely likeable person who they would be happy to know better if only she could somehow make her mother and two youngest sisters disappear.
The first opportunity actually took some time in arriving. In company with Bingley and, on occasion, his sisters, Darcy had encountered the Bennet family several times and even dined at Mrs Bennet's invitation twice. Both of those occasions had been much less than satisfactory as, apart from the fact that he had to readily admit the three elder daughters were indeed quite beautiful ladies, he had formed the opinion that their mother was a somewhat silly and rude person and Mr Bennet decidedly reserved and hiding behind a non-commital half-smile. He had also been denied the opportunity to converse with Mary Bennet as she was seated too far from him for that to happen. Had the opportunity arisen, he could hardly relate back to her opinion of himself as a topic as the moment was long gone, but just hope that she had been made aware of her heresy. . What she might think of him currently still much interested him, but he was also aware that Elizabeth Bennet, second eldest of the sisters, was becoming a subject of quite some interest to him. If he had hoped her to be impressed or in awe of him, he was to be quite disappointed. She had a lively wit, but paid him no more attention than common decency demanded. He had, of course, forgotten his refusal to dance with her at the Assembly. She however, had certainly not.
The two youngest daughters rated no more than a soupcon of his attention as they giggled and whispered rudely at every opportunity and their manners were much in want of propriety. He could see why Bingley found Jane Bennet interesting, although any suggestion of attachment was unthinkable due to the differences in class and position. Looks apart, Jane was a somewhat shy and retiring creature, but her manner was impeccable and attractive. Surely the opportunity to know some of them better as acquaintances would arise eventually? .
At Lucas Lodge, home of Sir William Lucas, neighbour and friend of the Bennets' such an opportunity finally did just that. He, the Bingleys, the Bennets, the Longs and several other individuals including members of officer level militia, had been invited to a supper party there. His first observation was that, whilst Mary Bennet was not exhibiting much interest in him, neither was she doing so in any of the other numerous males in attendance. No immediate opportunity for conversation with her presented itself as she was constantly engaged in providing a background of excellent but unobtrusive medleys for the host and his guests on the pianoforte. Her musical performance was indeed excellent. He was exchanging some less than intoxicating conversation with Sir William, when suddenly, Elizabeth Bennet was there before him. Sir William immediately encouraged Darcy to request her as a delightful and desirable dance partner, a suggestion which Darcy, whilst somewhat surprised , was perfectly agreeable to comply with. Elizabeth Bennet however, Darcy's refusal of her still fresh in mind, declared that she had no wish or intention to involve herself in dancing that evening and quickly excused herself before Darcy had time to speak further. In that short encounter Darcy was struck by Elizabeth's fine dark eyes and more than a little surprised to find he was most disappointed she showed no particular interest in him at all. To a man used to constantly being a centre of attraction in company he found himself confused that two sisters were less than prepared to throw themselves down before him in worship. Dashed odd. He glanced across at Mary Bennet with a view to approaching her location, but was just in time to see her being introduced to a tall, bearded and handsome man in naval dress uniform. He was deeply tanned and the look in her attractive eyes and her appealing smile made Darcy think that she seemed to find the man interesting. He certainly appeared somewhat more than just "tolerable" as he seated himself beside her at the pianoforte and engaged her in conversation.
It was obvious that Mrs Bennet had also been monitoring the handsome stranger with more than a little interest and, seeing him sitting beside Mary, found this too good an opportunity to be missed. Snatching up a glass of punch with the speed and deftness of a Seven Dials pickpocket, she crossed the room, so fast as to appear airborne and arrived at Mary's side like a moth drawn to flame; a moth with a dazzling smile of surprise, welcome and a burning curiosity.
"Mary dear, see, I have brought you a glass of pu....Oh, and who is this gentleman I see here with you?
Mary gave a small resigned sigh but retained her smile as she introduced the gentleman as Captain John Robinson of his majesty's navy, recently returned from action off the coast of Portugal, and introduced to her by Aunt Phillips who knew his brother. Captain Robinson bowed charmingly and expressed his pleasure in being acquainted with them both. Mary, knowing her mother's directness in asking personal and sometimes decidedly embarrassing questions glanced across in Lizzie's direction with a look that, could it talk, would have screeched "help". Lizzie saw immediately what might become a problem for Mary and waved and beckoned at her mother. Mrs Bennet frowned, hesitated then excused herself and went over to Lizzie's side. Lizzie herself was exceedingly surprised that Mary seemed slightly blushed as she gave her attention back to the mariner. This was indeed unusual. Quiet, unassuming and studious Mary showing interest in a man? This was something that needed her own curiosity satisfying at the first possible chance. She found herself quite excited at the very thought. The man indeed was a very presentable specimen and he was decidedly more than a little impressed with Mary. How strange. It crossed Lizzie's mind just how lovely and elegant her sister looked in the glow of a candelabra atop the pianoforte. She looked actually... radiant! She was also suddenly reminded that Mary was but nineteen and just growing away from the young, reclusive and studious book worm they had grown up with and who had suddenly emerged, almost overnight, into a delightful young woman. This was indeed something for perusal.
Mary, who but a few minutes previously had desired her mother to disappear, suddenly. quite desperately, wanted her to come back and issue an invitation to visit to this man who had appeared almost from nowhere into their presence. To her, John Robinson had just made a statement that lifted him way beyond the realms of all normal men...he loved music and played the violin! Mrs Bennet's own curiosity was decidedly operating on an exceedingly high level and her early interest in local gossip was suddenly thrust rapidly aside. She must get to work right away. A young and exceedingly handsome man paying attention to Mary? Good Lord, who would have thought it? Looking across at her middle daughter now she was reminded of her own earlier comments as to how well Mary looked. The other two elder girls had never caused her overmuch concern. They were both exceedingly pretty and would surely attract rich men very soon. Kitty and Lydia were too young to worry about, but Mary? This indeed was an event she had never even considered. Action decided upon, she excused herself determinedly from Lizzie and Mrs Long and strode off to attend to Mary's suddenly dearest wish. A dinner invitation would be issued post-haste.
Standing alone, Fitzwilliam Darcy found himself somewhat perplexed as to the unusual fact that no one appeared to be clamouring for an audience or an introduction. Indeed, no one was taking any notice of him at all. Mary, who had moved away from the instrument, and her mother were talking with the naval chap and even Caroline and Louisa were in conversation with Jane Bennet and their brother until Caroline moved over to replace Mary at the Lucas's pianoforte. Gazing around the room he found his eyes following Elizabeth Bennet as she walked over to talk with the eldest Lucas girl, Charlotte? She was, he now conceded to himself, a very attractive young woman and his earlier abrupt dismissive appraisal of several of the young ladies present at the Assembly might have been a tad harsh. Bingley appeared to be getting along very well with Jane Bennet, Elizabeth appeared to hardly notice him and the very girl who had found him "tolerable" was seemingly enjoying herself immensely with a naval type. Dashed odd. On the journey home his friends found him even more taciturn than normal. Bingley decided he must have a cold coming on.
Captain John Robinson, former master of H.M.S Fair Rosamund, his latest voyage complete and his ship docked in the port of London until the Admiralty decided her fate, had arrived in Meryton to visit his elder brother, a solicitor in the town. The visit coincided conveniently, if tragically with the news that their father, who had lived alone since the death of his wife some years earlier, had passed away at his home in Luton. They would now travel up there together in a couple of days to attend the funeral and settle his affairs. This sad event, he explained to Mary and Mrs Bennet regretfully, would very unfortunately prevent him from accepting the good lady's kind dinner invitation at present. He would, he stated, be coming back after all was settled in Luton, though it may take a couple of weeks, to stay with his brother for a while until he decided on his own future. If the very kind invitation could be accepted at such time, he would be more than happy to fulfil it on his return. Mary's eyes implored her mother to say yes, which Mrs Bennet , though somewhat disappointed at the delay, was happy to do. The event was also somewhat opportune for Mary herself who would leave in a few day's time for a week's stay with the aunt of a friend she attended church with. In retrospect, she admitted to herself, she would have been massively disappointed to think of John Robinson at the tender mercies of the Meryton mothers. Hopefully, he would soon return. Mary experienced an internal glow, she now had a face for her fictitious Robinson Crusoe. Four days later, light of heart and with her beloved book packed in her valise, she left on her visit.
At Longbourne the next ten days or so were remarkably frustrating for Mr Bennet. Mary's absence - and with it the absence of constant pianoforte - troubled him little. Jane and Elizabeth however, he missed sadly. Jane had suffered a heavy cold and with Lizzie was confined at Netherfield due to Mrs Bennet's foolish insistence that an invitation to Jane from the Bingley sisters, was better fulfilled on horseback than by carriage. They were away for several days due to this, much to Mrs Bennet's satisfaction and prediction it would eventually result in a proposal of marriage. With a lack of sensible conversation and the presence of only his wife and the two youngest daughters he regarded as the silliest girls in England, the sight of Jane and Lizzie filled him with great satisfaction. Normality, he predicted, would resume. A letter awaiting him was to change his view rather drastically. The letter was from Kent and written by the, unknown to him, cousin who would be the beneficiary of the Longbourne entail, informing Mr Bennet of an impending visit by his good self. Since the entail event would not happen in his lifetime he saw little to be gained by consternation and even found himself looking forward to some entertaining sport at the expense of the writer, one "Reverend William Collins".
Posted on 2015-07-15
The visit of the Revered Mr William Collins turned out to be all that Mr Bennet had hoped for in terms of providing him with sport at the man's obvious foolishness, and Mary, for the most past and due to her absence, conveniently, or possibly inconveniently, missed, whichever way one chose to look at it. Cousin Collins, as her sisters related later, arrived full of baggage, bonhomme, consummate praise of his patroness back in Kent, and most of all, himself. A letter from Lizzie informed a wide-eyed and suitably shocked Mary that their previously unknown cousin was now to marry their friend and neighbour Charlotte Lucas after first casting eyes in Jane's direction, proposing and being turned down by Lizzie herself and then persuading Charlotte to make him the happiest of men by becoming his wife, and all within a couple of days. Mary decided she was missing a great deal of astounding events and brought forward her return post-haste. In the wake of a somewhat leisurely period of inactivity in Meryton, and particularly at Longbourne, things were suddenly moving along at an amazing pace. After meeting the unimpressive and somewhat, in her view, pityable, clerical cousin and having herself been scrutinised like a specimen of fruit bat pinned to a corkboard, Mary decided that being missing for most of his visit had been no bad thing at all. Would she, herself, she wondered, have been included in Mr Collins's list of suitable candidates to be considered for the dubious honour of becoming his betrothed? The very thought produced a shudder! As soon as it was possible after her return, she cornered Lizzie and demanded a full account of all that had happened during her absence. Lizzie's related account proceeded thus:
As a chance to recover his breath from another voluminous avalanche of praise for his mentor, the illustrious Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr Collins had accompanied the sisters to Meryton on a walking exercise. Whilst there, they had encountered a new member of the militia who had just arrived in the town after securing a commission with the officer in command, Colonel Forster. The newcomer's name was George Wickham, by all accounts a very handsome and delightful fellow and a real charmer to the local ladies. The said Mr Wickham, it seemed - as he disclosed to Lizzie in surprising confidence at a supper at Aunt Phillip's - had been unbelievably badly treated by the very same Fitzwilliam Darcy who had been found so ill-mannered by the Assembly patrons. Intriguingly also, Lizzie had previously witnessed a meeting of the two in Meryton which had resulted in some obvious shock on both behalfs and Darcy riding off in undisguised anger. How utterly intriguing? Two people, decidedly not local to their little community but quite obviously known to each other, encountering in this fashion? Cousin Collins then secured himself an invitation, as a guest of the Bennets, to a ball promised at Netherfield Park by Charles Bingley - and demanded as a debt of honour by Kitty and Lizzie - in which he displayed a totally ill-mannered self introduction to Mr Darcy that did him little favour with anyone. Once again, Lady Catherine had figured centrally in his dialogue. Wickham had declined to attend the ball much to Lizzie's personal disappointment. She also confessed great annoyance with herself at allowing a dance request by Mr Darcy to surprise her into acceptance, and more so, that Caroline Bingley had made no secret of the fact in relating to her, that she thought George Wickham just a wastrel of low birth. Lizzie dismissed her sharply. Nothing transpired during the dancing to alter her views that she just did not like Fitzwilliam Darcy at all. The morning after the event had produced such a wild spate of romantic activity, back at Longbourne, that it was little short of farcial, and succeeded in bringing laughter from Mary at the very hearing of it. Despite consuming the details of Lizzie's account with great interest and some glee, Mary did allow herself to wonder if Captain Robinson might have been in attendance at the Netherfield ball had he been in town. She had never even thought to ask if he took pleasure in dance, but then it was of little importance overall as he played the violin. That was a major asset for any man, was it not? Her feelings, she was discovering, were undergoing serious upheaval from her previously inattentive views on the topic of love and romance. Robinson Crusoe indeed had things to answer for, she decided. She would read more of him........
At least until his return, the topic of Captain John Robinson was for private perusal only, but Mary's quiet moments had a glow of anticipation she had never previously known. It was a far from unpleasant experience being able to indulge in a little meditation and self examination on a whole new direction of thought. She found that conjuring up a mental image of Captain Robinson actually required no effort at all. He had faded blue eyes with lines at the corners that hinted of a quiet humour, and had matched so well his unforced smile at their initial introduction. "Stop this immediately, Mary" she reprimanded herself, but she was unable to prevent her lips quirking into a guilty upward twitch. Until he had appeared she had actually considered her mother's constantly aired views on the topic of the importance of marital security to be somewhat tedious. Now, ironically those views seemed less ridiculous. Events however, were about to evoke even stronger change in her feelings....
If anyone besides Mary found any humour in the latest situation at Longbourne, it most certainly was not Mrs Bennet. Such was her anger at Lizzie refusing Mr Collins that she grabbed a carpet beater from a house maid working in the rear garden and battered the carpet so hard in her temper that the cloud of dust she raised was recorded by the Royal Greenwich Observatory telescope as a warning of rain, or at least so Lizzie claimed, with a wry smile, as she advised Mary not to broach a word on the subject as she was already in very serious disfavour. Mary was happy to comply but also hoped that her mother's mood might improve rather sooner than later. Poor Charlotte Lucas, whose only crime was to accept a rare and unexpected proposal of marriage, was now regarded by the irate Mrs Bennet as little better than a low-life strumpet, and Lizzie not worthy of attention at all . Such was the less than ecstatic scene at Longbourne on Mary's return. Other things had happened, of which only Lizzie and Jane knew at the time. Mary found out later that the Bingleys and Darcy had suddenly decided to winter in London, where both Darcy and Louisa'a husband, Mr Hurst , had houses, and left almost on the spot. Poor Jane was most disappointed, Lizzie, decidedly sensing a conspiracy by the Bingley sisters, was furious on her behalf. A letter from Caroline Bingley, which Lizzie felt was contrived for a purpose, confirmed that the Bingleys would not be in residence in either Netherfield or Meryton in the near future. Although she attempted to disguise it, poor Jane's obvious distress and disappointment made Mary sad for her and thoughtful about her own latest feelings. Men were so infuriating in their moods and decisions. Whilst readily admitting Bingley had made no indications of his feelings, written or verbal, Jane had obviously believed he returned her own. Now, it seemed, nothing would come of it at all. Mary found annoyance surfacing in her. Jane, so very kind and gentle in her manner, did not deserve such unhappiness. Lizzie had a much more straightforward and strong resilience about her that indicated that she could cope with most things. At the moment her dislike of Fitzwilliam Darcy was her prevalent crusade although she did seem attracted to the militia chap? How poor Jane would cope remained to be seen. At the moment she was a very unhappy young woman.......
Despite all, Christmas passed with as much festive spirit as could be occasioned by the annual visit of Uncle and Aunt Gardiner and their children and Aunt Gardiner suggested Jane accompany them back to their home in London's Gracechurch Street for a three month visit and a chance to raise her spirits. The idea was met with enthusiasm by Lizzie and agreement by Jane. Thus, it was arranged......
In the stately house that had once, many years ago, been his home in the town of Luton, John Robinson lay in bed in his old room and allowed his mind to conjure mental images of the girl he had recently met in Hertfordshire. After years at sea his thoughts strayed only to the subject of woman on the occasions when in foreign ports for any length of time. At such times he involved himself in less than serious dalliance with several ladies, but any romance of a lasting nature never troubled his mind. He had been amazed at his own instant attraction to the young girl playing the pianoforte so very well at the supper party. She was lovely and he found himself eager to see her again. Was the feel of land rather than the ocean beneath his feet changing his views? Luton was hardly more than a two hour ride away from where the girl of his thoughts may now be asleep. Had she given him any of her thought since they met, he wondered, and what did the future hold for him. Here in Luton his late father had owned a successful hat-making business, currently being managed by a competent lady named Mrs Margaret Miller; should they sell that and also the house in which he now temporarily resided ? His brother was in favour of doing so, but what of the three men and a dozen women that relied solely on employment in the millinery business for their livings? Would a new owner still employ them? With the war now over, did he, at almost twenty eight wish for another ship and a naval commission to places far and as yet unknown? The army and navy, at least in terms of officers, had some respect in society, but trade and those involved in it were still regarded suspiciously by the upper middle-classes as being below their levels of equality. He had always found it ironic that the ladies and gentlemen of society were very happy to wear the products of an industry whilst looking down on those who produced them. Time, thought and discussion were needed and Mrs Bennet's postponed dinner invitation was somewhat at the rear of more pressing matters right then. It did not however, stop Mary Bennet's face being the last thing his mind saw as he settled down to sleep.
The New Year and January arrived at a subdued Longbourne. Darcy and the Bingleys were gone and George Wickham had proved that he was more interested in the pursuit of money than romance by proposing marriage to a quite plain-looking girl named Mary King who was rumoured to have a dowry of ten thousand pounds from the will of a newly - deceased relative. During the next two months little else of any real consequence happened. The weather, typical of the first quarter of the year, was inclement and prohibitive of much outdoor exercise or travel. Without the carriage the lanes proved an unattractive walking option most days and thus time hung heavily on mainly idle hands. Although minimal visiting or social activity was happening, Mary was more than a little disappointed that no opportunity to socialise presented itself and thus, no chance to even encounter Captain Robinson. It was thus a total surprise when the maid announced one day towards the end of February that a gentleman was asking to see Mrs Bennet. The younger Bennet girls had risked the weather and were absent, pursuing the noble art of officer spotting, and Mr Bennet was taking a nap. When the said gentleman turned out to be none other than John Robinson, the surprise to Mrs Bennet and Lizzie, and the almost heart-stopping shock to Mary were immense. Captain Robinson could but stay a short while as he had urgent business to attend to with his brother, but felt he had to call and apologise to Mrs Bennet that he had not fulfilled his promise to take up her dinner invitation. Mrs Bennet was almost beside herself in insisting on renewing the invitation ad-infinitum .. Captain Robinson was introduced to Lizzie and greeted Mary with very obvious pleasure. She, despite her attempts at calmness, found her stomach in uproar and was unable to prevent herself turning the colour of a ripe summer tomato when John Robinson handed her a small book of sea shanties with a faded, red leather cover, saying he thought she may like to have it as she was a musician. Captain Robinson explained the situation with his father's factory, taking close and somewhat apprehensive observation of the family reactions, but since Uncle Gardiner owned his own factory he saw nothing to give him concern as to their opinions. He had, he declared, with the war ended, decided to leave the navy and reside in the area after coming to a settlement with his brother on the sale of their father's house. Because he could not bear the thought of being idle, he would own the business and take charge of sales and exports, but leave the every day running in the quite capable hands of the current staff under Mrs Miller. Mary said almost nothing beyond stuttering her thanks for the book. This fact was not lost on Lizzie as the amused glint in her eye showed. Her quiet younger sister was turning out to be somewhat of a real surprise. In order not to cause Mary too much embarrassment, for it was not too long ago she herself had been nineteen and known of the mixed emotions that such an age can produce, she decided to wait until Mary felt composed enough to talk of things. Promising to return as soon as he could, Captain Robinson took his leave of them and Mrs Bennet immediately began stating what a fine gentleman he was and lecturing Mary not to behave as Lizzie had done with Mr Collins. Lizzie remained silent, although inwardly readily admitting that John Robinson had seemed a very attractive man, and Mary was so positively overcome with emotion and shock to the extent of almost speechlessness. "Captain Robinson would not be away for long months at sea, but within a short ride of Meryton and Longbourne". She could hardly wait to dash off to her bedroom and examine her present with his name on the fly leaf, before tucking it carefully beneath her pillow. Life and mood were suddenly not ruled by the weather. Let it snow, hail or thunder as it wished. She moved in an aura of permanent sunshine.......
March arrived, and with it time for Lizzie's visit to Charlotte, now Mrs Collins, at her new home in Kent. The parsonage was apparently hard by Rosings Park, the residence of the much vaunted Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her daughter, Anne. Lizzie did not view the impending event with great enthusiasm, but the visit would last some six weeks and at least she would see how Charlotte had coped with her new situation. The thought roused her somewhat and soon they were on the way and she was allowing the driving rattle of the carriage wheels to transport her into a state of hypnosis effectively blocking out Sir Williams droll ramblings and Maria's excited observations on every pebble, leaf, milestone and road sign along the highways.....
With both her elder sisters away and the prospect of just Kitty, Lydia and her parents for company, only the visit of Captain Robinson served to keep Mary's own spirits up. She could wish for time to pass quickly for more reasons than one. She decided to lose herself as much as possible in her music practise, writing and study...oh, and a little harmless day dreaming of course......
Apart from one decidedly memorable event, quite how she managed to pass the next six weeks Mary was happy not to clearly remember later. Her mother still rambled on about Charlotte Lucas stealing Mr Collins away from a possibly beneficial union with Lizzie. The bald fact that quite regardless of Charlotte, such a union would never have taken place anyway seemed immaterial to Mrs Bennet. Sir William, who had returned from Rosings after only a week, and Lady Lucas, did not escape chastisement on the unfairness of potential husband-stealing and selfish disregard of the wishes of others. Only constant practise on the pianoforte and a few visits to the local church where she was allowed to play the organ once each week, broke the monotony of Mrs Bennets tirades, Kitty and Lydia's foolish flirting and the absence of her elder sisters. When the weather improved slightly, a supper party or two at Longbourne and the home of Aunt Phillips, helped to pass along the weeks until finally it was time for Lizzie and Jane to return home. Just one priceless event had happened that in itself was enough for Mary to cherish beyond joy. One Saturday Captain Robinson had left a message that subject to any inconvenience to Mrs Bennet being stated, he would fulfil his promise to dine at Longbourne on the next day, Sunday. No inconvenience was forwarded by the delighted Mrs Bennet and the day duly dawned. Mary was a bundle of nerves as the morning wore on, changing her dress twice and spending more time on her appearance then she had done since a friend's wedding two years ago. Mrs Bennet assured her that she looked exceedingly well and even her father commented on her appearance. It was beginning to dawn on both parents that their middle daughter was no longer a child but an exceedingly attractive young woman. Mary's joy was almost too much to bear when John Robinson arrived driving his own curricle and entered the house carrying a violin case. He was still officially a Captain, having not yet received his discharge and the sight of him in his dark blue dress uniform, white stock, gold braid, white trousers and gleaming boots made Mary feel somewhat faint. After all the welcomes and introductions had been attended to, Captain Robinson needed little persuasion to produce his violin and play several airs. When he began to play a couple of the sea shanties from his book, Mary smiled shyly, rose and went over to her pianoforte and easily picked out the melody to accompany him. He nodded encouragingly and started to play the tune to "Over the hills and far away" and Mary followed him. He then began to sing the Beggar's Opera lyrics and a bright flush suffused her cheeks as she realised he was challenging her to sing the ripostes. Taking her courage in both hands she followed him, but looked down at the keys as she sang to avoid making direct eye contact.
He: "Were I laid on Greenland's Coast, And in my Arms embrac'd my Lass;
Warm amidst eternal Frost, Too soon the Half Year's Night would pass."
She: "Were I sold on Indian Soil, Soon as the burning Day was clos'd,
I could mock the sultry Toil When on my Charmer's Breast repos'd."
He: "And I would love you all the Day,"
"She: "Every Night would kiss and play,"
He: " If with me you'd fondly stray"
She: "Over the Hills and far away"
Perhaps it was to save Mary embarrassment at the lyric's hinted sensuality by drawing attention away from her, perhaps not. but Robinson then continued with a different wording of the same tune, this from George Farquhar's military lyrics but adding King George from the original Queen of the previous century. He had a fine rich voice and sang loudly and confidently. Mary continued to play the tune but didn't sing as she knew not these words..
"Courage, boys, 'tis one to ten, But we return all gentlemen
All gentlemen as well as they, Over the hills and far away.
Over the Hills and O'er the Main, To Flanders, Portugal and Spain,
King George commands and we'll obey, Over the Hills and far away.
Over the Hills and O'er the Main, To Flanders, Portugal and Spain,
King George commands and we'll obey Over the Hills and far awayyyyy.
Everyone applauded warmly and Captain Robinson gave Mary a gentlemanly bow, before putting his violin back in the open case. Mrs Bennet's beaming face was bright enough to light candles from. He then requested Mary to carry on playing which she did with much pleasure. His own delight was very obvious. The meal was a great success and the Captain regaled the diners with a few anecdotes of life on the wartime ocean, during it. Mary had been placed next to him by a rare insight of her mothers and could attend him without having to stare or be stared at obviously. When he rose to leave, the look in his eyes spoke volumes in the few brief seconds that their gazes locked. He left with a firm promise to return and also attend an assembly whenever possible. Mary was ecstatic with the day and went to bed in a golden glow of hope and dreams.....
Fifty miles away from the happy revelers, and unknown to any of them, events were taking place that would have a decided bearing on the lives of them all. It began with a surprise visit to Lizzie at Hunsford parsonage, by Fitzwilliam Darcy.....
Mary was to find out about it all quite some time after the events happened, but Lizzie, her visit to Rosings almost at an end, received a major shock before leaving. Two unexpected additions to the Rosings guest list were to combine to provide it. Fitzwilliam Darcy, as Lizzie had known from George Wickham, was a relation of the same Lady Catherine de Bourgh who was Mr Collin's beloved patroness. He, together with his cousin, an army colonel named Fitzwilliam, were the nephews of her Ladyship and joint legal guardians of Darcy's young sister, Georgiana. Lady Catherine it seemed, was also under the impression that Darcy would eventually marry her daughter. Colonel Fitzwilliam had been quite impressed by Lizzie and during a walk around the Rosings estate one morning, inadvertently told her that Darcy had saved a friend from a most inopportune relationship with a lady of quite unsuitable background. During the following conversation, Lizzie realized that Colonel Fitzwilliam was unknowingly speaking about her sister Jane and that it was Charles Bingley that Darcy had supposedly saved by persuading him to leave Netherfield in haste and not return.. Lizzie, although she did not say so to Fitzwilliam, was shocked and furious and went off claiming to be unwell. A short time later whilst alone at the parsonage she received a visit from Darcy. He asked after her health since the Colonel had mentioned she was unwell, then utterly staggered Lizzie by announcing he was madly in love with her and asking her to marry him! Lizzie was dumbfounded that a man who she had been informed had ruined the chances of an advantageous marriage with a man who loved her, for her dear sister, and also stolen the potentially decent and prosperous living meant for George Wickham, should even consider her marrying him. She apparently lost no time in telling Darcy her views of his behaviour and showing him the door. Shortly after, Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam left Rosings but not before Darcy had met Lizzie and given her a letter. What the letter had contained Mary knew not, but Lizzie and Maria returned to Longbourne picking up Jane from the Gardiners home on the way and being met by Kitty and Lydia for the journey home. Lizzie was informed by Lydia that George Wickham was "safe" from Mary King and back in circulation. Lizzie was of the opinion that Mary King was the safe one, and found out later that her uncle had heard bad character references about Wickham and refused to let her marry him on pain of losing her inheritance. Without the financial magnet, Mary King's charms had soon faded away from Wickham's mercenary gaze.
Mary now had the benefit of all her family at home for some time and found herself the centre of attention when her mother related the visit to dinner of Captain Robinson and his interest in her. Of course Mrs Bennet made out that it would only be a matter of time before Captain John proposed because he had sung a duet with Mary and given her a song book. Even Kitty and Lizzie were not foolish enough to put too much store on those facts. Lizzie assured Jane however, that John Robinson, though she estimated that he was in his late twenties, seemed a thoroughly decent man both in looks and manners. She did not dismiss the possibility that her mother may well be right, at least at some future point. That John Robinson thought well of her younger sister, she was in no doubt about at all.....
Life at Longbourne returned to normality, but It was not the best of news for Mary that Lizzie was to go on a touring vacation with Uncle and Aunt Gardiner. Life always seemed a little brighter when Lizzie was around. Lydia became quite ecstatic with delight at receiving an invitation to stay with Harriet Forster, who had recently become the wife of the militia commander, Colonel Forster, in their new quarters in Brighton. Kitty was distraught at what she considered the unfairness of not inviting her too. Lizzie strongly advised her father not to let Lydia loose alone in Brighton but Mr Bennet rather stubbornly maintained that she was always going to embarrass the family somewhere, so why not Brighton? Mary kept her counsel but privately totally agreed with Lizzie. A small worry nagged at her that nothing would happen to affect any possible visits from Captain John Robinson. Lydia and Kitty were indeed silly girls in their general behavior and Lydia being away may prove quite beneficial.....
Summer arrived in Hertfordshire and Lizzie's touring vacation, though somewhat delayed and suffering a disappointing change of plan in that they would tour the countryside but not have time to reach the Lake District of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire, finally got under way and Mary suffered a drop in spirits as the carriage of the girl she considered her favourite sister disappeared down the drive in a cloud of sunlit dust. Her spirits were to be raised again, and then quickly to suffer a major disappointment for the following day a letter arrived addressed to he mother who read it quickly then passed it to her. It was from Captain John Robinson. The short letter's content came as a complete surprise to Mrs Bennet and a crashing disappointment to Mary. Captain Robinson was to go back to sea. It was written in a flowing hand, dated two days previously and sent from Chadwick House, 13 Lostock Avenue, Luton.
I hope this letter finds you and your family well and in health. It's purpose is to inform you that I have suffered a slight change of personal circumstance since I saw you last that could mean I may not be able to attend another of your excellent dinners nor hear your daughter Mary's exquisite playing for quite some time. Whilst I submitted a resignation document to the Admiralty terminating my career, my discharge papers have not yet been approved and officially passed off. Since this is the case I was not in a position to refuse a letter informing me of a short voyage The Admiralty require me to fulfill. I am to make my way overland to Dover then sail across to Calais with two other sea captains. There are captured prize vessels held there that require sailing back to Dover with none less than captains in charge. Fortunately the factory will be safe to continue in the hands of my staff until my return and my brother will take care of any legal aspects and accounts, etc in my absence.
I am hoping that the whole business should be over and clear within four weeks or so and I may return home with my navy career behind me and once again visit you and your family to whom I send my best regards. Until then accept my heartfelt good wishes and may God bless you all.
Mary was exceedingly dismayed. He was going back to sea after all. It was quite clear that Captain Robinson had totally observed decorum by writing to her mother and not herself directly. By doing so he could add nothing of a personal nature, only mentioning her name and playing in passing. At least he had mentioned her and four weeks was not forever. Trying not to show her obvious disappointment she folded the latter and casually placed it beside her on the table desperately hoping her mother would not want it personally. Fortunately, Mrs Bennet made no move to retrieve it and Mary resolved she would secret it away in her sea shanties book at the first opportunity. His hand, her name. She would pray every night for his safe return.
Posted on 2015-07-18
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.......
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!"
Posted on 2015-07-21
So Lydia was back. Chastened?, relieved to have escaped from a scandalous situation?, sorry for her behaviour? None of those things were evident as she flounced noisily through the door and back into her home. It was almost as if she had achieved something wonderful rather than causing stress, scandal, expense and almost shame to her whole family.....
The most significant thing that struck Mary amongst all the ten days that Lydia and Wickham were to stay at Longbourne, was Lizzie's peculiar behaviour. She seemed so thoughtful and withdrawn in general and was decidedly short with Lydia almost all the time. Mr Bennet gave little of his time to either Wickham or his youngest daughter, but Mrs Bennet more than made up for his reticence by having parties and suppers and behaving generally as if Lydia had married the Duke of Wellington rather than eloped with a penniless soldier of the militia. Mary was quite disgusted at the way Lydia informed Jane she must move down table for herself as she was now a married woman. Of that, there was no need, for if decorum required it, then Jane, whose manners were impeccable, would have observed it without mention. Lydia's behaviour, although seemingly beyond her comprehension, was arrogant, brash and rude and although Jane did not show it, quite probably hurtful to her. Mary, depending on what Lizzie chose to tell her, was only to find out much later the details of any of it, for indeed she knew little or nothing at that time, of Wickham or his dealings with Fitzwilliam Darcy or anyone else. She was deeply puzzled by several things. If Wickham really had so many debts from gambling and other nefarious pastimes, as gossip would have it, how could he, with just a soldier's wages suddenly be able to clear them? How indeed could Lydia marry a man with such a reputation? Indeed, how could he afford to marry at all? Lydia's dowry was small indeed and if Wickham had no money and such serious debt? Lizzie had written to Aunt Gardiner, that much Mary knew, and received a long letter in reply for she had seen Lizzie reading it, yet she made no mention of what or why? It was all so very puzzling. Lizzie had been quite friendly with Wickham prior to the elopement and although that was now resolved she behaved almost coldly to him, avoiding him completely much of the time. He had married Lydia and done the right thing, had he not? Then again he had also proposed marriage to Mary King? People were such strange, complicated creatures at times. Lizzie herself was almost another person from the one that left for Hunsford and later the tour with Uncle and Aunt Gardiner. Her mood was such that Mary refrained from asking questions she normally would have done. Her own life, Mary decided, would never be so complicated. She would live a simple life with the man she loved and married, and they would raise children and......was this really herself thinking this way?........
....Captain John Robinson was finding it increasingly difficult to fight off the two Xebecs and protect the lighter sloop from becoming isolated at the same time. The faster pirate craft had a different mission than himself. He just wanted to leave them far behind and make safely towards his destination. They sought only prizes and would not hesitate to kill wantonly to get them. Apart from an isolated cannonball taking away part of his stern rail he had suffered no damage as yet, but the Xebecs were also managing to remain largely undamaged. If only he could de-mast one of them and half the odds.....
"Ship on the starboard bow!. Brigantine I think sir.. Too far away to see for sure yet, but she might be flying the Tricolour"
Robinson groaned softly at the words as he raised his telescope to search the call. The Tricolour was the French flag and a French ship would give him no help, indeed they may well be privateers themselves.......
.......At last Lydia and Wickham were away and, although she wished her sister well, Mary found she was not truly sorry to see their carriage leave the drive. The period of their stay had been an unsettling one at Longbourne because no one behaved as they normally would. Lydia toured noisily around and forever made herself the centre of attention, being both rude and advisory by turn, boasting of her new, handsome husband and behaving annoyingly to everyone except Mrs Bennet who would see no wrong in her. She told her sisters she would invite all of them to stay in Newcastle and gaily offered to find them husbands. Lizzie did not quite scoff aloud at the idea, but, in her own case made quite a point of decrying the very thought as utterly ludicrous. Jane said little, Kitty was subdued and Mary thought only of one who would remotely interest her on that topic. Mrs Bennet made a great show of regret at the couple leaving, and then suddenly, they were gone......
Whilst the next couple of days after the noisy, hectic period of the Wickham visit were quiet and somewhat restrained, there was an underlying sense of peace and a distinct lack of tension and stress in the Longbourne household.. Two day after they had left, a new topic was aired after Mrs Bennet was informed by her sister Phillips that Charles Bingley was to be back in residence at Netherfield Park. Mrs Bennet, whilst dismissively insisting the news was of no particular interest to her or hers, soon sought out Mrs Nichols to confirm the totally uninteresting news. She quickly knew all the details including when Bingley's party would arrive and her constant remarks to Jane completely belied her stated lack of interest. She also very soon informed Mr Bennet that decorum and common decency required him to call on the Netherfield residents. Mr Bennet, in return, coldy informed her he would do no such thing. He had already, he claimed, been made a fool of once and had no desire to repeat the experience. Mr Bingley knew where they lived and was quite as capable of visiting them as they were of him. On that point, much to Mrs Bennet's anguish, he would not be moved.
Mrs Bennet's utter dread that any of her neighbours should be first to meet and greet Mr Bingley was allayed in the best possible way when a couple of days later both Bingley and Mr Darcy arrived at Longbourne on an unannounced visit. Mary watched Jane closely and, unaware of the true circumstances that had shaped events so drastically to affect both her elder sisters, could only be pleased that Charles Bingley had returned. That dear Jane had suffered a great deal of hurt when Bingley suddenly went away, she did know. She was not privy to the maelstrom of feelings inside Lizzie at the sight of Darcy. Both he and Bingley had disappeared and Jane had somewhere mentioned that Lizzie saw Darcy during her visit to Hunsford, but both Jane and Lizzie had pledged to keep much between just themselves. Kitty had told her "in deepest confidence" that Lizzie had let slip to her that Darcy had been at her wedding, but the reasons why were still unknown to Mary. Of Darcy's proposal at the parsonage, Lizzie's refusal and Darcy's letter, she would never know. The visit was carried out pleasantly, in the main, with Mrs Benett fawning over Bingley a little sickeningly, but she still appeared barely to behave a modicum above an acceptable level of civility in Darcy's case. Dinner invitations were, of course extended with aplomb. Lizzie, Mary noted, said little and still appeared somewhat quiet, reserved and uncommunicative and the gentlemen eventually left. The mood at Longbourne however, had taken a decidedly upward swing.......
After such long absences, Mary found it a little strange that at first Bingley and Darcy were now visiting regularly. Darcy then ceased to come and Charles Bingley alone came to them. It was all explained in the best possible fashion when Jane announced after one of his visits that he had proposed to her and she was overjoyed and had accepted immediately. Mary was delighted for her and her inner thoughts, free from the negative aspects of relationships and problems that Jane's prior period of sadness and Lydia's unfortunate experience had exposed, now made her wonder at her own situation. She was aware of her past habits of always trying to see the sense of things, and thinking romance rather foolish, but that was before she had met John Robinson. Was she also being foolish in believing there was more in that than just a new acquaintance who liked music? Was his gift nothing more than just a well-worn song book that he no longer wanted or needed himself? He had decided to run the family business in Luton, but what opportunities would there be for him to visit his brother, for that surely would be his only reason to come to Meryton. Where would he himself live if they had sold his family home? Might he indeed never come to visit her again.? Hurriedly she pushed that possibility aside as unacceptable. That would not do at all, he would come to her. He must come to her..
Another somewhat strange event happened to puzzle Mary. Already unsettled at Lizzie's remoteness, she was even further perplexed a week later by a totally unexpected visit by Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Of course, until she heard Lizzie and her mother speaking about it after the rather grand carriage had swept regally away from Longbourne, having been in the music room when the coach arrived, she really had no idea who the visitor was. Lady Catherine was but a name much flaunted by Cousin Collins and later mentioned by Lizzie after her trip to visit Charlotte at Hunsford. What struck her forcibly was Lizzie's expression. She had accompanied the visitor into the garden and discussed with her for a short while it seemed. On returning to the house she was pale with just two high spots of colour on her cheeks, and looked exceedingly disturbed, almost angry as she returned alone and immediately went upstairs passing Mary on the way. Nothing further was said by anyone about the visit, not even by her mother, which just added to the confusing nature of it........
...Captain John Robinson was just about to order his helmsman to come about and try to get his guns to bear on the second Xebec when his order was checked by the roar of voices of his men on deck. With nothing to lose now with the French brigantine joining the battle he had to risk charging past the leading raider firing as he went, and try to dismantle at least one of them. Suddenly, he was hearing his men cheering. The voice of his bosun carried across the deck..
"The Brigantine's one of ours Captain, she's dropped the Tricolour and she's running the Union flag !"
Robinson raised his eyebrows in surprise, then grinned widely and a great rush of relief and euphoria washed over him. Flying a false flag was against all the rules of engagement, but when did pirates play by rules? He turned to see the two Xebecs veering away towards the open ocean, then leaned down from the deck.
"Who is she Trevanion? Do we know her?"
"I've come across her before Cap'n. She's The Mary, a tidy little scouting Brigantine out of Bristol. Nice stroke of luck for us her being about today!"
Robinson raised a hand to the bosun and suddenly laughed aloud. Saved by Mary! Surely that was an omen. It was time to head for the Channel and home to England.....
.......Darcy was back. He was staying at Netherfield with Bingley and visiting with him. Bingley was a regular visitor now and time was spent discussing wedding dates and arrangements, guest lists and plans for the future. In the midst of it Darcy suddenly came with Bingley one day and Mrs Bennet foisted him off to walk along with Lizzie. At what stage it happened Mary again never knew, but suddenly Lizzie was behaving in a friendly manner. She was aware Mr Collins had sent a letter to her father and he had called Lizzie in about it, but the contents were not divulged. Of much more interest, nay shock even, was the fact that Darcy had visited her father and Lizzie suddenly announced that he had asked her to marry him and she had accepted. With only prior knowledge of Lizzie's intense dislike of the man, it was indeed a great surprise to find she was now confessing her love for him. Mary felt very removed from it all as Kitty was hardly the person to discuss things with and the others were very close in their dual wedding arrangements. Her own life felt suddenly empty, and only her music kept her in any form of spirits. Of John Robinson she had heard not a single word and was beginning to feel she had imagined much where little existed. What was there for her to cling to? He had spoken to her, visited and taken a dinner with them, brought her a song book and then gone off to sea. Never a hint of any sort of attraction had been spoken of at all. How foolish she now felt she had been in thinking otherwise. She must be rational and forget any thoughts of an imagined romance. Study and her music must suffice to fill the gaps in her life....
......A week after Lizzie's shock announcement and whilst she and Jane were out and about somewhere, Mary was at her music and thus did not hear a visitor arrive. Despite her resolve her fingers were drifting reflectively over her pianoforte keys playing a familiar melody and she was surprised when here mother walked into the music room. Her mother's face was a mirror of her own surprise and... delight...?
"Mary, come quickly dear. Make haste, we have a visitor who has asked specifically after you...Captain Robinson is here...."
"And I would love you all the Day, Every Night would kiss and play,
If with me you'd fondly stray, Over the Hills and far away"
Author's note: If we are to obey Pride and Prejudice canon, in the main, Mary Bennet's story is one based more on what we do not know than what we do. Jane Austen made her a rather shadowy figure and many times did not include her in events or dialogue. When mentioned even rarely, she comes across as a character of little worth, overly moral and an exhibitionist. As the middle daughter she surely deserves some interest, but again she would not be privy to many things that occurred amongst the rest of the family and thus know little or nothing of them, making her story rather hard to tell. My own story must thus be one of mainly total imagination with the ending left for the readers to see as they will. The ships mentioned are actual ship names and the Brigantine Mary did exist around the period as did the Mary and Jane. . The Mary foundered off the Cornish coast at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but all the hands were saved.