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With Just a Little Guidance Chapters 21 and 22

June 17, 2015 07:41PM
Chapter 21

Although Lydia had been excited about the opportunity to spend time in London, she was greatly unhappy that it would not be spent at social events. Her father had explained it to her before she left home with the Gardiners.

“It has become very apparent that you are still a very silly girl; note that I say girl and not young lady. You demonstrate that you have not yet learned any of the discretion or clear thinking that will be required of you before you join society. Your aunts and I have discussed this, and we think one way to help you mature is for you to assist Mrs. Gardiner with her charity work. That is always an important function for a gentlewoman, and there is not as much call for it in Longbourn. I have some hopes that it will help you grow out of your tendency to think only of flirting and help you mature.”

“Well, will there be at least some parties?”

“At most, they will be family dinners. You will have lots of society with the friends who assist in the charity work. I hope that your association with them will help you understand the expectations we have for your behavior.”

Although she pouted about the restrictions she would see, Lydia still hoped she would still have time for fun. When she arrived on Gracechurch Street, she found that her aunt’s calendar was full of activities that would keep her very busy. She and Miss Bosworth would spend the morning calling hours on school work, and she would spend most of the afternoons on charity work. She would have a couple of days of just schoolwork before the new schedule would begin next week.

That first Sunday, the whole family visited Gracechurch Street. The children went to the nursery with the Gardiner children while the rest, including Lydia, stayed in the parlor. Kitty mentioned her new friends, Bethiah and Rachel. With a glance first at Jane, Lizzy mentioned the walk in the park and meeting Miss Darcy. Jane blushed slightly but kept her composure well. Lizzy also mentioned the lateness of the return call from Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst and that Jane had realized they weren’t really her friends.

“I hate having to think poorly of someone, but I know that note from Miss Bingley when they left Netherfield was meant to mislead me. As Mr. Bingley has already called more than once, I fear she and I can never be as close as it is likely we should be. That causes me some pain.”

Mr. Bennet offered, “Jane, it is her loss. I am sorry that once again you see the shallowness of someone who might have been a friend, but better now than later.”

The family determined that they would join together at the Gardiner’s home each Sunday while they were all in town. Mr. Bennet would visit them regularly during the morning school hours to assess the state of Lydia’s growth. They felt it best for him to stay at Stanford House instead of with the Gardiner’s in order to distance himself from Lydia and allow him to make a more honest assessment of her character and maturity.

The next day, Kitty and Lady Stanford returned the call on her new friends. Again, the girls had much to talk of as they speculated on upcoming occasions, new dresses, and men. Lady Stanford offered to include Rachel and Bethiah on their visit to the dressmaker’s that afternoon, if the young ladies were interested. They were, so Lady Stanford set a time to return for them at about one.

By one-thirty, the ladies found themselves at a fashionable modiste helping Kitty develop an adult wardrobe of colors and styles that flattered her, rather than her older sisters. They had a pleasant afternoon as they learned more about color, camouflage in the way of adornment, and what styles would most flatter Kitty’s figure based on the styles that were current that season.

Mrs. Williamson, Bethiah, and Rachel all returned to Stanford House for tea after the outing. As the ladies entered the house, Mr. Bennet exited the library to greet them.

“Judging by the smiles, I take it the expedition was successful?”

“Yes, Thomas, it was. Join us in the parlor for tea and I will introduce you and tell you all about it.”

With a smile, he followed them into the parlor where Lady Stanford performed the introductions. After the tale about the afternoon shopping, Mr. Bennet said to Mrs. Williamson, “So you are sister to both of these young ladies?”

“Yes, so both of their mothers feel free to accept my assistance with their social duties.”

“Just as I accept those of my sister.”

“Well, something like that. I will not be their sponsors at court; their mothers will do that for them. And they chaperone at some of the events. However, I am happy to be with them both. They are very nice girls and pleasant company.”

“I am only here in town this year as my youngest is in need of an object lesson concerning heedless, thoughtless behavior, and my late wife’s sister is helping us provide that. I expect to be here for only a few weeks before returning to the quiet of Hertfordshire.”

After this, the three adults talked of Longbourn and of Mr. Bennet’s lack of joy in social activities. They spent a very pleasant tea together.

At that same time, Lydia found herself with her aunt outside a shabby old building. They descended from the carriage and walked to the door and knocked. A harried older woman with a somewhat sour expression opened the door. “Good afternoon Mrs. Gardiner,” she said with a slightly more pleasant expression. “Thank you very much for coming today. Being fine again, the children are asking to go outside and there are not enough to watch them.”

“Perfect,” replied Mrs. Gardiner. “My niece, Lydia, is here to do just that. Lydia, please follow me.” She led Lydia to a large room filled with children running around making lots of noise. “Children,” she called. “If you can quiet down and line up, we can go out in the yard for an hour or so.” At that, the noise lessened sharply and the little girls, for that is what they were, filed into line with faces filled with expectation. Mrs. Gardiner and Lydia led them out a side door into a bare yard where they all started running around again.

“Lydia, I want you to keep an eye on these girls as they play. Make sure no one gets into any trouble and that there is no bullying of the littler girls by the bigger ones. This is Mrs. Pratt’s Home for Girls and these girls are either orphans or someone’s natural daughters. They will all be trained for service once they are at least eight. These little ones are between three and seven when they are still allowed to play. As you can see, they are mostly healthy, which is not true at most such places. We will be coming here at least once each week for you to assist with the younger ones. I need to talk with Mrs. Pratt, so please excuse me.” So saying, she left Lydia to watch the little girls attempt to play in the yard.

So, while Kitty was experiencing the joy of a new wardrobe, Lydia was taking responsibility for about fifteen little children that no one wanted. It was a little daunting as she had never really had responsibility for anyone but herself. When the hour was up, Mrs. Pratt and Mrs. Gardiner came out to retrieve the girls who were marched into a classroom. They all pulled out little aprons for their sewing lesson.

As Lydia and Mrs. Gardiner left Mrs. Pratt’s, Mrs. Gardiner said, “These little ones are so lucky to be in this home. Mrs. Pratt sees to it that they have food and receive training so they can go into service. They are not forced to the workhouse or into a mill to earn enough to feed themselves. They will learn a trade where, although difficult, they will be able to take care of themselves. The mortality rate in such places is generally quite high, but in Mrs. Pratt’s most of them survive to graduate. They are usually hired out as a scullery maid or something similar when they are about twelve years old. Do you think you have what it takes to work from dawn until sundown? You are older than that now.”

Lydia looked at her aunt aghast. “Why would I want to do such a thing?”

“All of your talk about officers suggests that you think you are ready for a full day of work like that. The junior officers, the ones that you’ve been mooning over, earn just about enough for you to not quite get by. You would have to work at something in order to supplement his pay to have enough to feed and house you both. Of course, if you were to have any children, they would likely end up someplace like Mrs. Pratt’s since you could not earn enough to feed them until he had advanced from the junior ranks. Unless, of course, you allowed one of your sisters to adopt your child and take it from you. Perhaps you would prefer that.”

“Are you serious?”

“Well yes, of course I am. You father, aunt, and Miss Bosworth have all tried to teach you what life with a junior officer would be like. Now I am showing you. Senior officers usually have almost enough pay for a family. Many still need a supplement. Now, a naval officer has a chance to capture a prize ship and get extra money that way. The militia have no chance for that, so you have to survive on their pay alone. Same thing with regular army. Tomorrow, we go to a clinic that cares for children of the poor. You will see others who would be in a similar position to what you would be had you married a militia lieutenant. Now, a captain or colonel makes better money, so would not be quite so bad. Of course, I do not think you can manage any household budget yet, so you would probably be in worse straights than the women and children we will see tomorrow.”

Lydia shook her head in horror. She excused herself and went straight to her room to lie down. The Home had exhausted her, and she now had a headache.

The next day, while Kitty and Lady Stanford called on friends, Lydia met with her father and told him about her day at the Home. Miss Bosworth had asked her to write an essay on orphans which had really reinforced what she had seen. He thoroughly approved the charitable works that were planned as an object lesson for his heedless daughter. “I will be interested to hear what you think about the clinic today,” was his parting remark as he left for his club.

When they arrived at the clinic, again in a less reputable part of town, Lydia wrinkled her nose at the smells. It was a very pungent location. She followed her aunt into the clinic and was given an apron to cover her dress. She was then assigned the task of cleaning out exam rooms. These were small rooms where a patient was examined by the apothecary who ran the clinic or one of his assistants. Lydia swept, washed, swept and washed. She saw small children with gaping sores on their legs. She saw others with obviously broken arms. She saw one woman who looked like someone had beaten her quite severely. She saw a baby with similar bruises. People were patched up, sewn up, given something for the pain, and sent on their way. She cleaned the little exam rooms after each person left before another was shown in. She found herself nauseated by the whole experience. Her back was tired from sweeping and washing. By the time her afternoon was over, she knew she never wanted to go back. She also realized that she would be back at least once each week for as long as she stayed in town. Perhaps there was some benefit in behaving as her father wished so she would not have to spend so much time working so hard.

Her next afternoon was spent at a home for disabled retired soldiers. It was operated by a local church and managed to assist about 10 soldiers at a time. They always had a substantial waiting list for admission. All were missing at least a portion of one limb. Since they were illiterate and unable to perform manual labor, they were completely dependent on charity. Once the men were as recovered from their injuries as they were ever likely to be, they began learning skills to enable them to return to employment. Lydia would be spending her time with the few that would never be able to perform manual labor of any kind and were being taught to read and write. The rest were learning to accommodate their disabilities in performing gardening, grooming, or other such activities. This visual of what the actual outcomes could be for many soldiers was all that her aunt hoped in crushing Lydia’s yearning after officers.

One afternoon each week was spent with a sewing circle. This group of women made clothing for orphans and foundlings housed in numerous establishments in the poorer parts of London. There was always demand for sturdy trousers, shirts, and dresses. Those that no longer had the eye sight for close stitching would knit stockings and other warm clothing. Each month, the group would donate the group’s efforts to a different establishment. There seemed to be no end to the amount of want and need to which Lydia was now exposed. At least in the sewing circle, she was exposed to more of her aunt’s friends and not just those in need. She quickly learned to keep her mouth closed and her ears open as she listened to their discussions. Some were about their charity cases, but others were pure gossip. She was amazed at all the different things that called for censure. She also realized that many of her own actions would have led to censure and dismissal from society. She was shocked to find out how people really viewed such actions.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, Lydia became much more thoughtful about cause and effect and what she really wanted from life. She realized that, while the officers looked smart in their uniforms, their profession was one of pronounced risk. After all, look at the disabled soldiers they helped. They were the lucky ones. Would she want to take such a chance of widowhood? Probably not. As she listened more and more to the discussions among the sewing circle, she realized that, with the right man, she could enjoy security and his company at the same time. She began to understand what her older sisters had seen in the men they had married. She could also see that the liveliness in Mr. Nelson and Mr. Raynor had been more than liveliness. They had been fool-hardy to risk so much in their racing. She wanted someone lively but a little less willing to risk all for fun. Had her father understood the depth of her change, he would have rejoiced. He did know that she was more thoughtful and less heedless. That had really been all he was hoping for.  

Chapter 22

While Lydia spent her afternoons with charity work, Kitty was making social calls. While Lydia was in class with Miss Bosworth in the morning, Kitty learned from Lady Stanford. They discussed menus and household issues with the housekeeper. Then, Kitty would spend an hour practicing the piano. She must keep to a reasonable standard so she could exhibit at some of the smaller social events. Then, she would change into a dress appropriate for calls.

Besides Bethiah and Rachel, she now had a few more acquaintances of her own, in addition to those of her aunt, for her visits. However, Bethiah and Rachel were the ones she was closest to. She saw them almost every other day. The other required social visits were a little more challenging. She enjoyed the new wardrobe, but after one visit, she said to her aunt, “Is there really nothing more to do than spend a quarter of an hour in meaningless chat?”

“Oh, there are many other things to do. We will be doing them soon. For now, you are in school again. You are learning the art of small talk.”

“I do not like it very much.”

“Many do not enjoy it. Those with little imagination or education find it very stimulating. True conversation consists in a discussion of ideas. But, small talk can help you learn about your new acquaintances and determine who you might want to cultivate as friends. I had hoped you would ask about this soon, as I find these visits horribly tedious.”

“Then why did you wait to discuss this with me?”

“If you never raised any concerns, you would not be ready to move to the next level. Some people never are. You’ve just finished visiting with one such. So, we already indicated that you can always ask about their home or estate, their family, their interests such as music or books, and what activities they enjoy. If you find they actually have something going on inside, you might spend more time on what they read. Most of us enjoy a nice novel. That is usually a safe topic. However, you can use it to find out if they are just reading for the fun or if they see any deeper meaning or seek any deeper meaning in what they read. Some will, some won’t.”

“I think I prefer people who are looking for the deeper messages and meanings.”

“So do I. However, most well-bred young women are taught to hide such thoughts, particularly from young men. When you visit, you will find a few who are willing to show their intelligence. You must decide what kinds of friends you want. You then use the visits to cultivate those and develop the relationship. You also use the visits to the rest as a way to hone your own conversational skills.”

Kitty looked thoughtful. As they were pulling up to the next location, she replied, “This is quite different than the kinds of things Miss Bosworth taught us.”

“Yes. It is what mothers, or in this case aunts, try to do. The intricacies of the social dance are every bit as complicated as the dancing we do in a ballroom. This is why I like to begin in smaller settings and work our way up. Some do not. They just throw their girls out there and expect them to manage. I despise that attitude.”

“Thank you. I think I prefer your method. And it has worked well for my sisters.”

“Yes, it has. All three have made excellent matches with men they could respect. I am sorry that both Nelson and Raynor were such thrill-seekers. It had not been apparent until after Elizabeth’s marriage. Perhaps they were always in competition and marriage only increased it. We will never know. We only know that it cost both men their lives.”

After this discussion, Kitty approached their social calls with a new attitude. It helped her tighten her focus as she examined new acquaintances looking for those with whom she could be friends. Besides Bethiah and Rachel, there were only a couple of other debutantes who were worth spending the effort. She noticed that, after the first few visits, Lurinda Williamson was also interesting to know, but neither Mrs. Gaisford nor the senior Mrs. Williamson had any deeper level of conversation. It was interesting that the daughters were so much deeper than the mothers.

Jane and Elizabeth made occasional social calls as well. They had learned the same lessons Kitty was learning, and the friends from their Seasons were still friends. Jane’s friends tended to share her quieter and more positive outlook on life. Elizabeth’s tended to be livelier and enjoy a spirited debate. Many of their friends were also married with children, and discussion of the children could always be pleasant.

Now that Miss Darcy had been introduced, Jane and Elizabeth took Kitty and Lady Stanford to Darcy House to introduce Miss Darcy to the others. Although she was not yet out, Kitty found a great deal in common with Miss Darcy. She also found that Miss Darcy was significantly better in music and was definitely fun to play duets with.

One Thursday, Mr. Bennet, Lady Stanford, Kitty, Jane, Lizzy, and Bingley were invited to the theater with Darcy followed by supper at Darcy House. While she was not out, Georgiana still joined them at both, but she was dressed as a school girl and not a debutante. She stayed on her brother’s arm and sat well back in their box. All were relieved that Bingley’s sisters were not included as they had a prior engagement.

As Kitty got to know Miss Darcy, she found little resemblance between the girl she chatted with and the one that Wickham had described. It was further proof that he had not been telling the truth when discussing the Darcys and his woes. The more the two talked together, the more Kitty found herself liking the shy young woman. Both she and Elizabeth both found themselves very much enjoying her company.

That week’s Sunday dinner at the Gardiner’s showed how much progress Lydia had made. She had hated the conditions she found at each place she had worked. However, over and over, she was shown that had she actually ended up with a junior officer, she would have had to live in conditions she despised. No one informed her that her dowry was sufficient to keep her from descending to those ranks if it was managed correctly. It was important to them that Lydia learn to see how truly blessed she was in her life. She had done that. It would continue to be reinforced as she spent time working at these establishments. She would forever abandon her completely heedless attitude in favor of one more thoughtful.

At dinner, Mr. Bennet demanded, “Lydia, tell us about your charity work this week. Did you enjoy it?”

“I don’t think enjoy is the correct word. However, I am grateful I did it. I had never realized how very much better our life is than many of those around us. Most of our neighbors in Meryton live in ways similar to ours. The orphans were sad. But the clinic was terrible. The conditions those people live in are appalling. Some of those women and children are beaten on a regular basis. They don’t know what it is not to be in pain. Some never have enough to eat. And the food they eat is disgusting, but it is all they can afford. I know I will continue to assist until we return home, but I also know that is not how I want to live. You better believe I am paying a lot more attention to more than looking smart when I come to choose a husband. And those poor soldiers. Why, that could have been my own husband if I had married an officer.”

Everyone laughed at that statement. Jane added, “I am sure it was unpleasant, but you can be assured that what you have learned is very important. We have been blessed to be comfortable. Those you are working with are not. We have an obligation to assist them, but really, there is very little we can do to change their lot in life. However, we can ensure that those that work for us are appreciated and well cared for.”

Lizzy added, “I am glad you’ve realized how lucky we are. Some people never recognize their good fortune. They take it for granted. If you’ve learned this, you will never regret being more appreciative. It will also help you when you come to pick a companion for your life.”

The rest of dinner was more about the visiting they had done, the few social events Kitty had attended, how she was learning to use small talk to find real friends. Lydia found that discussion very interesting. She knew her turn would come next year if she were lucky. Apparently, there was no end to learning.

That next week, Lady Castlereagh and Lady Jersey came to visit Stanford House. They spent time chatting with Kitty, who by now was becoming quite proficient in the art of small talk. They determined they approved and when the dances began, Kitty would be admitted to Almack’s. Lady Stanford was grateful as this was an important avenue to meeting acceptable young men.

With Just a Little Guidance Chapters 21 and 22

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