Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chapter III

                                         Mary and Kitty: A Tale of Two Sisters

                                                                 Chapter III

    Miss Catherine Bennet was not entirely bereft of sense. However little she applied this intellectual modicum to her actions, she was fully sensitive to the fact that her mother’s notion of amusement and her own must vary widely.  Passing an afternoon with her Aunt Phillips playing at cards and exchanging gossip might do for married ladies in their caps, but hardly for a young lady on the Threshold of Life.

    Not that there had been so many opportunities to explore that interesting path since Colonel Forster’s regiment had quitted Meryton.  Since this sad event had corresponded with Lydia’s accompaniment of Mrs. Forster to the new garrison, Kitty had indeed been left much to herself except for Maria Lucas whose company was recommended only by its convenient proximity.  Her sister, Mary, she did not consider company.

    In the relatively solitary days that followed the marriages of her sisters, elder and younger, Kitty was afforded a good deal of time in which to ponder her own future.  That is should be spent outside the environs of Longbourne must be a certainty.  For a husband, she would certainly be content with a gentleman as good-humored as Mr. Bingley, handsome as Mr. Wickham and rich as Mr. Darcy.  Should this combination of good fortune bypass her, she wished above all things to avoid Mary’s evident fate, that of bearing her parents company as they entered their twilight years.  No, that was not to be thought of.

    Reflecting on the nuptial triumphs of her siblings, it occurred to Kitty in that the romantic encounters necessary to success had taken place while her sisters were away from home: Lydia, obviously, when she went to stay with Mrs. Forster, Jane when she had contracted a severe influenza and was forced to remain at Netherfield Park for some days, and Elizabeth, both when she had visited Charlotte Collins and when she had accompanied Aunt Gardiner on a holiday in Derbyshire.

    The evidence was clear. Whether freedom from such mortification as their parents so regularly subjected the girls or that other environs offered more opportunities, Kitty did not know, but she began to feel an urgency to discover a means to enter society elsewhere than her home county.

    This she was unsure how to accomplish.  She might, of course, write to Jane or Elizabeth and hope for an invitation. However, she could not be certain that either one or both of her parents would not accompany her.  Now that it was clear her father meant to bring Lydia home, the promise of Eastbourne was denied her as well.   There must be some other means of entering a new society, but what could it be?
    When it was learned at Lucas Lodge that the Bennet family had been in receipt of, not one, but two letters from the south, Lady Lucas made no delay in enquiring of her nearer neighbors whether there had been some sort of catastrophe at Longbourne. Hearing nothing to the contrary, she determined that she and Maria would call as early as was proper the following day on the pretext of delivering a receipt for a restorative tincture promised some months earlier.

    The intimacy which had blossomed between these families was no longer so profuse as it had been in former times, and had for some while threatened to break down altogether. This chilliness owed chiefly to what Mrs. Bennet referred to as the Treachery of Charlotte Lucas. Miss Lucas’ crime, returning a positive response to the addresses of Mr. Bennet’s despised heir, put her beyond the pale, despite Elizabeth’s adamant refusal of the same suitor on the day before. Should Mr. Bennet take leave of all good sense and allow himself to be carried off by some ailment or other, the inevitable handing over of Longbourne to Charlotte and Mr. Collins cemented an insurmountable gulf between the former friends. For the present, however, Elizabeth’s far more elevated marriage to Mr. Darcy had mitigated the estrangement to the extent that the ladies now deigned to bow to one another when they happened to meet during the inevitable mischances of social intercourse.

As little of note had taken place in the neighborhood in several months, Lady Lucas can be forgiven for succumbing to curiosity and being the first to cross the breach. When, on entering the drive at Longbourne on the following day, she spied the Bennet carriage being loaded as for a journey, she quickened her step and arrived at the front door in time to see Mr. Bennet bid adieu to his wife and Kitty.

“Pray tell me, dear friends,” Lady Lucas said by way of greeting, “what has befallen you, for the village is full of talk.”

Mr. Bennet summoned his civility with an effort. “Nothing of the kind, Lady Lucas,” he responded. “Mary and I are merely on point of paying a short visit to Lydia.   We shall see you before the next assembly. Good day to you.”

    With that, he signaled the driver to depart and left his neighbor staring after him in some confusion. For Mrs. Bennet to seek out her daughter’s company would be unremarkable, but for Mr. Bennet – and indeed Mary—who were both known to be homebodies, to make such a journey was a mystery. Its solution she was determined to discover.

    She turned to Mrs. Bennet who, unused to early callers, was in some state of dishabillé, her hair still in papers and her demeanor ill-composed. “My dear Mrs. Bennet,” she began, taking that lady’s arm and leading her toward the house, “I had not known that Mr. Bennet was so fond of Lydia. I was sure it was Eliza who was his favorite.”

   “To be sure,” Mrs. Bennet replied, “but Lydia is so lively I do believe we miss her more. What a delight it will be to have her among us again.”

    “So she is returning to Longbourne!” Lady Lucas’ mind was alive to a variety of possibilities, not of them happy.

    “Well,” said Mrs. Bennet, recovering herself. Mr. Bennet had bid her most strongly to keep word of Lydia’s predicament to herself, and she was determined to do so. “I do not know to a surety if she will come or no, but one never knows. Mr. Bennet likes to keep his notions to himself, but I should not be in the least surprised if he did not bring her home for a visit."

    Lady Lucas viewed her neighbor’s confusion with a suspicious eye. If Lydia Wickham were involved in some scrape or other she would not be much surprised. “And Mr. Wickham? Do you suppose he means to come as well? That is, if such a journey comes to pass?”

    “Well, how could that be?” Mrs. Bennet asked with some asperity. “After all he is not—"

    “He is not at his leisure,” Kitty broke in quickly. She would like to have pinched her mother for such lack of reserve. “Mr. Wickham has duties after all.”

    “Quite right, my dear,” Mrs. Bennet greed with some haste.  Turning to Lady Lucas, whose expression she could not quite like, she continued, “Pray do not be offended if I do not invite you in, but as you can see we are at sixes and sevens today.  Come along, Kitty.”

    Lady Lucas was left without ceremony standing in the drive, her receipt undelivered and her mind full of speculation.  “Maria,” said she, “you may stay to visit with Kitty—surely there can be no objection to that—and learn if you can what is afoot.  Perhaps there is a way to assist our old friends if trouble should be brewing.”

    Maria, who knew her mother’s concern to be as pure and deep as a gutter pool, merely nodded. She had her own reasons for speaking with Kitty today and hoped her scheme would meet with approval.

Image courtesy of ekduncan.blogspot.com/

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