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February 10, 2017
The offices of the Bennet Family Trust were found above Wilson & Hunters’ offices in Chancery Lane. A long-faced doorman admitted them into the lower lobby and blew into a speaker’s tube to alert his confederate at the other end. He then quietly spoke into the mouthpiece advising that the Viscount and his guest awaited an escort.
An office boy approached and guided them through the warren of offices that housed a battalion of barristers. Nervous young clerks dashed about on errands. Others bowed their heads behind stacks of documents bound with scarlet ribbons. Kitty and Henry were finally ushered to the base of a narrow stairwell.
“I believe you know your way from here, my Lord,” the youth stated.
Henry led Kitty up the stairs into a world that was diametrically opposed to that through which they had just passed. Where the former had been noisy and bustling with energy, these offices were near sepulchral. A long luxuriously woven Oriental runner deadened their footfalls as they moved along a richly paneled hallway. While there were multiple doorways opening onto the hall, not a single one was opened to reveal the interior beyond. The subdued light glimmering through each door’s frosted glass panel was augmented by gas lamps spaced at intervals along the passage.
The corridor’s walls were adorned with numerous portraits. Kitty slowed as she passed each one. Those immortalized were strangely familiar, and they all had a similar look about their eyes.
Those are the ‘Bennet eyes;’ something Papa always talked about. He said he could look around our dinner table and know for certain that we were all his children—much to Mama’s loudly voiced outrage at his veiled jest about her fidelity.
The names on some of the plaques below the paintings jumped out at her…
George William Darcy, Earl of Pemberley
Trust Life Director, 1838-1863
Madelyn Darcy Johnson
Trust Life Director, 1840-1878
Michael Edward Bennet
Managing Director, 1852-1885
As they approached a set of massive double doors at the far end of the hall, one large canvas graced the wall to their left. Four men had sat for this single portrait…and Kitty could not imagine a more powerful looking group. They were captured stationed around a large and imposing desk.
The nameplate was simple and for Kitty almost unnecessary. Although she was unclear about one of the subjects, there was no question in her mind about the identity of the other three. In spite of the years added to their faces and flesh to their frames, there was no mistaking Colonel Fitzwilliam (although he was identified as General), Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. The gentleman wearing clerical garb and seated behind the desk was identified as Edward Benton, Senior Managing Director and Keeper.
An equally imposing canvas was facing the first from the opposite wall. As she turned to it, Kitty’s heart squeezed with sadness and longing. There, looking down on her were four pairs of very fine eyes, all arranged by age and matching the position of the men opposite them. Jane’s sky blue gazed at Bingley’s shock of flaming hair. Lizzy’s chocolate brown orbs were for Mr. Darcy alone as he stood next to his cousin. Mary’s light brown eyes caressed the preacher. And Lydia’s emerald green sought the fine figure of the Colonel standing by himself at next to the reverend.
Oh, what lives and loves you must have enjoyed!
Kitty’s hand unconsciously lifted, and she stroked the gilt frame.
Henry stood to the side, quietly observed the emotions playing across her face, giving her a modicum of privacy with her sisters. Then he gently broke her mood by touching her elbow, guiding her along toward the mahogany panels that opened to his hand on the door handles.
At their entry, the four elegantly dressed people standing near the one end of the room turned to face them. Two men and two women, each with Bennet eyes, took their measure of Kitty. As for the teenager, she could learn little of them as none betrayed any particular emotion.
What did draw her eye, though, was one last portrait, the only decoration on the wall at what must have been the head of the table. There, standing behind the worktable in the Longbourn bookroom was her Papa. The artist caught his lips in a slight smile below the amused glint in his hazel eyes in a pose seemingly caught right after Lizzy had just suggested something impertinent. Papa leaned toward Kitty as if he wanted to say something, to offer some words of wisdom that would help her through her predicament. But, while his presence on the wall was comforting, she did not gain any insight from his silent pose.
Henry seated her to the right of the head where he positioned himself. The others arranged themselves to his left and adjacent to Kitty. A woman of indeterminate age with graying auburn hair settled herself into the upholstered seat beside Kitty. She looked at Henry who nodded his assent. Turning to the girl and smiling, she introduced herself.
“Hello. Let me begin the session because I am sure that your head is spinning.
“I am Estelle Charlotte Bennet. I am your niece. My parents were your adopted brother, Edward Bennet, and his wife, Maria Rose Collins, who inherited Longbourn in full after her father’s death. I tell you this so that you know that there are still Bennets at Longbourn. Because my maternal grandfather, whose name will never be spoken in these halls, had Bennet blood, so too did my mother and all of her children. My eldest brother is the Master of Longbourn right now.”
The elderly gentleman directly across from Kitty spoke next.
“My name is William Francis Darcy. I would be your great nephew, I imagine. Your sister Elizabeth was my grandmother. I am the second Earl of Pemberley. I am pleased to make your acquaintance. However, I must tell you that this is a meeting I fervently wish never to have been called.
“Young Henry here has told us that you wish to remain in this time. This strikes me as a very impetuous decision, something that could lead to disaster,” the Earl solemnly intoned before being cut off by Henry.
“Uncle, you must recall that we have already discussed and decided this. Bringing the matter up again when the Board has already taken a position is poor form,” Henry chided the older man, “Miss Bennet will be allowed to exercise her freedom of choice unless she demonstrates that she is unable to act in the family’s best interests.”
Duly admonished the aristocrat settled back in his chair with a dismissive wave of his hand.
Next came the other man, who appeared to be in his 30s. Another Fitzwilliam, he curtly informed Kitty that he was one of Henry’s distant cousins and had descended from Lydia and the General’s younger son, George. He added little more to the conversation beyond that.
Finally, the second, and considerably younger, woman who reminded Kitty of Jane, spoke up. Her rich blue eyes warmly gazed across the oiled wood at Kitty. She appeared to be Henry’s age.
“Miss Bennet, I am Caroline Anne Bingley. Your sister Jane was my Great Grandmother. The lady you knew as Caroline Bingley before she married into the Johnson family was one of my Grand Aunts.”
Kitty interrupted her without thinking, “Oh, you have my sympathies.”
Henry made to correct her, but Miss Bingley shushed him with a look.
“And I would take them if the woman you knew was the one my mother and cousins told me about. But, the Caroline who came into their lives as Mrs. Johnson after her return from America was very kind and loving, even if she bore a great sadness.
“I still live at the Bingley seat at Thornhill in Derbyshire and will do so until my wedding to Lord John Cecil in a few months. However, if you would like to visit the estate to get away from the city for a while, we could be there in a few hours.”
At Kitty’s wide-eyed look, she added, “I will let Henry explain how railroads have made our world a small place indeed.
“I know that this is so much to take in. You have relatives scattered all over the Empire. The world itself has changed beyond imagination in the last 75 years. I would fully understand if you took one look at all of this and ran screaming back to the Wardrobe in Matlock House.”
“And, a good idea it would be,” grunted Lord Pemberley.
Henry glared his uncle. Then he took up the speaker’s mantle using the voice of authority that Kitty had always associated with Mr. Darcy.
“Miss Bennet, as you have divined by now, we are the Board of Life Members of the Bennet Family Trust, an organization dedicated to support the interests of clan Bennet and the Four Families.[i] This meeting was called to introduce you to the highest reaches of the Trust.
“As my cousin, Miss Bingley, has suggested, you have a lot to absorb and could eventually feel overwhelmed. The Trust, though, is here for you. We have offices worldwide and are able to exert a lot of discrete influence on behalf of the Families and individual members.
“You must feel free to contact the Trust at any time.”
He stopped suddenly and covered his mouth with a handkerchief quickly pulled from his pocket as a sudden coughing fit consumed his remaining breath.
He paused and poured himself a glass of water from the crystal carafe in front of him. Sipping it, he cleared his throat and continued.
“Setting aside what my uncle suggested…the Board has already voted to allow you complete freedom to determine your future within certain constrictions which will be discussed in a moment after we are joined by the Trust’s senior managers.
“However, I will stress to you that this decision is not final. The matter can be revisited at any time until you reach your chronological majority in four years. Questions about your ability to conduct yourself in a manner consistent with the interests of the Families will open you to significant penalties.
“I will leave those to your imagination.”
Not willing to be treated like a child barely out of leading strings, Kitty planted both hands on the burnished expanse of the table and slowly eyed each adult in the room before she uttered a word. Then she spoke to them in what she felt was her most adult and modulated voice.
“From what I have learned from speaking to my sister and Mr. Fitzwilliam, the Wardrobe takes us to times which will answer our needs not our wants. I have been here but a sennight…each day of which has been occupied with tending to my beloved sister and then mourning her. I doubt if the Wardrobe brought me to this place and time simply to bury Lydia.
“So, ladies and gentlemen of the board, I am not prepared to leave…nor do I think you are prepared to evict me…the most senior Bennet in this room…no, this world…and send me back to my father’s library. So, please, no more threats.
“I imagine you will find me more amenable if you treat me as an adult rather than a recalcitrant schoolgirl.”
Then she added as an afterthought, perhaps to pull some of the sting from her earlier speech, “By the way, your portrait of my Papa is wonderfully rendered. Your artist even included that delightful twinkle in his eyes, one that was there when he was teasing my mother or sparring with Lizzy.”
Miss Bingley looked at the girl and smiled wryly, “That is what the Dowager said nearly word-for-word when we unveiled it last year.”
Shortly after Henry had concluded his speech, they had then been joined by a very solemn group of men and women. The incredible nature of her finances was laid before her. Apparently Lizzy’s Darcy and Jane’s Bingley (along with Uncle Gardiner) had, at Papa’s behest, turned her dowry over to the Trust in early 1812. Over the next 74 years, that 11,000 pounds had grown to over 200,000![ii] While she could not access the principal on her own until she was thirty years old, she would be able to live off its income immediately.
“You are, Miss Bennet, one of the richest young women in all of Great Britain outside of the Royal Family,” Emilia Hill, the Trust’s Controller advised, “and, as such, you are both blessed and cursed.
“You will be able to live as you wish without fear of poverty, but that will expose you to many unscrupulous men and women who would take advantage of your youth and inexperience. While recent legal changes have eliminated the worst excesses[iii], you must also be careful when contemplating marriage.
“Unlike in your time, your husband can no longer take all of your wealth as his own. However, he could, none-the-less, offer deceitful advice that might lead you to underwrite speculative loans or spend lavishly. He could lead you to squander your legacy to maintain his unwise lifestyle or, in a worst case, enrich his cronies.
“An account has been opened in your name at Cox and Company, a well-respected banking firm in Charring Cross, into which the annual proceeds of your trust will be deposited on the Second of January each year. The funds, as has been previously explained, are yours to do with as you wish. However, as you have not yet reached your chronological majority, the Board has named co-signers who will have to agree to any expenditure from this account.”
Kitty had bristled at this, but when Mr. Reynolds, who had been enigmatically identified as having something to do with Research, spoke next, she became livid.
“Now, the Board, which is composed of Life Members, have decided that you will need to be placed under guardians who also will be those cosigners mentioned by Mrs. Hill. These individuals will serve as in loco parentis until you reach your majority given that you are now an orphan. The Board determined that the Earl and Countess of Matlock, Mr. Fitzwilliam’s parents, as they still have one child, Eleanor, who is your age, to be admirably suited to act in your best interest.”
Kitty blustered, “But, I hardly know those people. This is my money, correct? Can I not use it as I wish? Why do I need these people anyway? They are not my Mother and Father! I refuse to accept this!”
Mr. Hastings, the Chief Archivist, leaned forward on his forearms, placed his right hand on a packet of documents and folders, and pierced Kitty with his gaze.
“We anticipated this possibility, Miss Bennet. Not that you would not comprehend the importance of these provisions, but rather that you would react as an adolescent and undisciplined girl,” Hastings admonished.
He continued, “Do you recall the discussion you were having with the Founder when you accidentally activated the Wardrobe? He was preparing to send you to seminary.
“That you unintentionally derailed his plans in 1811 does not mean that we cannot fulfill his wishes in 1886. The Earl and Countess will be making all decisions regarding your future. I would imagine that you shall be expected to undertake some years of formal education to eradicate the worst of your deficiencies.
“While we hope you would willingly comply with the Matlocks’ plans to help you become a woman ready to step into the Twentieth Century, your initial reaction was not unexpected. As such, we have been authorized by the Directors to offer you these documents which may clarify your thinking,” he intoned.
Saying that, he pushed the stack of material toward Kitty.
“Take them. And, before you ask, none of us in this room have any knowledge of all of the contents of these files. What we know beyond the financial reporting of your holdings and genealogies is that some are from the earliest days of the Trust,” Hastings stated.
With a look at Henry, Mrs. Hill commented, “Mr. Fitzwilliam, would you please escort Miss Bennet to the Managing Director’s office? She can review the documents in privacy.
“Miss Bennet, when you are finished, please ring the bell. All you need to do is push the button mounted under the lip of the desk. If you are unsure, Mr. Fitzwilliam will show you. Young Mr. Wilson will collect you and the documents, and we will reconvene this meeting.”
With that, Henry gently gripped Kitty’s elbow as she stood and guided her from the room and back down the long wood-paneled hall.
[i] Bennet, Darcy, Fitzwilliam and Bingley
[ii] 4% interest compounded over 75 years.
[iii] See The Married Woman’s Property Act of 1882 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Married_Women%27s_Property_Act_1882 accessed 8/30/16.
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