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More of “The Exile”
The Exile seems to be going down a darker path than I had originally imagined. But, perhaps Kitty Bennet must go through great trials before she becomes the great lady the Wardrobe knew she would become. Enjoy this bit from the early part of the book.
March 6, 2017
2:41 PM
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February 10, 2017
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Chapter V

Darcy House, August 21, 1886

The excitement was building in Kitty’s breast as she watched from her bed chamber’s window while carriage after carriage halted in front of the Grosvenor Square prospects of Darcy House. Out of those conveyances stepped a fair representation of Britain’s society. The engagement ball would see attendees representing the country’s brightest from the landed aristocracy to press lords, from captains of industry to the literati and from imperial princes to the diplomats whose daily bread was the expansion of British spheres of influence tempered by the avoidance of war with another great power.

Tonight would mark another merger between Great Britain’s economic and political clans; to be confirmed in the simple (is any marriage truly simple Kitty mused) joining of Lord John Cecil and Caroline Anne Bingley the following Monday. As Kitty had discovered in the weeks since she had tumbled out of Papa’s Wardrobe (t’will always be Papa’s in my mind no matter that it stands in Henry’s chambers in Matlock House), her grandniece Miss Bingley was herself one of the wealthiest women in the country, with resources at her disposal that would have humbled many of George III’s ducal offspring.

Caroline Anne’s family’s fortunes had continued to wax in the decades since her Great Grandfather Charles had joined forces with Mr. Darcy to create Darcy-Bingley Enterprises. As a daughter of the house, she was the beneficiary of the income from thousands of preferred shares of DBE, all of which were held on her behalf by the Bennet Family Trust. Kitty recalled gossip that placed Miss Bingley’s annual revenue at upwards of 30,000 pounds.[i]

Darcy-Bingley Enterprises was one of the nation’s, nay, the world’s, leading industrial conglomerates. People from one end of the British Empire to the other traveled on railroads underwritten by DBE. The first class dining coaches served exquisite meals prepared from the finest ingredients that had arrived in Southampton, Liverpool and Glasgow—or Alexandria, Calcutta and Hong Kong—on DBE steamers. Those meals were laid on fine cloths woven in DBE mills. Later the gentlemen would adjourn to the lounge car to read any one of a dozen DBE newspapers, perhaps to receive a telegram delivered across DBE wires.

While the Darcy and Bingley names had pride of position atop the corporate letterhead, Kitty had learned that the Bennet, Fitzwilliam and Gardiner families were co-equal partners. Never again would a Bennet mother worry herself to distraction trying to marry off poorly dowered daughters.

Kitty’s lips twitched as she considered how the Miss Bingley of her time would have acted had she succeeded in winning the marriage mart lottery by aligning her with the kingdom’s second family—the legendary Cecils.

Caroline Bingley would have been insufferable. The airs she would have put on would have made her regular behavior seem positively refined. And, she was impossible to begin with! Even marrying a member of the junior branch of the Cecils—Lord John is only a Kentish cousin[ii] to the Prime Minister[iii]–would have been a triumph of Napoleonic proportions.

And, Miss Bingley would have the right of it, too. Back in our time, as a daughter of trade, she was more likely to have been considered lucky to marry a man of the lower gentry…like her sister’s Mr. Hurst or Sir William Lucas’ son John. Her 20,000-pound settlement would have been put to use elevating the status of her children by increasing her husband’s estate. So, for her to capture the hand, let alone the heart, of a Cecil…

###

Kitty lost focus on the street outside with both sight and sound receding into the background as she burrowed deeper into her brown study.

Everything Kitty had learned of the Caroline Johnson who returned from America in 1836 laid lie to all that Kitty had known of the woman who had treated Jane so shabbily. When the entire Fitzwilliam clan had finally journeyed north to Matlock for Lydia’s internment beside the General and their sons in the family crypt, Kitty had taken a few days to visit with her Derbyshire family.

Taking advantage of Caroline Anne’s invitation, she, along with Henry’s younger sister Eleanor and their companion, Mrs. Brandon, journeyed by rail from Matlock to Lambton. From there the Bingley coach whisked them over to Thornhill turning left at the fork in the road marked with a sign directing Pemberley bound travelers onto the right branch. Kitty was secretly thankful that she did not have to depend on her great nephew’s hospitality at Pemberley.

This Earl is such a sour man. He reminds me of Mr. Collins—oh wait—‘He who shall remain nameless’[iv]—all disapproval but without any effort to ingratiate himself to his companions.

“Cousin” Kitty spent nearly a week relaxing under the boughs of Thornhill’s giant oaks or talking family history with Caroline Anne and her father, William Bingley. Learning the stories that gave meaning to the lives of Jane, Charles, Lizzy and Mr. Darcy (Kitty could not imagine that forbidding man as anything other than ‘Mr. Darcy.’) helped her come to terms with their lives. As she wandered Thornhill’s halls, she frequently paused before Mrs. Johnson’s portrait. She tried to comprehend how this stately woman bore up under the tragedy of losing both her husband and young daughter in one cataclysmic instant. On top of it, this Caroline could not be granted the surcease of having memory of the horror dim over the years because her scars would remind her every time she considered her likeness in a mirror.

Leaving Thornhill, she, Ellie and Mrs. Brandon caught a London-bound train but broke their trip at Meryton. Although the village had grown considerably in the 75 years since Kitty had left, it still seemed pleasantly quaint. Alerted by an early-morning telegram from Lambton Station, Kitty’s nephew, Michael Bennet, had himself piloted the carriage from Longbourn. Driving the three ladies back toward the manor house along the lane deeply shaded by overarching trees now more than two centuries old, Mr. Bennet stopped at the Longbourn chapel at Kitty’s request.

She walked through the churchyard past weathered stones bearing familiar family names—Lucas, Gardiner, Long, Philips—until she stood before the great granite obelisk that carried her name—Bennet. She knelt before of a stone pillow set in front of the main memorial with two names inscribed side-by-side in its surface

Frances Lorinda nee Gardiner            Thomas Michael

     Died October 9, 1817                     Died January 17, 1815

Aged 47 years                              Aged 54 years

                           Companions through time

             Master and Mistress of Longbourn House

         Beloved by their children and grandchildren

Removing her gloves, she gently traced the sharp-edged script identifying the mortal remains entombed beneath the rich turf. She absently took in the fact that the area around the entire Bennet monument was meticulously groomed. Fresh flowers filled vases placed in brackets throughout the site. The scent of roses lifted over the moist greenness of freshly cut grass. This was an oasis of memory and a place of profound sadness for Kitty.

Soft footsteps disturbed her reverie. She turned and looked up at a somber Michael Bennet.

“You know, Aunt Kitty, I never met them. They passed away well before my parents were out of the nursery. Grandmother Charlotte took in my father rather than sending him North and raised him right alongside my mother.

“But, she told us the great stories—the ones that spoke of how each of my great aunts, including her dearest friend, Aunt Elizabeth, searched for and won the loves of their lives. And, when we children were old enough, we summered at Thornhill and Matlock, Pemberley and Kympton and even Windsor Castle. Ask Estelle about the time at Windsor when the five Bennet children along with the Vicompte de Rochet and his little sister disrupted the Queen’s afternoon levee in pursuit of the Crown Prince and the Princess Royal.

“That may have been the first time Her Majesty may have uttered ‘We are not amused’,” he chuckled.[v]

He continued, “Come with me to the family cenotaph. I imagine I will have to get the stone cutter to add Aunt Lydia and the General.”

Michael helped Kitty rise from the lawn and held her arm as together they walked through the sun-dappled family plot.

There, in the back, directly adjacent to the churchyard wall stood the stark black marble marker nestled amongst fragrant red and yellow blossoms. The highly polished surface bore the names of those family members not resting at Longbourn. The engraved letters sparkled of their own accord as the flecks in the mineral caught the warm rays of the Hertfordshire summer sun filtering through the canopy.

Jane and Charles lived long and, I imagine, well.

Oh Lizzy, to leave your Mr. Darcy alone for nine and ten years. The poor man.

And Mary…I wish to have known you better. Your history as it is written at the Trust reveals the remarkable woman you became. I could use your dependable counsel now.

“The flowers are so luxurious, Mr. Bennet. I am impressed that they thrive even here in the shade of the wall,” Kitty observed.

The older man smiled. “You may not know it or appreciate it yet, Aunt Kitty, but roses are something of a Bennet family tradition.”

Kitty leapt in, “Oh, I am fully aware of it. Actually it is a Gardiner family tradition. My Mama brought it to Longbourn when she married Papa. Any of the four and twenty families Mama dined in knew that they could depend upon Longbourn to supply all the rose hips they would ever need.”

“Well, your sister, my aunt Lydia, the Countess took it to new heights. She rarely if ever lost a competition when her blooms were in the lists. And, she was often consulted by other master gardeners who wished to plant Rosa floribundae in unusual climes. Even today, the Matlock greenhouses attract horticulturists from around the world.

“These are special hybrids of the classic Darcy Lady Annes and the Darcy Lizzy’s Own Red Bourbons designed to flourish in low light,” Bennet added.

The moment he voiced the names, a tear ran down Kitty’s cheek. Accepting Michael’s handkerchief, she dabbed at her eyes before asking, “Might we cut a few flowers for me to place by Mama and Papa? Though they have each other, I would like to give them Jane, Lydie, Lizzy and Mary for just a moment.”

 

[i] By way of reference, Prince Albert was granted an annual allowance of 30,000 pounds in 1840 when he married Queen Victoria.

[ii] Term denotes a distant relation. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=cousin accessed 2/15/17.

[iii] Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, Marquess of Salisbury, Prime Minister 1885-86, 1886-92, 1895-1902. https://www.gov.uk/government/history/past-prime-ministers/robert-gascoyne-cecil accessed 2/15/17.

[iv] All credit is due and given to J.K. Rowling for this reference to another execrable character.

[v] Often attributed to Queen Victoria, there is little concrete evidence that she ever said it. http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/we-are-not-amused.html accessed 2/15/17.