Love, Pride & Delicacy

Chapter THREE

Please be aware this is an unedited work in progress. While I aim for perfection, I can almost guarantee there will be errors.
I hope you enjoy the story regardless.
xx Maree

“Mama! Mama! Oh, you’ll never guess. Mama? Oh Hill, quickly, tell me where is my Mama? Mama!”

Upon hearing Lydia’s boisterous entry from where she sat in the drawing room, practising needlework with Jane and Mary—the middle and most pious of the Bennet sisters, Lizzy dropped her sampler in her lap. Her poor injured fingers rejoiced.

The riotous ecstasy was such an abrupt diversion from the dejection and woe that had befallen much of town as the end of the Militia’s stay in Meryton drew near. In particular the younger Bennet sisters’ misery had been extreme, so it pleased Lizzy to hear joy in her sister’s voice. That pleasure was quickly overshadowed by shame as recollections surfaced of Lydia’s similarly boisterous behaviour at the Netherfield Ball.

It was but a moment before Lydia entered the room, her bonnet hanging at her side as she let it dangle from a single end of ribbon. Lizzy scowled at the sight of the other end of ribbon dragging along the floorboards, for she knew it would not be long before Lydia demanded money from Papa for new trimmings to replace those she treated with such little care. Lydia was followed closely by the slightly older and only slightly more restrained sister, Kitty.

“Lizzy, there you all are. Pray tell, where is Mama? I simply must tell her our news before I burst with excitement!”

It frustrated Lizzy severely that she no longer delighted in the innocent joy and exuberance with which her spirited youngest sisters approached life. Now, cursed by the filter Mr Darcy had placed on her world view, Lizzy saw only imprudence and indiscretion in their actions.

Mama could not be relied upon to take a stern hand in guiding her younger sisters’ social graces. No, if the Bennet family were to ever be respected, it would fall to Lizzy to encourage delicacy and restraint.

“Mama is visiting with Mrs Long in town, but I assure you, Lydia, taking a moment to properly greet your sisters and seat yourself for conversation will most certainly not cause you to… burst.” Lizzy gestured to the vacant chaise across from where she and Jane were seated.

Lydia huffed, scowling as she crossed the room and slumped onto the seat. Kitty, who had appeared far less jubilant about whatever news had Lydia so excited, followed her younger sister and seated herself to Lydia’s right. She too held her face in a scowl, though Lizzy suspected this was in part directed towards the youngest sister.

“Mary, please call Mrs Hill and arrange for tea to be brought in. I think it would be nice for us all to visit together. We have barely been in the same room, all five of us, since Jane and I returned from London. Lydia, you can share with us your news, and Mary and Kitty might like to share what has occupied their time this last month also. I believe it would also be of benefit for us all to put practice to our etiquette and deportment skills.”

Lydia huffed again. “Good Lord, Lizzy, what did they do to you while you were visiting in Kent? If you have become such a dull bore after so little time simply visiting with our cousin, I think it very much a blessing you did not marry him.”

“Lydia! That is a terrible thing to say to Lizzy.” It was rare for Jane to scold anyone, but when she did, the sisters too notice. All of them except Lydia.

“Oh do be quiet, Jane. After all, that is what you are best at being. And everyone knows Lizzy is your favourite, so of course you are going to take her side.”

Lizzy let her head fall forward into her hands. She pressed her fingers into her forehead, striving to ease the tension. Around her, the voices of her sisters bickering filled the room. Lizzy did not know over what is was they quarrelled. She doubted her sisters knew either.

“Please, Lydia. Jane.” Lizzy sat up. She cleared her throat, straightened her back, lifted her chin and spoke calmly. “This behaviour exemplifies why we need to practise our deportment. Such outbursts are childish and inappropriate. Now that we are all out in society, we must consider how our actions reflect not only on ourselves, but on each other and our family. We do not have the luxury of fortune to temper the consequence of indiscretion as certain others might enjoy.”

She looked to Jane, who in turn took her hand and squeezed in comfort. Only Jane could know the true cause of Lizzy’s turmoil. Taking strength from her sister’s comfort she looked to Kitty who responded by dropping her gaze to the floor.

Lydia in contrast, held Lizzy’s gaze. Her head tilted sideways, but she said nothing. As time stretched between them, Lizzy began to feel her sister could see all the way to the core of her being. Not for the first time did Lizzy believe there might be more to her youngest sister than her vapid quest for matrimony.

“Thank you, that will be all.” Lizzy was brought back to the moment as Jane let go of her hand and leaned forward to serve the tea that had been placed on the table between the girls. She nodded her thanks to Jane.

“There now, we shall have a lovely cup of tea and Lydia shall share her news.”

Lydia kept her gaze on Lizzy a moment longer before turning her attention to Jane. “Thank you, Jane. Though I believe after Lizzy’s rebuke the excitement has been quite spoiled.”

“Oh do tell them, Lydia. I do not believe Lizzy intended to dampen your spirits so thoroughly.”

“Indeed, I did not. Thank you, Kitty. I merely wished to highlight the need for decorum in our behaviour, particularly when we are out.”

“Well then, Lizzy, you will be pleased to hear I will have great opportunity to put practice to my manners. For Mrs Forster, the Colonel’s wife, has asked me to accompany her to Brighton when the Militia decamp there in the summer.” Lydia straightened her back, tilted her chin, then took a sip of the tea Jane had served.

“Oh Lydia.” Lizzy shook her head. “Do you truly believe Papa would allow you to travel alone to Brighton for the entire summer?”

Placing her teacup down with a rattle that caused Lizzy to cringe, Lydia again straightened her back, indignant. “Why of course Papa will allow me to go. I would be accompanied by the Colonel’s own wife and very safe indeed. Why Papa would likely rejoice in my absence. Unless a certain sister were to whisper words in his ear to turn him against the notion.” She raised her eyebrows to Lizzy, who in turn sipped her own tea.

“I think a summer in Brighton would be wonderful. I would quite like to see the seaside, and even perhaps try sea-bathing. Aunt Phillips is sure it would do me a great deal of good.”

“Well Kitty, it is truly a shame Mrs Forster did not invite you to accompany her to Brighton also. Alas, she only invited me as her particular friend.”

Kitty humphed. “I should not see why she cannot invite me. I have every right to be asked, even more so as I am two years older.”

“Well I for one and pleased not to be asked. I should be quite content should you all go to Brighton and leave me in peace to study my verses.”

Mary’s comment was invariably ignored. Though spoken in a quiet, reserved tone, it was Jane whose words Lizzy felt most deeply. “I agree with Kitty. I think it should be quiet nice to visit the seaside. I think everyone’s spirits would benefit a change of scenery.”

Lizzy heard the words Jane did not speak. At home, and in Meryton, her sister was haunted by memories of her short time with Mr Bingley.

Dear, sweet, Jane. How terribly her heart must ache. Perhaps Jane was right. Though Lizzy felt they had been scarcely home at all of late, she understood Jane’s desire to be distracted from her memories.

Besides, Lizzy recognised the futility in hoping for a love match amongst the available suitors in Meryton. She could petition Papa to allow her and Jane to spend the season in London with their relatives, the Gardiners, but she felt they had imposed upon the Gardiner’s generosity too greatly. London also brought with it the risk of crossing paths with certain gentlemen neither sister wished to see.

“I will talk to Papa.”

Lydia let out a strangled cry. “Oh no, Lizzy. I should never have told you—”

Lizzy held up her hand to silence her sister. “I will talk to Papa and seek his permission for all of us to spend the season in Brighton.”

Lydia jumped from her seat and pulled Lizzy up into an embrace, jumping up and down as she did. Much as she tried, Lizzy was unable to prevent a smile at her sister’s exuberant response.

Finally admitting defeat in her attempt to have Lizzy join in her celebrations, Lydia released her hold and took a step back. “I did not share all my news.”

Lizzy gestured back to the chaise. “Well dear sister, please do take a seat and share with us now.”

With a smile on her face, Lydia made a concerted effort to seat herself gently, arranging her skirts before resting her hands in her lap. She made a point of waiting for Lizzy to also sit.

Though Lydia might be play-acting in jest, Lizzy was quietly pleased to learn Lydia at least possessed the skills to behave as a lady should she so choose. She nodded to Lydia. “Go ahead.”

Lydia leaned forward, clasping her hands tightly. “Well, Lizzy, I have news of a certain person we all like. Oh, it is very exciting news! Capital news!” Lydia kept her hands clamped together in her lap, but Lizzy now understood her sister’s previous fear of bursting, as the girl’s entire body trembled in her bid to maintain composure.

“Oh Lizzy, our Mr Wickham is saved! There is no danger of him marrying that nasty, freckled little thing, Mary King, for she is gone down to her uncle at Liverpool. Gone for good!”

Lizzy’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, poor dear Mr Wickham. I do hope he is not so greatly injured.” Poor Mr Wickham, indeed. To have been treated so harshly by Darcy, and to have been denied a match with the woman he loved, only to now be jilted by Mary King. “He must be so disappointed.”

“Then it is the perfect opportunity for you, Lizzy, to offer poor Mr Wickham comfort, before he finds a new prospect with inheritance to tempt him from you.” Lydia jumped up out of the seat and began dancing around the room with her hands held to her chest. “Oh and our visit to Brighton will be the perfect setting.”

Lizzy shook her head as she watched her sister’s frivolity. While she did not believe she loved Mr Wickham, he was truly the most charming man she had fortune to meet. She should very much enjoy spending more time with him in Brighton.

Lydia continued to prattle, excitement permeating her every word. “Oh and for me, I shall flirt with Mr Denny, for whilst he is not yet an officer, Colonel Forster himself has taken great personal interest in our friend. It is only a matter of time before he is promoted.”

She turned to Kitty. “And for you, dear sister, there is Chamberlayne. Oh, but you must be sure to keep him away from your gowns.”

Both girls erupted in fits of laughter before spending considerable time regaling their sisters with the story of time spent at Colonel Forsters, and how they dressed Chamberlayne in women’s clothes—one of Aunt Phillip’s gowns—on purpose to pass as a lady.

After a time, and much repetition and addition to the story, Lizzy understood well the story, and that poor Chamberlayne had indeed passed as a lady until Lydia’s laughter raised suspicion and the men, including Wickham, had realised what was the matter.

The story brought such pleasure to her sisters that Lizzy herself could not help but smile. She glanced to Jane and noted she too looked in brighter spirits.

Yes, a season in Brighton would do them very well indeed.