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Her Own Insignificance Chapter 1

August 27, 2022 11:13AM
This story looks at the more likely scenario where Lydia has spent all her funds so Wickham runs off without Lydia, and Lydia is sent home by Col Forster for poor behaviour.

Chapter 1

Elizabeth had been a good deal disappointed in not finding a letter from Jane on their first arrival at Lambton; and this disappointment had been renewed on each morning that had now been spent there, but on the third, her repining was over, and her sister justified by the receipt of two letters at once, on one of which it had been sent elsewhere first. To her great surprise there was a letter from her father. As he was a lazy correspondent, she felt the need to read his missive first.

Dear Lizzy

You must be gratified to know that you were right in your advice to me on Lydia. Col Forster wrote to me after overhearing unflattering comments on her behaviour and lack of suitability for marriage. As he felt he could not guarantee the safe keeping of her reputation, he requested that she return home. I agreed and went to fetch her. The public reason for her early return home was due to her inability to manage her pin money and I could no longer afford for her to be away.

I will leave the details and tell you when you return. Some things are not appropriate to write. I will admit that I have never been so angry in my life. She is currently confined to Longbourn until she is able to understand the realities of her situation.
Further to that, both she and Kitty must first prove to me how they have improved their minds each day prior to being allowed to leave Longbourn. Lydia is no longer out but if she can prove to me her behaviour is changed, she may return to society when she turns 16.

I should not wonder at your prescience. As you said, if I can not be bothered to check her behaviour, then why should I have expected Colonel Forster or his wife to do so? It certainly could have ended far worse and we are fortunate that it did not.

In other news that you would be interested in, Mr Wickham has absconded from Brighton without leave and is being pursued for a large number of unpaid debts. In addition and that which was the greatest shock to all was that he ran off with a local shop keepers daughter. I believe her greatest attraction may of been the money she took from her father's till to pay for the carriage ride to London. I recall your distinct cooling of favour towards Mr Wickham after your return from Hunsford. I wonder if you discovered anything of that worthless reprobate during your time there?

I am eagerly awaiting your return.

Thomas Bennet

Two weeks Earlier

Colonel Forster hurried along the corridor back to his office at his headquarters. He had some reports he should of read during the day but he'd been distracted by a discipline issue amongst the troops that he had to sort out, followed by a surprise visit by one of the peerage which had chewed up his afternoon.

He got to his office not bothering to shut the door. As he fussed around his desk looking for where he'd placed the reports he was meant to read during the day, some boisterous discussion wafted down the hall.

“Are you looking forward to the dinner tonight?” said one officer to the other.

The Colonel could not find the reports he sought on top of his desk where he thought he left them. He started opening his drawers to check if he put them there whilst more of the officer’s conversation reached his ears.

“I imagine it will be interesting. The colonel's wife’s guest is sure to provide some entertainment”.

“What think you of the girl?” There was a slight pause and the first officer continued in a slightly softer voice that the Colonel struggled to hear. “You can speak freely. I saw the colonel leave earlier. We're the only ones left.”

“Speaking freely? There is a girl I would wager will end up with a babe in arms and no husband.”

“I’d take you up on that wager except I think you'll win.” The two officers laughed and their voices drifted away as they left the building. “Imagine taking her home to meet the family.”

“I’d rather not.”

Colonel Forster had found his reports lying on top of his bookshelf. At first he was angry at the ungentlemanly comments made by his officers but on consideration he realised he had listened in on a private conversation between two friends that he should not have been privy to. This was their honest opinion of his guest that questioned her respectability. He decided he'd watch her closely that evening.

The dinner was hosted by one of the local gentry and there were two and twenty gentlemen and ladies present. He watched Lydia closely. Though she looked like a gentlewoman, her behaviour indicated otherwise. She laughed too loud, some of her behaviour was downright rude and she demanded attention from the officers that was unbecoming.

The more sensible officers avoided her as far as possible. The younger and more impetuous officers watched with amusement and were happy enough to amuse her. And then there were the more opportunistic ones who would occasionally throw a speculative or lecherous look when they thought no one was looking. As the night wore on and people had had more to drink, the less respectable officers were drawn towards her and appeared to have more wandering hands. She would put a hand on their arm, their own hand might briefly touch her waist, she would whisper in their ears and their eyes would be drawn to her ample bosom.

He had to put a stop to this before things went any further. He approached his wife to advise that they would retire for the night and resolved to send a letter to Lydia’s father.

11 days earlier

Mr Bennett finally got around to opening the missive from Colonel Forster which had come earlier in the day. He’d just finished the short letter from Lydia requesting more money and he was astounded by how she could spend more money than Jane and Lizzy combined in half the time.

Upon finishing the Colonel’s letter he got up and started pacing the room, recriminations flowing through his mind. Why had he not listened to Lizzy when she had tried to warn him?

Presently he called to a servant outside. “Please ask Mrs Bennet to come to my study please.”

“What on earth is the matter? Is something wrong with Lydia? Is she engaged? I know you got a letter from both her and Colonel Forster this morning “

“Sit down Mrs Bennet. Here is the letter I received from Colonel Forster this morning. You can read it yourself so that you know the opinion the officers hold of her.”

Mrs Bennet eagerly took the letter as Mr Bennet rarely ever shared his correspondence with her. That soon turned to shock. “Oh my.” She read on. “Oh my poor Lydia, to be thought of so cruelly,” said Mrs Bennet whilst fluttering her handkerchief in front of her face.

“But it is a situation of her own making. From the sounds of it we are fortunate she did not compromise herself in some way. We have not checked her behaviour here, so how could I expect any form of improvement there,” he said bitterly.

“What are you to do?”

“Colonel Forster requests that she return to Longbourn. I will go and personally collect her from Brighton and bring her back.” Here he turned a stern look at his wife. “You do understand and we can't let it be known that her host has returned her because of her poor behaviour? If she had compromised herself it would have ruined the other girls chances at marriage...” Mr Bennet let that sink in before continuing. “The excuse for her return is that she has spent all her pin money and can no longer afford to stay there without taxing the generosity of her hosts too much.”

“Yes, yes of course Mr Bennet. That makes for a perfectly reasonable need for her return. I will speak not a word of the real reason to a soul. We can't let the other girl’s chances at marriage be risked by Lydia.”

“If you want Kitty and Lydia to marry, they need to be prepared for it. They need to know how to manage a household and the household budget. We cannot assume that they will marry rich men. They need to understand restraint. Whilst I am gone can you make sure that Kitty is taught how to manage the household accounts?”

“Of course Mr Bennet, it is time for her to learn.”

“I will send an express to Colonel Forster and let him know to expect me tomorrow night at Brighton.”

10 days earlier

Lydia had been waiting eagerly to meet Lieutenant Wickham in the morning as she and Mrs Forster walked to the militia’s Barracks. Whilst Mrs Forster went to speak with her husband, Lydia managed to pull Lieutenant Wickham aside. “I have the most surprising news to tell you, dearest. Lord, you will never guess what it is!”

“I hope it is nothing to upset our plans for tonight.”

“My father is arriving tonight! Is that not wonderful! We don't need to go to Gretna Green to marry and you can ask his permission tonight!”

The news clearly did not come as a nice surprise to Wickham. “Did you tell anyone about us?” he asked angrily.

“No my dear, not a word. Not even to Kitty.”

“Then why is he coming now?”

“Apparently he’s angry at me for asking for more pin money and he’s going to take me home. But this is perfect my love. You can ask for my hand and then we can be publicly engaged and I can show you about. All my sisters will be madly jealous as I make them plan our wedding.”

Wickham looked to be taking this in with a sense of panic. “Do you have no money on you at all?”

“Only two shillings, my love,” replied Lydia with a giggle.

Wickham plastered a smile on his face. “You’re right, this is indeed good news.”

“Will you ask him tonight when he arrives?” asked Lydia taking his hands in hers.

“No, he will be far too tired having spent all day in the carriage that he will be in no mood to grant any blessings. He will be much more favourably disposed to think well of everything in the morning after a good night rest. I will approach him early tomorrow.”

“Of course you are right. That is a much better idea. Oh I can't wait till tomorrow and we can let everyone know!”

“You must be off. I think I hear Mrs Forster looking for you.” Lydia cast Wickham a final backward glance but he had already turned away.

Lydia was a bundle of nervous, impatient excitement all that day. She could barely focus on the people she spoke with as she went and took her leave of people in Brighton. Instead of complaining of the unfairness of it all, she was quite sedate in her responses to her imminent departure as she was far too distracted.

Her father arrived just before dinner and spoke little to her beyond a cursory greeting before going for a bath and changing from his travel clothes.

Lydia was uncharacteristically quiet at dinner as she didn't want to let her secret out which was all she could think of. She didn't even notice that her father was clearly very annoyed at her, though he was surprised that she had not protested to him at all of his coming to take her home. He spoke mostly with Colonel Forster but looked often at his daughter with suspicion.

“Lydia, you are surprisingly quiet tonight,” asked her father.

She started at the fact that she had been addressed, as she been pretending to listen to Mrs Forster talk about some new dress she was having made for the next ball. She cast her mind quickly for a reason that didn't give away the truth. “I'm just thinking of all the fun I've had here and how much I will miss Brighton and all my friends here. Lord, Longbourn will be so dull.”

The men separated after dinner and had a long conversation in the Colonel’s study. Mrs Forster took her to the parlour where they gossiped until she asked if there was anyone she would miss in particular.

“I would miss you, you are my dearest friend in the world!” exclaimed Lydia.

“Not me. Will you miss any officer more than the others when you leave?” asked Mrs Forster with a conspiratorial smirk.

“I'll surely miss Captain Denny and Lieutenant Sanderson.”

“What about Lieutenant Wickham?” I've seen you pulling him aside for many a private discussion of late.”

Lydia giggled. “Oh isn't he the most handsome man you've ever met! How well does ‘Mrs Wickham’ sound?” Lydia was about to say more to start talking about the wedding but stopped herself.

“It’s a pity you are leaving so early. Maybe with a bit more time it might of happened.”

Lydia bit her lip to keep quiet. A non-committal “Perhaps” was all she said but inside she was bursting to spill everything out.

At that moment the men returned. “Mrs Forster, Lydia, it’s been a long carriage ride and however much I’d like to enjoy your company, I suspect I will fall asleep in your chair. Lydia, I suggest you take your leave to rest as well. We’ll be leaving early to make it back to Longbourn before nightfall. Mr Forster, Mrs Forster, thank you for your kind hospitality of Lydia over the last couple of months and for hosting me tonight.”

With a few more pleasantries both Mr Bennet and Lydia retired for the night. Lydia tossed and turned, her mind thinking of a fine looking man in regimentals and what would occur in the morning.

9 days earlier

Lydia bounced out of bed early for once, carefully selected her dress with care and made her way down to the breakfast parlour. Her father and Colonel Forster were already there, however as she arrived, a servant came in carrying an urgent message for the Colonel. He quickly read the note and stood up. “Unfortunately urgent business calls and I cannot properly take my leave of you later. I wish you both a safe journey home. I thank you for enlivening our home and keeping my wife entertained whilst I have been busy working. I know my wife was delighted to have you here for this time.”

Mr Bennet replied with a significant look at Lydia. “We are extremely grateful for your generosity and from me, thank you very much for watching over Lydia and keeping her safe.”

“It was nothing at all. She made my wife happy and as they say ‘happy wife happy life’.”

“Thank you very much for having me, Colonel Forster. I will so miss Brighton and everyone here when I leave,” said Lydia.

She and her father ate in relative silence. Every time that Lydia heard someone approaching, she looked up to see if it was Lieutenant Wickham.

“Are your bags packed and ready to go?” asked Mr Bennet. Lydia shook her head.
“Well you had best hurry up and get them packed. I'm going to organise the carriage and I plan to leave within the hour with or without your things.”

“But Papa, must we leave so soon? Some of the officers said they would stop by to farewell me.”

“And they can, my dear, as long as they do it within the hour,” he replied completely unperturbed.

Lydia’s packing was slow as every couple of minutes she raced to the window to watch the road to see if Wickham was on his way. After an hour was up and the carriage was waiting outside her father came in to find only half of her belongings had been packed.

Eventually Lydia finished and her bags were loaded to the carriage. She was becoming increasingly worried by the fact that Wickham had not yet come, and even Mr Bennet could now see that something was definitely up. As she waited for the final loading and as she said her final goodbyes to Mrs Forster, two familiar faces appeared.

“Captain Denny! Lieutenant Sanderson! Have you come to say goodbye? But is there not another with you? I thought Lieutenant Wickham would be here,” cried Lydia.

The two men glanced at each other. “Have you not yet heard the news? Lieutenant Wickham ran off in the night. Apparently he had creditors chasing him to pay his debts. He’s run off with the butcher’s daughter, Miss Lambert.”

Lydia turned ashen and her stomach turned. “No, I don't believe it? How could he? Is it certain and there isn't some mistake?”

Mr Bennet who had been trying to work out what had put his daughter out of sorts now realised the cause and moved quickly to ensure Lydia didn't make an irretrievably fool of herself. “My gentleman. This is certainly a surprise. Let us hope that Miss Lamberts father never gets a hold off him. But how do you know this?”

“Miss Lambert left a note to her mother letting her know she was on the way to Gretna Green with Wickham. She took money from the till,” answered Sanderson.

“I guess to fund the travel. There doesn't sound like there is much for us to do in this and we must be away. Lydia, say your farewells to your friends and then we will start the journey home. If you don't mind gentlemen, we have a long journey ahead of us and we are already running late.”

By now tears were spilling out of Lydia’s eyes. She gave a hurried curtsey to the officers then turned to give Mrs Forster a hug. “I didn't think I'd be this sad. How I will miss all of you. Do write to me of everything.”

Some more inconsequential nothings were said when Mr Bennet took Lydia’s hand and helped her into the carriage. “My thanks to you all. Farewell,” said Mr Bennet with a tip of his hat.

Lydia gave a lack lustre wave as the carriage pulled away, and as soon as Mrs Forster and the officers were out of sight, Lydia sat back in the carriage tears running unchecked down her face.

Mr Bennet allowed her a couple of minutes of reflection before starting his interrogation. He had not expected her to have any real feelings for any of the officers, but he was not in the mood to be empathetic. “Why are you crying with the news of Mr Wickham’s desertion?”

“I don't want to talk about it,” replied Lydia sullenly through her tears.

“You will end up telling me all, but for the moment I'll let you keep your own council. We have a long ride home- all day in fact, and I will know all before we return to Longbourn. But I'm happy to talk for quite a while longer. Lydia, do you know why I came to pick you up earlier?”

“You came because I asked you for more pin money for a second time,” replied Lydia sulkily.

“That is the reason I told everyone, and it is certainly believable. For I certainly could not tell them the real reason, else your reputation would be in ruins.” Mr Bennet waited for a look of curiosity to cross Lydia’s face.

“What do you mean the real reason, Papa?"

“I came early to return you to Longbourn for I received a letter from Colonel Forster requesting your return home. And why, might you ask, would the good Colonel want his dear wife’s guest to return home early?” Mr Bennet’s voice started to rise. “The Colonel wrote asking for you to leave as he could no longer guarantee that your reputation would be intact. He had heard his men wagering that you would be silly enough to end up with a babe but no husband. Colonel Forster watched you carefully after that and observed your complete lack of decorum, your flirtatious and at time downright rude behaviour.” By the end Mr Bennet was just about shouting.

Lydia’s mind stopped thinking of Wickham as she was shocked by her father and what he had said. He had never spoken to her in that tone before. “So of course I could not say that you are returning in disgrace as that would ruin not just yours, but your sister’s chances of marriage. For who would want a sister-in-law with a loose reputation?”

Mr Bennet then looked out the window whilst he tried to calm down. Lydia had stopped crying as she was too shocked by all to have any form of emotional response to what her father had said and too overwhelmed to say anything.

“Now daughter, tell me why you were upset at the news of Wickham’s desertion.”

“Because we are engaged!” she cried.

“He hasn't asked me for permission so you most definitely are not engaged. What in good heavens leads you to believe you are engaged when he has run off with someone else? Strange behaviour from a devoted fiancé.”

“He asked me to go to Gretna Green with him,” replied Lydia.

“But did he specifically ask to marry you?” asked a shocked Mr Bennet, only just now realising that it could of been Lydia now with Wickham instead of someone else's daughter.

“No,” answered Lydia with a small voice, realisation starting to dawn on her.

“So you had agreed to run away with an officer without him asking to marry you?”

“But he said we were going to Gretna Green. What else would he mean by it?”

“To get you into a carriage on your own and then take you wherever he wanted to go. Once your reputation is gone, it would no longer matter. And how would you know where he was travelling as you do not know the way to Scotland? You would have been completely in his power, away from your family or friends or any interested party who could help you.” Mr Bennet’s anger had dissipated completely. It was clear that his daughter was completely naive to the ways of the world, and he had let her go without ensuring that she had a proper understanding of it. How right Lizzy had been!

Lydia’s current heart break had left her in a misery so complete as she finally realised what a fool she had been. “When had he asked you to go and when were you supposed to leave?” asked Mr Bennet.

“He asked me three days ago, and we were supposed to leave last night.”

“Was my presence here what stopped him from leaving with you?” asked Mr Bennet realising what a fortunate chance it was that he had come personally to return Lydia.

“I told him yesterday morning that you were coming to take me home and then I said that he could ask you for my hand in marriage.“

Mr Bennet let out a snort at that. “I'm sure he was delighted at that prospect. Getting engaged to a girl he had no intention of marrying.”

Lydia cast her mind back to that meeting. “He asked why you were coming right now and if I'd told anyone. Then I told him you were taking me home as I'd run out of money. And then he agreed it was most fortunate and that he would talk with you this morning before we left.”

Mr Bennet started chuckling which turned into a hard laugh, a laugh so hard that he struggled to find breath.

Lydia looked at him crossly. “I don't see what is so funny. My heart is broken into a thousand pieces and all you can do is laugh at my misery.”

Mr Bennet tried to control his laughter, and after some time he succeeded. “I have never been so happy for your spendthrift ways. Do you not realise? Had you had any funds you would now be on the way to London, your reputation completely ruined. You have been saved from a horrible fate for the want of some money. How glad I am that I didn't send you any more and that you do spend what you get like there is a hole in your purse!”

“But he would of married me!”

“Lydia, I promise you one thing. Had you hopped into that carriage with that wastrel, you most definitely would not, nor ever in your future be married. He would of said that you need to stay in London for awhile as he doesn't have the money for the carriage ride to Scotland there but it won't take him long to get the money from his friend. Then his friend is away and you need to wait longer. And then, one day once he's bored of you but before you would know if you were with child, he would go out and he wouldn't come back. He would of had his fun and he would of left you behind with a life in complete ruins.”

“Then why would he ask me to go to Gretna Green with him at all? Why would he say he loved me and wanted me? I can't believe that he didn't love me.”

“Lieutenant Wickham is a reprobate and wastrel, but he isn't stupid. If by chance he did love you and actually wanted to marry you, no matter what he would of done the right thing and have asked me for permission. He did not do that, instead he ran away with someone else. Lydia, from those actions can you say that Lieutenant Wickham loved you?”

Lydia was silent and she swallowed hard before answering, tears leaking from her eyes. “No,” said she quietly.

“I’m sorry, I didn't hear that Lydia.”

“No sir,” said she abit louder and with an unladylike snort.

“So we can rule out love. Why Lieutenant Wickham flattered you into making you believe he was in love with you was probably because it was easy for him to make you believe it and then to use you for his own pleasure. And I suspect his main pleasure was the cost of a carriage ride to London. I'm sure he would of enjoyed your attentions before he left you.”

Mr Bennet’s mirth left him and he turned serious again. However painful it would be for Lydia, he needed her to realise the consequences her actions could have led to before reaching Longbourn. “So Lydia, once he abandoned you in London, what would you have done?”

Lydia looked confused. Forward thinking was not one of her skills. “I don't know.”

“Oh come now Lydia, if not for my arrival here this is what you would of had to do in a week or twos time. So try and think hard as to what you would do when Wickham would have used all your money and left you on your own with nothing. That is what will happen to poor Miss Lambert shortly.”

“I would have made my way to Uncle Gardiner’s house?”

“Do you know where they live?”

“In Cheapside?”

“How are you getting there with no money?”

“Would someone give me a lift?”

Mr Bennet shook his head. “There is no chance of that from anyone who wouldn't do worse to you. Anyhow, let's presume that after a couple of days walking and sleeping on the street you make it to the Gardiner residence. What happens then?”

“I come home?”

Mr Bennet shook his head. “Lydia, surely you know better than that. You would of stayed with your Uncle until we were able to organise a marriage for you, probably with someone’s tenant farmer somewhere very far away. You never would of returned to Longbourn. And that literally is the best situation you could of hoped for. If you never made it to the Gardiner’s, you would of had to live on the streets. How long do you think you could of survived?”

Lydia sat quietly imaging each situation in her head. “Papa, can we stop the carriage. I think I'm going to be sick.”

Mr Bennet trapped on the side and the carriage rolled to a stop. No sooner had it stopped than Lydia jumped out of carriage, not waiting for her father or anyone else to open the door. She ran to the side and hurled on the grass. Luckily they were out of the town of Brighton and in the surrounding countryside.

After taking some deep breathes Lydia climbed back into the carriage. Mr Bennet raised his eyebrow and Lydia nodded her head to proceed. After the carriage started trundling along Mr Bennet started talking. “I have to ask this. Is there any chance you could be with child?”

“Papa, how could you possibly think that!”

“Considering that had I not arrived yesterday you would now be alone in a carriage with a man acting as husband and wife. If you had been planning to do that, it isn't a stretch of the imagination to think you might have already done so. How far did Wickham go? And the truth Lydia. If there is any chance you are with babe, we have to act fast so we can protect your reputation and that of your sisters.”

Lydia blushed furiously as she remembered Wickham’s touches that at the time had felt so exciting but now made her feel sick. “We kissed and that is all.” It was more than just kissing, and though he had made it clear how much more he wanted when he had pressed his body up against hers, opportunity had not allowed for it. She had yearned for his caresses, but now looking back on it, the fact he had probably being doing the same to every girl who looked at him twice in Brighton made her feel used and foolish. Her stomach turned again at the thought. She had never felt so betrayed by anyone. She started crying again which turned into sobs.

Mr Bennet moved over to sit next to Lydia and cradled her in his arms as she turned and sobbed into his chest. “There, there, child. That wretched wastrel is not worth shedding any tears over.”

“I loved him and it was all a lie!”

“You fell in love with the lie he was presenting to everyone, but that was never the real Wickham. He must be a very practiced liar. He makes love to everyone, lives beyond his means on credit and good will, and as he has charm he has nothing that tempers his base impulses. Do not be sad to not be married to such a man, even had he loved you. It would of been a miserable life. You never could of trusted him and you would of always been living day to day with no security. Eventually his creditors would catch up with him and drag him to debtors’ jail or be sent to the colonies. Everything that you had left would be taken from you. No Lydia, do not waste tears on him.”

“I can't believe I was so stupid!”

Mr Bennet was silent and just held Lydia as she continued to cry. As the tears seemed to settle down, Mr Bennet resumed talking. “Did I ever tell you the story of my Aunt Mary, Mr Collins’ mother.”

Lydia shook her head. “No, you never talk of her.”

“There's a good reason for that as she shamed herself. My grandfather had three children from his first marriage, my father, his younger brother John and a younger sister, Jane, who died from disease early in life. My grandfather married again after being widowed for 10 years and he had another daughter, Mary, 20 years my fathers junior."

“She was only 5 when I was born. I remember playing with my Aunt when we were both kids. She was closer to me than to her own brothers. She would read to me and run around outside with me. She was a great deal of fun, always smiling and laughing, I could never remember her being serious. As my parents were living here with my grandfather, they would always rent a house during the season, I think partly so my mother could be the mistress of her own house for 3 months. As an active boy, London held little charm and lots more restrictions.“

“Is that why you dislike London so, Papa?”

“Yes, it probably is. That and it took me away from my favourite Aunt, who was more like a big sister.” Mr Bennet paused as he cast his mind back. After a few moments he continued. “My grandfather died when I was 12. Though my father offered his step-mother a cottage to live in, she preferred to move to be near her own family in Southampton. Mary did like it there. My uncle had joined the navy and would visit her whenever he was in port. It was nearly two years later when she was 19 she fell in love with a visiting sailor, though not an officer, just a common deckhand. He promised to marry her when he returned.”

“So they were engaged?”

“She was not of age so, no, they were not. Without my father’s approval, as he was her guardian, without contracts and banns being read, there was no engagement and she informed noone of it. He sailed away. A few months later she discovered herself pregnant. It was too late to hide it and her reputation in Southampton was completely ruined. She and her mother were shunned by all their friends and acquaintances. There is no shame worse than being an unmarried mother. My father was called in to sort out the mess. It wasn't like they could send her to have the baby somewhere far away and then return to Meryton....somehow the rumour of her pregnancy spread around Meryton as well. The only option available was to arrange a marriage for her with someone happy to take her 3 thousand pound dowry. So we found a farmer in Ipswich who would marry her, Mr Collins.”

“So Charlotte’s husband, Mr Collins, is the son of a sailor?” asked Lydia.

Mr Bennet shook his head. “The new Mrs Mary Collins lost that baby a month into her marriage. It was some years later when I went to visit her with my father. Mary had once been so happy and full of life. Once married she was quiet and fearful. She had bruises on her, and when I asked about the baby, she said she had ‘fallen’. We took that to mean she'd been pushed deliberately by her husband. It was clear he was beating her. Every time she fell pregnant to him she would lose the child a few months later. It wasn't till I was 19, five years into the marriage that she carried the young Mr Collins to full term. She lived another year after that, but then she died after an ‘accident’. As you can understand, my father and I could not stand the senior Mr Collins after what he had done to our Mary, but we could not let her son suffer. My father agreed to pay for half his schooling and university costs, as Mr Collins senior would not use Mary’s money that he got in her dowry for that purpose.”

Lydia’s mouth had dropped agape in horror, and now her tears were for poor Mary rather than herself.

Mr Bennet continued. “It was a sad period of time. Just after Mary’s marriage, we found out my uncle had died at sea. Then there was Mary’s death. What happened with Mary broke my father’s heart. He passed away when I was merely 24. And then when I was out of mourning, I met your mother who was visiting her sister, Mrs Philips. She was beautiful and so full of life and laughter. She reminded me so much of Mary.” Mr Bennet was quiet and thoughtful for awhile.

“That's why you fell in love with Mama? She made you happy?”

“Yes she did,” sighed Mr Bennet.

“I wish you'd told me about your aunt before I went to Brighton. Do my sisters know?”

“I told Jane before she came out. She did become very upset by it, and I did not like telling it. I hadn't planned on telling Lizzy, however Jane must of said something to her, so Lizzy bugged me until I told her. I never told Mary, but I am fairly certain I overheard Lizzy telling the story to Mary one day in the garden. I'm not sure how much Lizzy decided to embellish the story for Mary’s sake. It might be completely removed from any vestiges of truth. But Lydia, you are the only one I've told of my suspicions regarding the circumstances around Mary Collins’ death. I will need you to keep that as a secret.”

“Why Papa? And why did you not seek justice for your aunt?”

“Lydia, you need to learn the difference between opinions and the truth. All my father and I had were suspicions. We had no proof to support our accusations. The local authorities made no investigations into her death, and once she was buried, the truth died with her. I didn't tell Jane or Lizzy this as it served no purpose. Mr Collin’s father had died by this stage, and casting aspersions on Mr Collins’ father’s character would only reflect ill on the whole family. Mr Collins grew up without his mother; his father was the only close family. He didn't need his father’s memory denigrated.”

“Is Mr Collins like his mother at all? He looked nothing like you.”

“Unfortunately he looks just like his father, just a little shorter and stouter. At least he had Mary’s gentle nature, and none of his father’s anger or cruelty. But there is just too much of the father in his looks. I never would of allowed any of my daughters to marry him.”

They then sat in contemplative silence.

Lydia occasionally still cried silently, but they were tears of anger and relief that she had not gone with Wickham.

After some time Mr Bennet released Lydia and sat up straighter. “When you return to Meryton, people will ask about your time in Brighton. They will also hear of the rumours about Wickham, and I imagine there will be a number of angry merchants complaining about unpaid debts owed by Wickham. You'll need to be prepared with an answer and not disassemble when you hear his name mentioned. If people suspect that you were partial to him, it could ruin your reputation and limit your choice of husband.”

“Don't worry about that Papa. I'll never marry!” exclaimed Lydia.

“Give it some time Lydia. You are still so young and there is no rush. You are now wise to the worst kind of men to be on the lookout for. A harsh lesson to learn, but you are better off for it. Now did you tell anyone besides me that you were intending to elope with Wickham?”

Lydia shook her head “Wickham demanded complete secrecy. He was always careful that no one saw us.”

“Though I'm sure that was to ensure none of his debtors would know that he was planning to run. I'm certain Wickham won't say a word as it will do nothing that will benefit himself. But it works in our favour. Is there any chance anyone could of overheard any of the plans, or suspect anything?”

“I don't think so Papa.”

“So what would you say if someone asked you ‘what do you think about Wickham running from Brighton?’” And for the next half hour Lydia practiced her responses to questions that would be acceptable and not raise any suspicions.

“Papa, why are you calling him just Wickham and not Lieutenant Wickham?”

“He deserted his post. He will of been stripped off his position by now.”
The carriage at that moment pulled to a stop and they excited the carriage to have some lunch at a small inn, and to rest the horses.

They climbed into the carriage again after an hour and continued on. Mr Bennet sat across from Lydia and evaluated his youngest. He had been dreading this carriage ride back, expecting to be dealing with temper tantrums and petty conversation. He tried to think back to the last time he’d conversed properly with his youngest and realised he hadn't really ever paid any attention to her except to amuse himself and to ridicule. And despite the terrible circumstances, he found he had actually enjoying the last portion of the carriage ride. Maybe after all this there was some hope for her.

“Lydia,” started Mr Bennet, drawing her attention away from the window and to himself. “As no one but ourselves will ever know of the intended elopement...”

“What elopement?” Lydia automatically answered.

“Very good Lydia. I'm glad that has stuck. As no one will know of what might of happened, I cannot punish you for it. However, I can punish you for not living within the allowance allocated for you. Once you marry, you'll be responsible for household budgets. You need to learn control. So, if you are not able to perform the duties expected in a wife, I am withdrawing you from society until you are 17.”

Lydia was too emotionally weary and disappointed to care much but she still made a token effort to argue. “I agree in not ready to marry, but not going out till 17?”

Mr Bennet raised a hand. “However, if I see a remarkable improvement in your behaviour and your ability to behave sensibly and with decorum in the next 2 months, I will let you out on your 16th. But I still won't let you marry before you are 17.”

Lydia nodded. “Being out with my friends is fun. But I don't think it is that fun being pregnant yet. I'm not ready to be a mother.”

“That's right. And until you feel like you are ready to give a husband children, you should not be thinking of marriage. Enjoy being young. There is no reason to rush into any precipitous arrangement just for the sake of ‘being married’. However, as part of demonstrating your readiness for marriage, you will be looking over the household accounts. And I want you to demonstrate exactly how you would of survived with a baby and no husband, how you would of balanced the books with a husband who only brings debts into the marriage, and how you would survive on a lowly officers wage.”

This led to a conversation on household expenses that then led to a conversation on estate expenses, followed by wages and investments. They had continued to converse all the way to Longbourn, and with some relief Mr Bennet climbed out of the carriage as his own interest in the conversation had died in London

Her Own Insignificance Chapter 1

Anne VAugust 27, 2022 11:13AM

Chapter 2?

Maria VSeptember 04, 2022 08:04PM

Yes, please

HarveySeptember 04, 2022 10:45PM

Re: Her Own Insignificance Chapter 1

LisaYAugust 28, 2022 06:11PM

Re: Her Own Insignificance Chapter 1

AlidaAugust 28, 2022 12:04PM

Re: Her Own Insignificance Chapter 1

Anne VAugust 28, 2022 01:36PM

Re: Her Own Insignificance Chapter 1

AlidaAugust 31, 2022 12:04AM

Re: Her Own Insignificance Chapter 1

HarveyAugust 31, 2022 03:32PM

Re: Her Own Insignificance Chapter 1

HarveyAugust 31, 2022 05:15PM

Re: Her Own Insignificance Chapter 1

HarveyAugust 31, 2022 05:27PM

Re: Her Own Insignificance Chapter 1

HarveyAugust 29, 2022 06:52PM

Re: Her Own Insignificance Chapter 1

Steph DSeptember 09, 2022 02:47AM


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