P&P200: The Bennet Women Prepare for a Major Change at Longbourn
Over the past weeks, when not otherwise engaged entertaining their handsome future husbands, Jane and Lizzy had gradually sorted through their possessions in preparation for relocating to their new homes. Headway had been made in packing what they wished to take, and discarding what was no longer appropriate, yet not as extensive as one might presume. The sisters were very excited to be married, their minds barely able to think of much else, in fact. Perhaps a portion of their laxity was a result of being preoccupied and pleasantly distracted. The greater reason, they each privately understood, was an odd mixture of nostalgia and childish hesitation to relinquish their familiar life until they absolutely had to. With the wedding less than a week away, procrastination was no longer an option.
Thus it was that today the Longbourn bedroom shared by Jane and Lizzy Bennet for longer than either could recollect, looked as if a dozen wardrobes and bureaus had violently regurgitated their contents. Gowns, undergarments, stockings, hats, gloves, shawls, coats, shoes, hair accessories, and more were strewn across every available surface in a flood of lace and fabrics. Those items purchased in London on their recent shopping spree joined those already owned, Jane’s property piled haphazardly with Lizzy’s. Somewhere underneath were boxes filled with books, treasured objects, wall hangings, needle crafts, and so on.
Initially the eldest Bennet daughters had arranged their respective belongings in an organized manner. If left to their own devices, the necessary packing would have flawlessly concluded. That possibility perished hours ago when Kitty, Mary, and Mrs. Bennet arrived to “help.” While annoying at first, Lizzy and Jane soon recognized that their sisters and mother were secretly struggling with their own emotions at the prospect of life radically changing in the gulf created by their absense. None of these deeper thoughts were verbalized, the five women opting to enjoy the camaraderie.
“Lizzy, you and Jane should put on your wedding dresses so we can see how they look.”
“It is bad luck to wear your wedding dress before the day itself, Kitty.” Lizzy snatched her gown out of Kitty’s hand, winking at Jane as she turned to hang it carefully in the wardrobe.
“That is nonsense!” Kitty snorted. “You of all people would never believe that!”
“Normally I do not believe in superstitions, but when it comes to marriage and my future I am not tempting the Fates. Additionally, I can’t risk mussing it, as I inevitably do ten minutes after donning any garment, and I wish to maintain the surprise.”
Kitty rolled her eyes, and then cast a pleading look toward Jane. Before she could say a word, Jane shook her head. “I am afraid not, dear Kitty. Customs are to be respected, even silly ones, nor do I want to chance a stain or tear.”
“Ha!” This time it was Lizzy who exclaimed and rolled her eyes. “When have you ever done that to any of your clothing?”
“I have… a few times… I am sure of it…” Jane stammered to a halt, rosiness highlighting her cheeks as four pairs of dubious eyes swiveled her way. “If you didn’t run across dirt fields and help feed the barn animals, you would keep your clothes cleaner and in better repair too, Lizzy.”
Laughing at the hint of asperity in Jane’s voice, Lizzy sang, “Oh, indeed that is a charge I cannot deny! I suppose I shall soon need to learn how to properly comport myself as a lady,” – she dropped a purposefully awkward curtsey – “and forego digging in the dirt or wallowing with the pigs. I suspect the Pemberley gardeners and groomsmen would frown at their mistress treading in their designated zones.”
“I cannot speak with knowledge on the staff of a grand manor, Lizzy, but I do know Mr. Darcy enjoys your outside activities. He stares at you with the most intense, animated expression when your cheeks are flushed from the brisk air and tendrils of hair have escaped your bonnet.”
“Kitty!” Jane admonished.
“Well, he does! An imbecile would know what he is thinking! Isn’t that so, Mary?”
Mary did not reply, her lips primly pressed together as she continued to fold Jane’s shawls into precise square piles. Lizzy had again turned toward the wardrobe, busying herself at nothing so as to hide her dreamy face. Kitty’s teasing observation ignited a host of sensations threatening to overwhelm her regulation. None of them did she attempt to contradict or plan to restrain once finally alone with her husband. She yearned for it, in fact. Nevertheless, even skirting the edge of the subject was the last thing she wanted at the moment, as it would certainly instigate another diatribe from her mother on the “discomforts of the marriage bed” or how to avoid “a man’s urges.”
Unfortunately, avoiding the topic wasn’t within her control.
“Why do all of your new shifts, stays, and other undergarments have these lace and ribbon accents?” Mrs. Bennet held up an example, the shift one of Lizzy’s constructed of a semi-sheer cotton with pale blue ribbons weaving across and under the bodice in a pretty pattern.
“And did you see their new nightclothes, Mama?” Kitty lifted a particularly flimsy nightdress off the bed and directed the question to Mrs. Bennet, but her taunting eyes and smirk were directed toward Jane and Lizzy.
Internally Lizzy shrugged. No point in postponing the inevitable, she thought. Widening her eyes in as innocent an expression as possible, she met her mother’s gaze.
“Our Aunt Gardiner was of the opinion that garments of this type were essential for a new bride. She spoke at length, and in eloquent details, on the positive developments to be attained in the wearing of them, most especially in regards to our duty as obedient wives to please our husbands, although she was adamant that we too would reap the benefits in a most pleasurable manner.”
Jane was open-mouthed, her face a remarkable shade of red Lizzy was sure she had never seen before! Kitty had collapsed into a chair, shaking with suppressed laughter. Even stuffy Mary was smiling, her eyes tender and thoughtful as she smoothed a palm over a silky creation nearly transparent. The biggest surprise, however, was Mrs. Bennet. Rather than blanching, launching into a contradictory lecture, or suffering an abrupt attack of her nerves as Lizzy expected, she had a completely different reaction.
Mrs. Bennet frowned for a moment, as if puzzling through a complex mathematics equation, and then began to smile in an odd way. Her eyes were unfocused, and one hand briefly pressed against the skin under which her heart beat before lifting to feather her fingertips across a rosy cheek.
“Well… yes,” she murmured, still gazing at the shift, “my sister is a wise woman.”
Lizzy glanced at Jane, both their brows rising. Not quite sure what to make of their mother’s unusual demeanor – and not wanting to analyze too deeply, to be honest – and trusting that the spell would soon be broken, Lizzy jumped in with a new topic.
“By the way, Mama, I forgot to mention in the excitement, but there are to be three more guests at the wedding. Nothing you need fret over,” she hastened to console at the instant tinge of panic popping into Mrs. Bennet’s eyes. “They are relatives of Mr. Darcy, so will stay at Netherfield, and they will not arrive until the afternoon before the wedding and leave after breakfast.”
“Oh my! We must adjust the amount of food!”
“It will be quite sufficient, Mama,” Jane placated. “We have an abundance of food purchased. We will be eating off the remains for a week, so three additional mouths will not be a burden.”
“Indeed,” Lizzy nodded, squeezing her mother’s hand. “It is nothing to concern yourself with. Mr. Darcy was unsure of their attendance until a few days ago, and I only inform you so as to prepare.” She glanced at Jane, who nodded for her to go on. “It is Mr. Darcy’s aunt,—“
“Lady Catherine de Bourgh! Oh, goodness gracious! I never imagined that woman… oh dear, oh dear—“
“No, Mama. It isn’t Lady Catherine. I can assure you that she will not be at our wedding. It is Mr. Darcy’s other aunt and uncle, the Earl and Countess of Matlock, and their son, Mr. Darcy’s cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam.”
“A colonel? A colonel is coming to the wedding?” Mrs. Bennet threw the shift onto the bed, her eyes jerking to Kitty. “How marvelous! A colonel, you say? And, would this officer and son of an earl be a bachelor, by chance?”
Lizzy nodded, and then groaned. How in the world did I not see this coming? All the discussion she and Jane had had over how to break the news of an earl and countess attending the wedding, sure that would send Mrs. Bennet into hysterics, and not once did they think of the possibilities of raptures over Colonel Fitzwilliam!
Marital beds and diaphanous undergarments were forgotten in the thrill of a flesh and blood army officer.
Poor Colonel Fitzwilliam! He has no idea what he is in for. Oddly the thought was more humorous than sympathetic. Lizzy and Jane shared an amused, non-verbal exchange. This was definitely a wedding ceremony and reception that promised to be fun!
**This P&P200 vignette is the ninth I have written for the weeks leading up to the double wedding event on Nov. 16. First was Darcy Surprises Elizabeth on 10/29, then A Most Important Dinner at Darcy House on 11/1, An Enlightening Tour of Darcy House on 11/2, Mr. Darcy Goes Shopping on 11/3, After Church Picnic & Surprise on 11/4, Georgiana Hosts a Tea Party on 11/5, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s News for Darcy on 11/7, and Lord and Lady Matlock Pass Judgement on 11/8. Next up is a post on 11/15, and two on the wedding day, 11/16. Inspired by the Darcy Saga, they may contain small portions of “flashback” moments I wrote within my sequel. However, they are altered a tad to present a differing POV and contain lots of additional information I never wrote before. New material to be enjoyed as part of the awesome Austen Authors P&P200 extravaganza! Thanks for reading, Sharon Lathan