Posted On: Thursday, 14 November 2002, at 4:45 a.m.
The young lady Elizabeth stood on the church pew, tightly gripping her nanny's skirts in her small fists as she strained to hear the words of the parson, though she knew not their significance.
Her older sister, Jane, stood on the other side of her, equally at a loss to the meaning of the words, only knowing that they were of great importance.
"Jane, what he say?" Elizabeth curiously asked her sister, for truly one at such an age of three would know the answer.
Jane shrugged, "don know."
Elizabeth opened her mouth to ask her another question when the woman standing next to her hushed her.
I knew it was a bad idea to bring the youngins', Mrs. Crawford thought as she tried to listen to the service, keeping one eye fixed on her young charges. Oh, but the master wouldn't have his sweet babes missin' his union to their new mother, no matter how improper it is She rolled her eyes as she thought of the fuss he'd made that morning, making sure his daughters were fit to be seen. Almost ignoring his poor valet who tried in vain to properly tie his cravat. Her countenance softened at this, They've got him wrapped around their little fingers, they do. And rightly so, for they be little angels, the pair of them.
Here, her train of thought was interrupted by the sound of the church organ hailing the completion of the ceremony and the presentation of the new Lord and Lady Hawke.
Thomas Bennet, sixth Earl of Hawke, stood at front of the church accepting congratulations from well-wishers for he and his new wife. Who beamed at every word sent her way.
What a picture she makes, Lord Hawke thought as he gazed fondly at his bride. Such a love of life, yes, I daresay she will make a beautiful mother.
When the Earl had lost his beloved Elizabeth in birth of her namesake, he had been heartbroken, and for the first few months of the mourning period he refused to do little outside of his library, shutting out the entire world. However, his daughters, had different plans for him. The little angels had slowly crept their way into his heart, Jane with her sweet countenance, Elizabeth with her lively manner. Effectively showing him that there was life after his beloved wife.
It was because of these two, his 'sweet babes' as he liked to call them, that he spared no time after his allotted mourning period and entered the marriage mart. Although his heart still ached with the loss of his wife, they would need a mother to guide them, to help rear them as ladies. A feat that was he was not able to accomplish on his own.
And so Spring found him London bound, for the start of the season, and the open traps of many a match-making mama wanting his title and fortune for their own.
It was during his first ball in which he met with Miss Frances Gardiner, his Fanny*. He had first spied her as she was dancing at Almack's. Immediately struck by her lively manner and beauty, and had quickly applied to the Lady Jersey to be introduced.
Lady Jersey, who was happy to do anything to please the young Earl, had also taken the task upon herself to apprise him of Miss Gardiner's lineage. Miss Gardiner was the daughter of a very wealthy, but untitled family who had made their fortune in various enterprises in the colonies. She had some connections, though sparse, and were it not for her fortune of 40,000 pounds, she could not find any reason for her receiving any vouchers for Almack's, or any of the event of the ton for that matter.
Caring little for titles and connections, and almost nothing of fortunes, as he had enough of his own, that did little to deter him, and the introduction was made. The courtship had been brief, as the lady seemed as equally enamoured as he, and he soon had invited the Gardiner family to his home, to see whether or not they would react to his sweet babes.
With Jane, there was never any question, for she seemed to like everyone, and therefore was predisposed to like her. Her quite and shy manners, along with her angelic grace, found her quickly in the Gardiners' hearts. With Elizabeth, however, the path was not easily won.
She often found running happily through the corridors, her nanny at her heals. And when permitted in the outdoors she always managed to find something or another that managed to transform her from a little lady to a wild creature instantly, no matter how closely her nanny followed. Of course, it did not help matters when being introduced to her future mother, she ripped Miss Gardiner's favourite dress, and decided that the plumage in her hair would make a lovely toy, destroying Miss Gardiner's carefully arranged curls. Lord Hawke, however, had found it quite amusing and had a very difficult task of trying to console the lady while keeping a somber face.
Soon, however, the matter was forgotten, and when Miss Gardiner finally was able to at least tolerate the notion of having such a child for a daughter, the engagement was finalized.
And now, she stood by his side, as the Countess Hawke, his beautiful bride.
*Note: I'm not quite sure if "fanny" is a nick name for Frances, but no gentile child could be named "fanny," now could they?
"Thomas!" Lady Hawke screeched, much to the dismay of Lord Hawke and his ringing ears.
"Yes, my dear?" He answered with a sigh, recognizing the tone of his wife's voice; one that was quite often associated with his Lizzy.
"Oh, my dear." cried the Lady Hawke, handkerchief clutched to her face in distress as she came into view. "She's brought a monster into this house, she's demon-spawn to be sure."
"Who is this 'demon-spawn', dear?" Lord Hawke asked, eyebrow raised in speculation, although he could just as easily guess the matter. "Who has caused such distress?"
"Your daughter!" She exclaimed, glaring at him through narrowed eyes. "That-that creature you call Lizzy!"
Lord Hawke winced, he hated when she did that, for no daughter of Fanny Bennet would ever behave so.
"My dear," he began calmly. "I sure whatever creature Lizzy may have brought in, surely she, herself, does not deserve such a title."
"Oh, no?" She asked just before crossing the threshold into the hallway, only to return with Lizzy and what appeared to be a dog in tow. "And pray, sir, what title would fit such a thing? For indeed, she does not deserve the title of 'Lady'."
Lord Hawke was at a loss for words at the sight that lay before him. His wife had been right, his Lizzy did look more like a 'creature' than a human girl, let alone a lady of gentile birth. Her entire person covered in mud, various types of weeds were matted to her hair and gown, well what was left of her gown, if that was ever a gown to begin with, as it was presently little more than a piece of tattered cloth.
"Papa," Elizabeth began in her defense, "It wasn't my f-"
Lord Hawke held up a hand to stop her, "Elizabeth, you shall go to your rooms, make yourself presentable and return directly to my study." He stated, his tone clearly leaving no room for argument. "And send a servant to remove this," he said pointing to the muddy canine at his daughter's feet. "From my house."
Elizabeth nodded solemnly, her eyes downcast. "Yes, Father." She mumbled, and calling for the dog to follow, she quitted the room.
No sooner had the door clicked shut, than had Lady Hawke began. "Milord, She cannot continue as such! I endured such behavior when she was in her infancy, but now?" She cried with feeling, "she is twelve years old! I will not have such an influence on Lydia and Kitty, or for that matter, William. The servants are beginning to talk, and soon all of the --shire would know of it. Would you have your good name sullied by such behavior?"
Lord Hawke had taken a position at the window as his wife tore into Lizzy's behavior, he knew this had been long coming, he just had not been sure as to when. "Are you quite finished, madam?" He asked, never turning from the window.
Lady Hawke blushed, never had she been able to say as much as two words against his beloved child, let alone all she had just unleashed upon him. "I am, sir." She admitted quietly.
After a moment of silence Lord Hawke turned and addressed his wife, at which she started at the suddenness of it. "As you have made your opinion quite clear on the matter, madam, may I be let alone to actions shall take place to remedy it?"
Lady Hawke nodded readily, not liking the uneasy silence that had occupied the room only moments earlier. "I shall leave to your thoughts, milord." And with a quick curtsy she swept out of the room.
Elizabeth stood outside of her father's study, as requested, afraid of what her father might say to her. Would he send her to live with her stepmother's relations, the Philips? Surely, her behavior would have been a little more expected if she were their daughter, rather than the daughter of the Earl of Hawke. No, Papa would never subject me to that fate, she thought as she nervously knocked on the study door, would he?
"Papa?" She asked, shyly opening the door after he had bade her enter. On seeing that he was no longer angry, she stepped all the way in, and dropped a small curtsy. "I am here at your request."
"Yes, yes," Lord Hawke said impatiently, he wanted to get this over with. "Come in child."
Elizabeth nodded and sat down in one of the chairs facing his desk. She braced herself for her father's temper, for though he did not often show it, when he did, it was a force to be reckoned with.
"Elizabeth," Lord Hawke began gently.
Elizabeth looked up to meet her father's gaze from its previous position on the floor, astonished at the gentle tone in his voice, but remaining silent so she would not provoke his anger.
"Lizzy," he continued, "you know that what you did today was totally inexcusable." He paused as he saw Elizabeth open her mouth to defend herself, and raised a hand to silence her. "and I know you undoubtedly have a very good explanation for the spectacle you made earlier."
Elizabeth desperately wanted to add her part to this, but found it wise not to interrupt.
"But, none-the-less, the damage has been done, and an appropriate course of action must be taken to remedy the situation."
At this Elizabeth nodded. And waited for judgement to be passed.
"Your step-mother, and I have discussed the matter," He said, rising from his desk to stand in front of the fire. The flames behind him cast ominous shadows across the walls. "And have decided that it is time for you to begin to perfect the accomplishments of the fairer sex. I know since your brother has been old enough to partake in any activity, you have just as eager as he to learn." His thoughts drifted to the time when she had insisted he teach her how to fence, seeing no harm at the time, he had agreed. "However, these traits do not bode well with ladies of your class, and therefore, when Jane journeys to London for school, in a fortnight, you shall be joining her." He ended the last part in a rush, suddenly needing the matter to be finished.
Lord Hawke remained silent for a moment, as he waited for the subject to completely register in her young head.
After a moment, Elizabeth, unsure of how long she could remain thus without allowing the tears that threatened to spill flow free, excused herself from the room. Only stopping to drop a curtsy at the door, before fleeing to the safety of her bedchamber.
Posted On: Sunday, 17 November 2002, at 7:37 a.m.
"Oh, Lizzy it cannot be as bad as you think." Jane said soothingly, as she tried to comfort her distraught sister. "London has many delights to it."
Elisabeth scoffed, "Jane, we are but twelve and thirteen, we are not to be out for another five years! What 'delights' can London hold for us?"
"Oh, Lizzy." Jane said gently as she pulled her tearful sister into her embrace.
"Not all is lost," she whispered as she stroked her sister's hair soothingly. "for we shall still have each other."
Elisabeth gave Jane a watery smile, "Indeed, and that shall be my only comfort."
That dreadful morning found the entire Bennet clan standing in the driveway of Clifton Hall. Lydia and Kitty clung sleepily to their nanny's skirts, each barely old enough to speak, let alone care about that morning's event. While William, three years Elisabeth's junior, stood apart from the group, saddened that he would be losing his best friend, playmate, and partner in training.
"You must remember, Lizzy," he began in a serious tone, "to practice often, so that you are still able to face me when you return."
"I shall try, William." She said with a smile, "but I do not think that fencing will be one of the lessons offered where I am going."
William looked puzzled, "but surely, there will be other girls who fence at the school?"
Elisabeth laughed, amused at her brother's ignorance of the difference between male and female, "I think not, dear brother. Though, you have my word," she continued with a smile. "If there exists such a girl, I shall find her."
Pleased with his sister's promise, William hugged his older sister. "I will miss you, Lizzy." He said with no little feeling, "please hurry and become an accomplished lady, so that you may come back home."
Elisabeth laughed, though tears swam in her eyes. "I shall try my hardest, Wilbur."
William pulled back, a sour look on his face, he hated when she called him that. Wilbur sounded like a name for a horse, not a viscount. "My name is William, Lizzy."
Elisabeth laughed, pulling him back into her embrace, "of course it is, William."
"Lizzy," her father interrupted the siblings moment, he would truly miss his favourite daughter. "You have to be going if you are to make it to London before dark, and I'm sure Miss Driscoll would be disappointed if you had to stay at an inn for the night." He said pointing to the rather cross-looking woman in front of the carriage.
Elisabeth nodded, wiping the tears from her eyes, "yes, sir." She said as she joined the party in front of the carriage.
"And you must remember to write, dear Jane." Lady Hawke reminded her for what seemed like the hundredth time since breakfast. "and you, too, Lizzy." She added as an afterthought, "for I'm sure your father will miss your company."
"Oh, I'm sure, dear wife, that I shall hardly notice they are gone." Lord Hawke said dryly as he made his adieus to his eldest and most beloved daughters, "for what father would miss two daughters, when there is all that silence to enjoy in their absence."
"Oh, Papa, you cannot mean such things." Jane admonished.
"I certainly can." He said seriously, though his eyes glittered with his teasing, and with a hug for his eldest, he handed her into the carriage.
Biting back new tears that threatened to spill, Elisabeth hugged her father, wishing with all her heart she was not going to London. "I shall miss you, Papa." She cried into his chest.
"And I, you, Lizzy." He replied softly as he smoothed her hair affectionately, and all too soon he pulled back, eyes searching her face. "but now you must go, for the sooner you leave, the sooner your return, my love."
Elisabeth nodded, and allowed her father to hand her into the carriage.
"Good-bye, Papa." She whispered, tears rolling down her cheek, "I will write every day." She promised.
Lord Hawke smiled, "And I shall look forward to reading them, though I cannot promise you shall receive a reply as often as you write." He admitted, "Good-bye my loves, I shall miss you both." He said before ordering the coachman to drive on.
Elisabeth turned and gazed out the window at her home and family until they were out of sight. How shall she live without them?
That night found Elisabeth hidden away in her bedchamber, curled up in the window seat, arms hugging her knees as she gazed, unseeing, out into the murky darkness.
Her arrival at the school had been rather uneventful. After a warm greeting and refreshments courtesy of the headmistress, Miss Townsend, Elisabeth and her sister were taken on an extensive tour of the school. However, she found little interest in but two places in all that they were shown: the library, which was quite large for a school, and the gardens, which much to Elisabeth's dismay, were quite the opposite size of the former.
Soon after, they were taken to their rooms, which comprised of their own proper chambers, which doubled as dressing rooms, and an adjoining sitting room.
It was at this point, in which, feigning fatigue from the day's events, Elisabeth begged to be excused to retire for the rest of the night, asking that dinner might be brought up to her room.
Miss Townsend, having no reason to suspect otherwise, readily agreed to this, and informed them that she would leave word to have dinner brought up to their sitting room whenever they were ready to dine.
Elisabeth was then left to her thoughts, as Jane, truly exhausted from the trip to London, retired to her own room to rest.
How am I ever to survive here? Elisabeth asked herself once she had settled herself in the window seat. They have no wilderness whatsoever to get lost in, and the streets of London are hardly the place for a ramble! And because fencing is not one of the feminine graces, I fear I should grow to be fat and plump before the year is out, that is if I don't end up in Bedlam first! Oh, how I long to be home! She thought with a sigh, tears springing to her eyes as the image of Clifton Manor flashed before her eyes.
"Oh, Papa! How could you send me here?" Elisabeth cried aloud, tears streaming down her face. She thought back to that cursed day that had led her to her current situation:
She had gone out for a stroll, despite her governess' claims that it was going to rain, and she had better stay indoors than risk catching a chill. However, Elisabeth, stubborn as she was, had made up her mind, and was not to be deterred from it. And so, she soon found herself running through the woods that surrounded the house.
Her governess' warning had indeed proved true as the sky erupted in a flash of lightning. Not wanting to return to the house and risk listening to the woman's famous speech of reasons not be caught in a storm, and to heed her warning in future, Elisabeth waited out the storm in the shelter of a nearby barn.
It was in that barn, where she had met the beast that caused her so much trouble, although, at the time, she had not thought of him as so. Indeed, when the poor dog had come to her, stick in mouth wanting to play she had been most eager to comply. And when the dog had run out into the rain, she had readily followed, forgetting the reason she had was in the barn to begin with.
When she had wrestled with the dog, his claws tearing at her dress, she had laughed, enjoying the moment, not thinking of the consequences.
It was not until she had returned to the house, the dog at her heels, that she had realized her error.
And now she was here, in London, with no one but Jane.
"I shall be in Bedlam before the year is out, I feel it!" She sobbed, and it was with that final image of her in a small white room, a permanent invalid, that sleep claimed her.