As the carriage pulled up to the inn, the children jumped out first and waited for their parents to alight behind them. Their mother was prattling away as usual, "I do not see why my brother had to be married so far away in this wretched northern country. His home is in London, he should have been married there."
"Mrs. Bennet," replied her husband, "as you well know, Miss Carter is from Lambton, her family is here, and may I remind you that you are the one who insisted on attending the wedding and bringing all five of our daughters."
"Well, if only the Phillipses could have come with us, I would have been much more comfortable on the journey to have some company. Really, I do believe Mr. Phillips is too overbearing. I am sure he could have spared the time to make the trip, but I suppose the expense of it would have been too much for them. Oh, where have those girls gone off to, they do not know how they tax my poor nerves so. JANE, LIZZY, MARY, . . ."
"I am right here Mama," came the quiet voice of their eldest child, just nine years old, "Mary is just sitting there waiting on the steps practicing her letters. Lydia ran off towards the green there with Kitty chasing her, but Lizzy has gone to collect them."
Mrs. Bennet looked in the direction Jane had pointed and saw her second daughter, Elizabeth who was eight years old, pulling at the reluctant arm of her youngest child, Lydia who was only three, as she tried to wriggle free. Kitty, who was five, was trailing behind the other two. She also glanced at Mary, the middle child who was six years old, and shook her head wondering that the child was so devoted to learning her letters that she carried the box of them everywhere.
Mr. Bennet went into the inn to arrange for the rooms they would need while Jane assembled her sisters near their mother. They had only brought one maid with them on the journey, Annie, who accordingly, in addition to waiting on her mistress, also had to care for the children. The children remained with Annie at the inn for the evening while their parents dined with Miss Carter and her family, along with Mr. Gardiner, Mrs. Bennet's brother, who was also in residence at the inn.
When they returned to retire for the night, Mrs. Bennet was giving her opinion of her brother's future wife, as they had never before met. "Well, she is only tolerably pretty. I do believe Edward could have done better; he is so very handsome. But I suppose without having an estate of his own, he must settle for someone like her. She barely has any fortune, but what can one expect, considering her family?"
"It was quite evident to me Mrs. Bennet, that Mr. Gardiner and Miss Carter admire each other very much. I believe they have made an excellent match and will be exceedingly happy together."
"Oh Mr. Bennet, how can you talk so? An excellent match indeed! Perhaps for her it will be, but I still say Edward could have done much better."
"He could also have done worse," replied Mr. Bennet dryly, looking pointedly at his wife.
"I suppose, but it is all too late now," she replied.
Mr. Bennet merely shook his head and went went to bed, hoping the conversation was over.
The following morning was chaos in the Bennet rooms of the Lambton Inn. Mrs. Bennet was very anxious about getting herself and her five daughters ready and to the church in time for the wedding.
It was the normal routine of the children to have a morning walk every day. Elizabeth enjoyed these walks the most, and she took the opportunity to run and play as much as she could. She always had to behave ladylike indoors, but on her walks, she was suffered, probably by the neglect of the maid attending them, to romp about energetically. Jane also enjoyed the walks, but she was much more serene than Elizabeth and took no pleasure in behaving wildly; but she loved to watch Elizabeth and smile at her sister's delight. Mary did not enjoy the walks, and often had to be forced to attend, although just as often she managed to avoid having to go. Lydia, being only three, would not suffer having her hand held or being otherwise restrained. To avoid her wailing, their attendant would let her scamper about, counting on Kitty to run after her and keep her from wandering dangerously far.
However, on the morning of Mr. Gardiner's wedding, there was no walk, and Elizabeth was not happy about it. She had been up and ready early enough to have one, but her two younger sisters had been playing and being so silly that Elizabeth and Jane had had a dreadful time getting them ready for the wedding, as Annie could not be spared by Mrs. Bennet. Mary could get herself ready, but had to be reminded six times to put away her letters and finish dressing. Elizabeth had just finished placing the last hair ribbon in Lydia's hair when the young girl ripped it out, threw it at Lizzy and said, "No. I want Kitty's ribbon," pointing at Kitty, who reluctantly gave up her own ribbon just to appease her younger sister. And so, by the time they were all dressed and ready, the family had barely time to get to the church, and there had been no walk for the children that morning.
The children found the ceremony long and boring, as children tend to do; and Elizabeth could not help looking out the window of the church the entire time, in spite of Jane nudging her to at least pretend to pay attention. From the church window she could see a small park across from the blacksmith's shop, with a large horse-chestnut tree standing in the middle of it. An older boy, about fifteen walked briskly up from the lane that led out of town and began to climb the tree. Elizabeth became quite envious and watched him climb higher and higher. Then he carefully perched himself between two branches, removed a book from his pocket, and began reading. "Oh," she thought, "boys are so lucky, they get to do whatever they want and do not have to worry about keeping their dresses pretty and acting ladylike. I wonder if that is why Mama always says she wished she could have had boys." She watched the boy as he lifted his head and looked around him. He was tall with dark hair and dark eyes and had a very serious look to him. Elizabeth imagined that he must be thinking about something important.
Finally, the ceremony was over, and everyone began shuffling out of the church. Elizabeth grabbed Lydia's hand, lest she run off again, and followed her parents as they tried to make their way to bid the happy couple their good wishes. Elizabeth could see that the people began to stand about in small groups to talk. She knew no one would notice if she went off, just for a short walk, for she had heard they would all have to go to the home of the bride's parents for a breakfast, which would mean she would have to sit still on a sofa in a drawing room while everyone cooed over how pretty she was. She would not be allowed to talk or to move, and it would probably go on all day. She looked at her parents, who were talking to some people she didn't know. She looked at Mary, sitting on the church steps with one hand under her chin. She looked at Kitty holding Jane's hand and she looked in the direction of that tree that was beckoning to her. She smiled mischievously at Jane and handed Lydia's writhing arm to her unoccupied hand, then turned and skipped away. "LIZZY," she heard Jane call after her, but she knew Jane would not want to get her into trouble, so she kept going, and her sister was quiet. The tree was not far away and was in full view of the church, so Jane contented herself with watching Elizabeth while trying to quiet Lydia who was screaming, "I want to go with Lizzy, let me go Jane," as she pulled at her sister's hand.
When Elizabeth arrived at the tree, the boy did not seem to notice her, but she did not care about him. She was finally free, and she began to run about to expend her energy. Finally she stopped and looked at the tree. She knew there was no way she dared try to climb it. She kicked around some of the chestnut husks that had fallen to the ground looking for any that might be cracked open. Just then the boy jumped out of the tree right in front of her.
She looked up at him and smiled still thinking how lucky he was, and he said, "Well hello there young lady,"
She then executed a perfect little curtsey and said solemnly, "How do you do, sir?"
He chuckled and gave her a quick bow saying "Very well, thank you." When he raised his head back up she was still looking at him intently and for a moment he was caught by the liveliness of her eyes, and he gave her a smile.
Just then they both heard a shriek, "LIIIIIZZZYYY," and Elizabeth's smile faded as she turned and ran back to her mother. The boy stood for a moment and watched as the little girl was safely reunited with her family, then he shrugged and began to walk the five miles back to his home. By the time he had passed outside the village he had quite forgotten about the little girl.
His impression on her, however, lasted a little longer. Elizabeth thought of the boy during the time she had to spend sitting still at the Carter house, and she envied his ability to run about and climb trees. But then she looked around the room and noticed that some of the other children present were boys and they had to join the party and sit still too, so she realized that being a boy maybe was not better. After that, she forgot about the boy in the chestnut tree.
Almost fourteen years later, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy were walking arm and arm through the village of Lambton. They had only been married two weeks, most of which they had spent in London. This was their first trip into Lambton together as husband and wife, and Mrs. Darcy was enjoying being greeted by, and introduced to, the various residents of the town.
As they passed the old Lambton Inn, they shared memories of their brief interlude there a few months before, with mixed emotions. Then, as they passed the old church, Elizabeth, in an attempt to lighten the conversation, stopped and said, "That is where my aunt and uncle Gardiner were married."
"Yes, my whole family came up for the wedding."
"I had assumed you had never been to Derbyshire until last summer."
"Actually, I had nearly forgotten it altogether myself, until I came here with the Gardiners last summer. I was eight years old at the time and we stayed in the Lambton Inn then as well. We were only here for two days. I remember I did not pay attention at all during the ceremony. In fact I was watching a boy climb that horse-chestnut tree over there through the church window," she said, turning in the direction of the tree to point to it. She spoke as if she was just remembering the event for the first time since it happened, as she continued, "Then after the ceremony, I went over to the tree myself and ran around quite wildly. My mother was most distressed about it. I confess that I envied the boy's freedom, but soon reconciled myself to being a girl."
Darcy looked puzzled and he asked, "Did he speak to you?"
"Why yes," she recalled. "He said hello to me when he came out of the tree, and I gave him quite a proper little curtsey, which he returned with a bow. I do believe he found me rather amusing."
"He did," replied Mr. Darcy smiling.
Elizabeth's eyes grew wide as she realized his meaning, and they both laughed heartily.
Chapter 2 - Wickham and Lydia
The day after the wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner at Lambton in Derbyshire, the Bennet family awoke very early to begin their long journey south to their home in Hertfordshire. The youngest daughter, Lydia, was very grumpy because she had to be awakened. Mrs. Bennet's nerves were so affected by her favorite daughter's wailing that she bid her maid, Annie, to take all five girls for their morning walk while the carriage was readied.
All of the girls, except Mary, were happy to go out. Annie walked the girls over to the green where they stood under the chestnut tree Elizabeth had investigated the day before. Mary, who had brought her letters, sat comfortably under the tree and began to form words. Jane and Elizabeth walked together in a circuit around the green talking quietly, and Lydia ran around wildly with Kitty trailing behind her.
Meanwhile Mrs. Bennet was telling her husband, not for the first time and not for the last, all of her ill opinions of the wedding ceremony, the bride's dress, the wedding breakfast, and the Carter family.
"Well, her dress was certainly not of the latest style. Really, she knows Edward lives in London and that he must be aware of what fashionable women are wearing."
"I seriously doubt, Mrs. Bennet, that women's fashion was at the forefront of your brother's thoughts yesterday, or that it ever is," replied her husband.
"Well she certainly did not look well in it, although I do suppose it must be very difficult to find a style that will flatter her figure."
"I thought she looked remarkably well."
"And the breakfast, you must agree with me that there should have been at least two more courses."
"I was rather full by the time we quit the table."
This went on for quite some time as Mrs. Bennet trailed after her husband prattling away while he took care of the last minute arrangements for their journey.
Meanwhile, Annie had been standing in one spot and turning around in circles keeping track of Lydia and Kitty. She was soon satisfied that Lydia would stay nearby and knew that if she did run off Kitty would go after her, as always. So, she sat down next to Mary, still keeping an eye out for the other girls, and helped her with her letters. While Annie was thus preoccupied, Kitty had become distracted by hunting for chestnuts on the ground. Thus Lydia, who soon became bored with the chestnuts and from the fact that Kitty would no longer chase her, began to wander towards the lane leading out of town. There, she came upon an older boy about fourteen years old walking towards town. He barely noticed the three year old little girl all alone on the path before him and would have walked right by her had she not addressed him saying, "Hi, boy."
He looked down at her and said, "Hi little girl." Then, he noticed that her fist was closed tightly and thinking she might have a coin or even a piece of candy, he asked, "What have you got in your hand?" with the intent of relieving her of it.
She opened her little hand to reveal a chestnut and the boy laughed. Then she said, "My Mama wants a boy, do you want to come home with me and be in my family?"
The boy laughed again and said, "No, I am quite happy where I am."
Then Lydia crossed her arms and stomped her foot and said, "We need a boy, come home with us."
He replied, "I shall not," still amused, but taking on a tone mocking her indignance.
"Then I will go home with you," she said triumphantly as she walked up and grabbed his hand.
The boy could no longer conceal his amusement and began laughing hard.
Just then another, older little girl ran up from the direction of the green and approached Lydia to grab her hand. Lydia put her free hand behind her back to avoid her sister's grasp, and tightened her hold on the boy's hand saying, "I am going home with him, Lizzy," as she briefly showed her free hand to point to the boy then shoved it behind her back again.
Elizabeth grabbed Lydia by the arm as the boy quickly freed his hand from her grasp. "Thank you," said Elizabeth, "for finding my sister. I do not know how she always manages to wander off."
He simply bowed and said gallantly, "it is always my pleasure to be of service."
Elizabeth smiled, gave a quick little curtsey, and then turned and walked back to where the others were also looking for Lydia. As she straggled along next to her sister, Lydia was trying to pry Elizabeth's fingers off her arm as she yelled, "No Lizzy, I am going home with the boy." Finally, the sisters were reunited and soon called to the waiting carriage by their father to begin the journey home.
Neither Mr. nor Mrs. George Wickham ever remembered their first meeting.
Chapter 3 - Bingley and Jane
Baby Jane Bennet was fourteen months old when her parents took her to London for the first time. Mrs. Bennet had been most anxious to spend a few weeks in town with her brother, ever since the birth of her first child. She had been hoping for a son, but Little Miss Jane was so beautiful that no one could blame her for not being a boy, and her mother longed to show her off to all of London. In any case, the Bennets were certain that the child Mrs. Bennet now carried would be a boy. Mrs. Bennet had been appealing to her husband to take her to town since shortly after Jane's birth and he had managed to put her off for nearly a year, but when she found she was with child again, she became more insistent, wanting to complete the journey before she was too far along to travel, and knowing that as more children came, traveling would be more difficult and less frequent.
Mrs. Bennet had finally prevailed upon her husband, and so they planned their present trip to London. Although her brother's house was near Cheapside, she insisted on shopping in the more elegant parts of town. Her husband was a landed gentleman, after all. And so Mrs. Bennet carried her beautiful Jane proudly in her arms as she walked the streets of London's fashionable areas, followed closely by the child's nurse and a manservant. Several people commented on the beautiful baby and Mrs. Bennet accepted all their compliments graciously. As for Baby Jane, she sat contentedly on her mother's arm, with bright rosy cheeks, smiling at everyone, and occasionally babbling in baby talk, her blonde ringlets framing her angelic face under her little lace bonnet.
Mrs. Bennet entered a shop to purchase some finery to make bonnets and blankets for the next child. Once inside, she noticed another mother holding a small child, perhaps a few months older than Jane, by the hand. Upon Mrs. Bennet's entrance, the shop clerk, as well as the mother and child looked up simultaneously, and before any of them could speak the little boy's face lit up and he pointed at Jane and said, "baby," he tugged on his mother's dress and said, "pretty baby." Jane just smiled and giggled at the little boy.
"Charles," said the mother, pushing down his hand, "do not point." Then, addressing the little girl's mother, said, "She is a beauty."
"I thank you," said Mrs. Bennet. "And you have a very handsome little boy there."
"Oh, thank you," said the lady.
"Is he your first child?"
"No indeed, I have one more, a girl a bit older than he. She is at home having her lessons." Then, touching her belly she whispered, "And another on the way," not knowing she would not live through the child's birth.
Mrs. Bennet smiled as her hand moved to her own belly and she said, "Me too!" not knowing that growing inside her womb was another girl, and not the boy she desperately wanted.
The ladies laughed lightly for a moment, and then Mrs. Bennet handed Jane to the nurse so that she could look at some of the items in the shop. As the other mother was still occupied with the clerk, her son continued to stand near her staring up at the baby in the nurse's arms. The nurse walked towards him and said, "Would you like to say hello?"
He smiled. Then the nurse bent down and set Jane on her feet in front of Charles. He touched her face and said, "Pretty baby!" Jane giggled again and made a series of incomprehensible sounds, causing little Charles to laugh.
The nurse said, "Yes, she is a very pretty baby," and then, poking him in the belly, added, "and you are a handsome baby too." Charles smiled.
Soon Charles' mother had completed her business and as she took leave of the clerk, she claimed his hand saying, "Come Charles, say goodbye to the baby."
"G'bye pretty baby," said Charles, waving one little hand vigorously.
Jane just smiled again and gave a dainty wave of her hand in return.
The mother nodded to Mrs. Bennet on her way out as the clerk called, "Good day, Mrs. Bingley."
When they were outside the shop, Charles looked up to his mother and said, "I love that pretty baby."
Though Charles and Jane were far too young to recall their first meeting, it might account for the sense of contentment each experienced upon being introduced at the assembly ball in Meryton some twenty years later.
Chapter 4 - Collins and Charlotte
Charlotte Lucas was twelve years old when her father was presented at St. James' Court. She had traveled to London with her parents, her two younger brothers and her baby sister. She would not be allowed to attend court, but would instead, be left with her brothers and sister, in the care of the mistress of the hotel, a Mrs. Whitmore.
Shortly after the Lucases' departure, Mrs. Whitmore received a note from her brother in law requesting her immediate attendance upon her sister, who had fallen ill. She immediately commissioned one of the maids in her employment at the inn with the care of the younger children, but thinking that the older girl might be of some assistance, brought her along to her sister's house without a thought as to any possible danger to the child's health. Charlotte obediently accompanied Mrs. Whitmore who explained, "My sister, Mrs. Collins, has fallen ill, and requires my immediate attention. I may need your assistance in attending her. I trust that you will remember your manners and not distress her in any way."
"Yes, Mrs. Whitmore," replied Charlotte.
They arrived at a very humble house which made Charlotte believe that the Collinses must be of rather limited means. As Charlotte walked into the house, she noticed that the furnishings were sparse and simple, and the walls virtually unadorned. They were immediately shown into the sick chamber and Charlotte sat quietly in a chair while Mrs. Whitmore looked over her sister. Mrs. Collins was sleeping and soon Mrs. Whitmore took up some sewing from Mrs. Collins' work basket in a corner and handed Charlotte something to work on as well, from the same source. And so it was that Charlotte found herself mending what appeared to be a shirt for a young boy.
At length, there was a knock on the door and Mrs. Whitmore got up and quietly opened it. A tall man appeared in the doorway and Charlotte felt that his demeanor was overbearing. She learned from Mrs. Whitmore's greeting that this was Mr. Collins. Mrs. Whitmore bade Charlotte to attend Mrs. Collins while she stepped into the hall to speak to Mr. Collins. She did not close the door completely and so Charlotte was able to hear their conversation.
"I hope that girl you brought does not expect any coins for her trouble."
"No, indeed, she is the daughter of one of the guests at the hotel, and I have been charged with her care."
"Take care, then, that her mother pays for the extra services you are providing. How do you find my wife?"
"It is difficult to say, she has been asleep since my arrival, but she is feverish. I believe she is very ill. What said the apothecary?"
"I have not called the apothecary."
"Brother, why ever not?"
"Because the apothecary will then expect to get paid a great deal of money for spending five minutes with her and telling me that she is feverish and very ill, which I can see for myself. Then, he will expect me to purchase some concoction that he tells me will improve her health, but will do nothing for her. She will improve in time on her own."
"But I cannot stay and attend her all the time, you must at least bring in a nurse."
"She does not require constant attendance. The time you can be here will suffice and in your absence Kate will meet her needs."
"Sir, Kate is the only maid in your employ. She has her hands full with her other duties, particularly now that her mistress is ill."
"There is also William, he is old enough to attend his own mother. It is time that boy started to earn his keep anyhow."
"I know it is futile to persist in trying to persuade you."
"If you stay with her until dinner, you may take your meal here, but do not expect me to feed that child. I never asked you to bring her."
"Thank you sir, but I must be at the hotel for dinner."
At this time, Mrs. Collins began to stir, and Charlotte quietly walked over to the door and said, "Excuse me madam, I believe Mrs. Collins is waking."
"Thank you child," said Mrs. Whitmore. Mr. Collins left the doorway, and Mrs. Whitmore walked over to her sister who was mumbling "Water, water, please." Mrs. Whitmore reached for the pitcher, but upon observing that it was empty handed it to Charlotte and said, "Now be of help, child, and fetch some water."
Charlotte left the room with the pitcher, to look for the kitchen. After searching a bit, she was able to locate it and found therein a little boy, about ten years old, eating cake. He looked up abruptly when he heard her enter and seemed relieved when he saw her. "Pardon me," she said, "where might I find some water?"
With his mouth full of food, the boy pointed to a large basin with a lid on top of it that was on the floor by the door. She walked over and lifted the lid, then filled the pitcher, trying carefully to avoid catching the various particles floating on top of the water. By the time she was finished, the boy had swallowed the food in his mouth, and said, "Who are you?"
"I am in the care of your aunt, Mrs. Whitmore, who has come to look after your mother."
"How do you know her?"
"My family has been staying at her hotel and I am with her today because my parents have gone down to St. James' Court"
"To St. James'?" said the boy, obviously impressed, "Why?"
"My father is being presented. He was knighted recently by the king, in consequence of a mayoral address he made in Meryton, where we live."
The little boy gasped, "A knight! Your father is a knight!"
"Yes. Please excuse me," she replied as she made her way back to the sick room with the little boy gaping after her.
When Charlotte arrived at the sick chamber, Mr. Collins was no where to be seen and Mrs. Whitmore was applying a cold compress to her sister's head. She immediately handed the glass to Charlotte, who poured water into it from the pitcher. Mrs. Whitmore helped Mrs. Collins to sit up and take a few sips. After drinking water, Mrs. Collins went back to sleep. Mrs. Whitmore and Charlotte remained at her bedside until it was time for them to return to the hotel for dinner.
The Lucases returned home the following day, and luckily Charlotte did not fall ill from the visit. She never told her parents about going to the Collinses, but she remembered it always.
The meeting was never mentioned between Charlotte and her husband. Mrs. Collins acknowledged the possibility that Mr. Collins may not remember it because it was a difficult time for him, indeed his mother had died that very evening. She never mentioned it herself because she did not wish to remind him of such a painful time, and so she never learned for certain whether her husband recollected the first time he had met her.