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Practicing Economy - One Shot

June 28, 2021 06:19PM
I wrote this a few months ago for the May/June Nobody’s Perfect challenge on another site. If you read it at AHA, it’s the same story.



When I was doing research for my previous forays into writing, I found myself in some older conversation threads on another site and one such conversation stuck with me.



This is my take on the Bennet women being moochers, I included Mrs. Bennet in my scheme even though she wasn’t in the original conversation.













“My dears, after my spectacularly loud performance at dinner, it is unlikely Mr. Bennet will be seen for the rest of the evening,” Mrs. Bennet told her five daughters. By order of birth, there was Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine, and Lydia. “I must know if you have accepted any dinner invitations, made any new travel arrangements, or had any money saving ideas since the last time we met.”


“I still do not like that we have to go behind Papa’s back like this, mamma. Why do Kitty and I have to make him think we are two of the silliest girls in the country?” Lydia whined.


“I need your father to think that you and Kitty overspend your pin money and need more because you are getting older, Lydia.”


“But why do we have to make him think so?”


“Lydia, my love, though you are the youngest, I dare say I expected you to immediately understand and agree to do everything in your power to assist us,” Mrs. Bennet admonished. With a sigh she continued, “Your father is an honest man who truly loves his family. He married and elevated me to the status of a gentlewoman even though I had family in trade. However, nobody is perfect, Lydia.”


“Only the good Lord is,” Mary said solemnly. “The good book and Fordyce tell us He...”


“How you try my nerves, child,” Mrs. Bennet said with a smile. “Save that talk for when your father is around.”


“Yes, mamma,” her middle daughter replied with a smirk.


“You girls know your father is happiest when left alone to read his books. He exerted himself just enough to keep us out of debt, but without a son and lacking ambition, he did not trouble himself to do more,” Mrs. Bennet sighed. “I love the man dearly, but he tries my nerves.”


“But mamma,” Kitty spoke quietly, “it does not seem as though you like papa very much.”


“But I do, Kitty. We are perfect for each other,” she said with a smile. “How many men would give their wives more money for household funds simply because they ask? My friends in the neighbourhood complain their husbands make them prove they need more funds.”


“I think they are both old enough to know the entire history, mamma,” Elizabeth told her. “It would help them to better understand why we meet like this.”


“So do I,” Jane added.


“Tell them, mamma,” Mary all but ordered.


“It will be as you wish, however, I will be displeased if you girls tell your father,” she said sternly. “Promise me you will act no differently than you do now.”


When her youngest two daughters agreed, she explained, “Would it surprise you to know that at the tender age of nine years old, my most intelligent daughter saw through my ruse when her father did not?”


“What do you mean ruse?” Kitty asked.


“I assume you mean Lizzy. La, what a joke!” Lydia laughed. “Most intelligent daughter! You do not seem to like Lizzy most of the time either.”


“You would be too young to remember young lady, but that started at the same time that Lizzy found me out,” she said with drawn eyebrows. “I am completely serious, you both had better not tell a word of what you hear.”


Kitty nodded right away, but Lydia studied her silently for a few moments before agreeing.


“When Lizzy was nine years old, she asked me to teach her how to keep the household accounts and noticed that I did not spend as much as your father thought I did.”


“What do you mean?” Kitty asked.


“Mamma would complain about how much more it cost to purchase the meat were eating, but I noticed the account book said it was less expensive than the last entry. The same thing happened with the servant wages. It remembered a conversation mamma and Aunt Gardiner had about how our aunt paid her maids in London and a conversation mamma had with papa shortly thereafter, compared to what the household budget said,” Elizabeth explained.


“You are stealing from papa?” Lydia asked with wide eyes.


Lydia’s question made her pause and think, was she stealing from her husband?


“It is not stealing Lydia,” Jane said to the surprise of everyone. “Mamma is taking care of our future. Let her continue.”


With a grateful smile at her eldest, she continued, “Jane is correct, Lydia. When we married, your father was not in the habit of practicing economy, and to my dismay I fell into the same habits. I realized what was happening shortly after your birth, but your father was too entrenched in his ways, so I took it upon myself to save my daughters.”


“Very successfully, I might add,” Mary said with a grin.


“How so?” Kitty asked curiously.


“Once Lizzy realized what I was doing, she asked me to go for a walk one day and she had the same thought you did, Lydia,” she responded with a smile. “It surprised her to find out that all of the money I was able to save from the household budget was sent to my brother and either invested in safe ventures or put into government bonds.”


“How much have you been able to save?” Kitty asked, clearly intrigued.


“We will get to that shortly,” she answered. “Lizzy came up with an even better idea. Knowing how her father delights in vexing me, she was the one to suggest that our public relationship deteriorate so your father would be more likely to side with her ideas if mine were the opposite. Once she had a thorough understanding of how the household budgets were kept and the ways I used to siphon funds, she approached your father about leaning how to run the estate.”


“I made sure to ask at dinner and Mama was in fine form. Handkerchief fluttering about with loud wails about turning me into a bluestocking, papa was unable to resist teaching me,” Elizabeth explained with a wry grin. “What he has never figured out, was that I would in turn teach mamma everything I had learned and we would figure out ways to improve upon what he was doing.”


“Because mamma was spending more time learning about the estate, I started helping Mrs. Hill with the household,” Jane added. “We could easily afford another upstairs maid or two, but it saves money when we share the one and help each other dress and do our hair.”


“Ingenious,” Lydia whispered.


“How does Mary help?” Kitty asked.


“Do you think I read nothing but religious tomes like Fordyce?” Mary asked with a smile. “Most of the time I am reading a book about agriculture or animal husbandry. We are trying new crop techniques and purchased some sheep for the wool.”


“I also spend time with papa in the library asking him about his books,” Elizabeth explained. “When he purchases a book he does not like, I know I can send it to Uncle Gardiner to be re-sold and the proceeds invested.”


“Now that Lizzy handles estate matters, Janes manages the household budget, and Mary finds new ways to make money on the estate, I help all three where needed and oversee the servants,” she explained. “I also make sure to host one dinner party a month, a little more lavishly than I would, because I know I can get a few dinner invitations from each of our neighbours to compensate.”


“Oh my,” Kitty said softly before giggling.


“Is that why we spend so much time attending functions in the neighbourhood?” Lydia asked with wide eyes.


“Of course it is,” Mrs. Bennet said while shaking her head. “If we only have to have a family dinner two or three times a week, how much is saved on our food budget? When your father is here alone, he is happy to eat bread, meat, and cheese or whatever the servants are eating. My goodness girls, I thought you would have at least realized that much. Are you now aware of how much your three older sisters do for the estate and you?”


“That is why you are always insistent that we accept every invitation,” Kitty said. “I thought you just liked to socialize.”


“I do, to a point, but it is also a good way to practice economy.”


“Tell them about your competition with Lady Lucas,” Elizabeth said with a wicked grin.


“Oh, mamma,” Kitty laughed. “I see it now. She is always trying to out-do you and asks us to dinner frequently to show she can entertain as well as we do at Longbourn.”


“We should also acknowledge how much Kitty and Lydia assist us with our economy,” Mary said.


“What do you mean?” Lydia asked.


“With our clothing,” Elizabeth explained. “Kitty designs our dresses based on the pictures in La Belle Assemblée, Lydia suggests the perfect color combinations for all of us and the accessories to go with them, Uncle Gardiner sells us the fabrics at his cost, and we spend all winter making our dresses. Mamma takes us with her to drop Jane off with the Gardiners in the spring and after Jane returns, we start wearing the new gowns. Papa and everyone in Meryton think we purchased them in town.”


“I never understood why we had to wait to wear our new gowns before,” Lydia said. “How much have you and my sisters managed to save, mamma?”


“Lizzy and I were able to make some immediate changes to increase the annual income of Longbourn, but some things take time. Our annual income is now over four thousand a year,” she explained.


“My goodness,” Kitty said.


“From the estate profits alone, we have saved just over thirteen thousand pounds,” Elizabeth said.


“From household savings,” Jane added, “We have been able to add at least three hundred pounds a year, sometimes more.”


“Total, we have almost seventeen thousand from Longbourn,” Mary finished.


“What do you mean, from Longbourn?” Lydia asked.


“I am glad you caught that, Lydia,” Mrs. Bennet said. “My brother has been investing the funds and we have never received less than a 4% return and a few years had almost 8%.”


“What does that mean,” Lydia asked impatiently.


“Do not worry, mamma, I think it is time Lydia starts helping me with the estate books and Kitty helps Jane. I will explain how interest works,” Elizabeth offered.


“Thank you, my dear. Lydia, that means we have almost £22,000 in the bank. It will be used to increase my widows portion and as dowry’s for my daughters as long as you marry good men who I approve of.”


“But mamma, you said getting married was the most important thing,” Lydia whined.


“Listen to yourself, young lady,” she said sternly, “You are clearly not ready to marry. The only reason you came out when you did was to allow you to accept more invitations with us to save money.”


“I want to marry an officer,” Lydia said dreamily, clearly ignoring the warning.


“I forbid it! I will not have you in the same situation I was a few years ago. Do you realize that very few officers, and certainly not ones young enough to catch your eye, could afford a wife?”


“There would be no money for ribbons or dresses,” Elizabeth said.


“You would have to do your own chores, Lydia,” Jane said, shocking her sister.


“But the army would see to all that.”


“No, they would not, Lydia,” Mary said. “I saved some articles about conditions our soldiers face. I think you will find them enlightening.”


“We will discuss this further, Lydia. For now, I need to know what invitations have been accepted. Lizzy and Jane, did my brother and sister extend the expected invitations?”


“Yes, mamma, I am to visit with my aunt and uncle for two months in the spring,” Jane responded.


“I am to travel with them this summer for a few weeks,” Elizabeth said.


“Good, Mary?”


~*~



Thomas Bennet walked away from the door with a smile on his face thinking how predictable his wife was. Her actions at the dinner table were a sure sign she wanted private time with his daughters.


Admittedly, some of what he overheard had surprised him. He had only noticed what his wife and daughters were doing five years ago. He was pleased they had been so industrious to save as much as they had. He was happy to sit back and read while his wife made herself useful. He could just imagine how often she would interrupt him and how much she would be spending if she was not kept busy.


He wondered if they would be surprised to know that he employed similar measures with his book seller and spirit purchases? His family thought he enjoyed finding rare tomes to purchase and drank expensive port. In truth, he had a few bookdealers who were old friends and set aside spectacular finds for him and he arranged for them to be sold at great profit in London and when alone he drank the cheapest swill he could find.


It might also shock his wife to know that as soon as they married, he had trusted her dowry to her brother to invest. As soon as the amount had doubled, he re-deposited her dowry and left it untouched and let Gardiner play with the earnings in increasingly bold and extremely profitable ventures. He had saved almost double what his family had.


He was quite at his leisure reading while others made money for his family’s future.
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Practicing Economy - One Shot

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