How To Mend A Broken Heart
Elizabeth Bennet descended the main staircase at Standfield Hall for the last time, lovingly caressing the smooth wooden banister with each step she took. She had come there to serve as a companion to the widowed Lady Webberley. With that lady’s passing six weeks ago, it was now time for Elizabeth to move on in her life. What her next step would be was as yet, uncertain.
Since Lady Webberley’s demise, Elizabeth had spent her time packing away her Ladyship’s belongings. Also included in her duties were to package and make ready for delivery those personal bequests from the great lady to their recipients. Her one last duty included a short trip to London to go over some last remaining details of Lady Webberley’s estate. Afterward, she would return to Branford, the town nearest to Standfield Hall, and stay with her family until she could make her own way in life.
She did not want the last few minutes in this house to be sad, so she thought about the happy times that had been spent within these hallowed walls. Lady Webberley was the epitome of everything that Elizabeth had wished herself to have been. Warm and compassionate, witty and intelligent, with life experiences that included travel to foreign lands. All the conversations shared with her Ladyship were exciting and interesting.
Despite the more than thirty-year difference in their ages, it was her Ladyship’s wisdom and humor that drew the two of them together as bosom friends. They shared a common love of reading, they happily walked about the estate rejoicing in all the seasons, and they enjoyed the foibles of mankind in general. They were well matched. Elizabeth’s youth made Lady Webberley feel young again, while Lady Webberley’s understanding and knowledge enhanced Elizabeth’s view of the world.
It should not be surprising their rapport grew so rapidly. Elizabethhad known Lady Webberley all her life and had visited Standfield Hall often in her youth. Lady Webberley, nee Emily Rawden, was a cousin to Thomas Bennet, Elizabeth’s beloved father. Unfortunately, when Lord Webberley took on diplomatic positions for the Crown and was sent abroad, the visits ended. The families grew apart, separated by time and distance. Then when Lord Webberley succumbed, due to a bad heart, over five years ago, the Countess of Webberley chose to spend her time in London rather than increase her grief by returning to her husband’s ancestral home.
When her Ladyship received word that her cousin, Tommy Bennet, was gravely ill, she returned to Standfield Hall as it was but fifteen miles from Longbourn, the Bennet family estate, to support his family in any way she could.
Try as she might, Elizabeth could not help but think on those sad events which had brought her here to live. It all began three years ago when several tragedies befell the Bennet family which culminated in the death of the Bennet patriarch. As the Bennet family estate of Longbourn was entailed away from the female line, Mrs. Bennet and her four remaining unmarried daughters were left homeless. In swooped Lady Webberley to rescue her dear cousin’s family from ruin. Lady Webberley, or as the Bennet’s referred to her--Lady Emily, quickly helped the women pack up their belongings and installed them in the dowager house at Standfield Hall. With no children of her own, she had no use for it as she had Standfield Hall for her lifetime. Of course, her husband’s nephew was to inherit the estate on her passing, but he was saving it for his second son who was but two years old. So, Lady Emily had arranged for Mrs. Bennet, and any of her unmarried daughters, to have use of the dowager house for their lifetime as well as a stipend to maintain it.
With a deep sigh, Elizabeth reflected on how she came to live in the manor house instead of with her mother and sisters. After installing the Bennets in the dowager house, or Peach Cottage as it was known in the vicinity because of the orchard that bordered the grounds, Lady Emily became horrified by the ill treatment she witnessed from Mrs. Bennet directed at her second oldest daughter, Elizabeth. It was common knowledge within the family that Elizabeth had been her father’s favorite. It was, however, not known that Elizabeth was Lady Emily’s favorite of the five sisters. Though in all fairness, Lady Emily did not know the three younger girls very well because she and the Earl were seldom at Standfield Hall after Mary, the third child, was born. There had been no time to form an intimate knowledge of them as she had with the two eldest. Jane had been a beautiful and well-behaved child, almost cherubic, but Elizabeth always had a spark of life and mischievous intelligence about her that reminded Lady Emily of herself at that age, or so the great lady had informed her.
Therefore, Lady Emily sought to remedy the intolerable conditions that she witnessed Elizabeth enduring at the hands of Mrs. Bennet. Requesting that Elizabeth’s belongings be repacked, Lady Emily removed Elizabeth from Peach Cottage and moved her up into the manor house to serve as her companion, much to Mrs. Bennet’s displeasure, since Mrs. Bennet felt any of her other daughters were more deserving of that honor than the willful and disobedient Elizabeth.
Why was Mrs. Bennet so hard on Elizabeth? There were several reasons for her mother’s disdain; most were derived by Mrs. Bennet’s irrational view of the world. First, she had always been a bit jealous of Elizabeth for having been her husband’s favorite above her other daughters. Next, there were the series of tragedies that had befallen the Bennet family, including one which had led to the loss of their home.
If Elizabeth had not been gone from home when the youngest girl, Lydia, chose to elope with an officer, then she would have seen that her sister would not have been tempted to become involved in such a scandal. After all, the officer in question, Lieutenant George Wickham, had been sweet on Elizabeth and would not have lured Lydia away in such an infamous manner had Elizabeth been there to prevent it. Mrs. Bennet suffered many nervous attacks about Elizabeth’s carelessness in protecting Lydia, her favorite daughter.
When word that Lydia had been found reached Longbourn, it had been Elizabeth who was chosen to go to London as her father was too ill to go. Mrs. Bennet felt that one of the other girls should have gone in her stead, for they would have brought Lydia home. Elizabeth should have insisted that Lydia return to Longbourn to let the family rejoice in her newly married state before embarking with her new husband to a foreign land. But Elizabeth, again, prevented Mrs. Bennet from celebrating Lydia’s happy situation and marriage before parting with her unseen, perhaps forever.
To Elizabeth’s misdeeds was added the death of Mr. Bennet. Elizabeth may have been her father’s favorite child but Mrs. Bennet was suspicious of how much Elizabeth truly loved and cared for her father particularly in the last few weeks of his life. Her mother could not forgive her for his death. Elizabeth had kept constant watch by her father’s bed as he lay sick and dying, and Mrs. Bennet believed that Elizabeth must have done something to speed Mr. Bennet’s demise just to aggravate the already desperate situation.
The biggest grievance, however, Mrs. Bennet had against her was that Elizabeth had flatly refused Mr. Collins’ proposal of marriage so long ago. Had she accepted him, they would all still be living at Longbourn as Mr. Collins was the recipient of the Longbourn entail.
While Elizabeth bore her mother’s harangues with stoicism, Lady Emily could not abide such ill treatment of a child. Though Elizabeth would regularly visit her mother and sisters after her move to the manor house, Lady Emily chose to distance herself from Mrs. Bennet, much to the displeasure of the latter; for what good was it to live on such a grand estate without the intimacy of the owner.
It was not long after settling Elizabeth in the manor house before Lady Emily began to think of Elizabeth as her own daughter and, as with any mother, planned for her daughter to have the best of everything. However, those plans had been thwarted when a debilitating illness struck her. But Lady Emily would not be swayed in attending to what she thought was best for Elizabeth and soon began to formulate another plan to ensure that Elizabeth would be well cared for.
As Elizabeth reached the last few steps, her thoughts turned to her older sister, Jane. It seemed life had been a bit kinder to Jane for which Elizabeth was grateful. It was not long after the Bennet ladies had settled into their new home that Jane Bennet caught the attention of a local gentleman, Mr. Nash, a widower in his mid forties who also happened to be the vicar of Branford parish. His youngest daughter had recently married and moved away. Jane’s beauty along with her quiet and serene nature captured his interest as he saw in her not only a companion but a wonderful partner in attending to his parishioners. After the Bennet’s year of mourning, he approached Jane and asked for her hand in marriage.
Elizabeth liked Mr. Nash. He was a decent and honorable man, but she had been surprised when Jane accepted him. When she confronted Jane about it, Jane told her that she would probably not get any other offers and, as Mr. Nash was a nice and respectable man, she did not see a reason not to accept. Elizabeth had always hoped that she and Jane would marry for love. She had hoped Jane would have married Mr. Bingley, Jane’s first love. But with what had befallen her family, both knew that Mr. Bingley would not renew his acquaintance with the Bennets. Both girls did not hold any hope that they would receive any offers of marriage, especially from a gentleman that they could respect and have a deep affection for. So when Jane saw the opportunity of a life with an honorable and respected man, she accepted the offer as it was also a way to ease her family’s burden.
Mr. and Mrs. Nash settled into a comfortable existence and Elizabeth was a regular visitor to their home as they all enjoyed each other’s company. She was pleased when Jane developed affection for Mr. Nash and seemed to enjoy her life as a married lady. It had always been evident that Mr. Nash had a tender regard for Jane, so Elizabeth’s worries for Jane’s happiness were assuaged.
As the time neared when Elizabeth would have to leave the manor house, she dreaded the thought of returning to live at Peach Cottage with her mother. But a reprieve came when her sister, Jane, invited her to live at the parsonage at Branford. Therefore, when faced with returning to her mother’s house or accepting Jane and Mr. Nash’s kind offer, it did not take her long to come to her decision. She did not plan to stay long with the Nashes as she hoped to be able to make her own way within the world; maybe as a companion or governess but she was determined to make it on her own – she simply needed a bit of time to become situated and mourn the loss of Lady Emily before embarking on her future, a future that held uncertainties but one she looked forward to just the same.
On reaching the last step, Elizabeth noted that all her trunks had been removed. Smiling at the thought that Mr. Nash must have sent Josiah over to fetch them, she also hoped that he had not taken the trunk she was planning to take with her to London.
Glancing out the window, she saw it atop the carriage that awaited her. She breathed a sigh of relief though it saddened her as she knew it was time to leave. Hearing footsteps, she turned to see Mrs. Truman, the housekeeper, coming down the hall with tears flowing from her eyes.
“Miss Elizabeth, I am going to miss you so much. Please promise to come and visit when you return from London,” the housekeeper said as she held Elizabeth in a tight embrace.
“Yes, Mrs. Truman, you will be the first on my list of calls upon my return,” Elizabeth said, feeling a bit emotional herself at leaving. Knowing she would probably come back to visit those still remaining, those faithful servants who had looked after and cared for Lady Emily. She also knew that Standfield Hall would never be her home again.
“You will write and let us know you have arrived safely. You will like Lady Matlock. She is a kind and generous lady. I have always enjoyed the times when she visited here.”
“Yes, Mrs. Truman, I will write on my arrival. The carriage is waiting and I must go if we are to make London by nightfall,” she said, not being able to keep a little sniffle from punctuating her last statement.
Elizabeth opened the front door and calmly walked to the waiting carriage and to her fate. After she had settled into her seat, she looked out the window to see all the servants there to see her off. With tears in her eyes, she waved them farewell as the carriage lurched forward.
Upon receiving the letter requesting her presence in Londonto meet with Lady Webberley’s solicitors about the estate, she was quite shocked to be informed that she would be staying with Lady Matlock during her time in Town. Lady Matlock was also a cousin of Lady Emily’s from another side of the her family apart from the Bennets. And she was also Lady Emily’s dearest friend. Elizabeth could only reason why Lady Matlock had offered to host her during her stay was to reminisce about Lady Emily. Another cause for Elizabeth’s curiosity about meeting Lady Matlock was she had been made aware that Lady Matlock had known her father when they were young. It seems that Lady Matlock and Thomas Bennet had spent several summers together in the country visiting their mutual cousin.
As the carriage, sent by Lady Matlock, rambled down the road to London, Elizabeth mused on what her stay in Town would be like. Lady Matlock was now a dowager and was still mourning the loss of her husband when Lady Emily fell ill; thereby prohibiting Lady Matlock coming to visit her friend and cousin before her death. Elizabeth knew that Lady Emily had been disappointed in not being able to see her dear cousin one last time. She also knew that Lady Matlock felt the same way based on the letters that she had read to Lady Emily.
While Elizabeth was excited about this short visit to London, she did have some apprehensions about it. She had found out through Lady Emily that Lady Matlock was the mother of Colonel Fitzwilliam and the aunt to Mr. Darcy. Both men she had an acquaintance with and both men she had a wish to avoid during this brief sojourn. The thought of seeing either of these gentlemen left her uneasy.
She had last seen them when she had visited her cousin, Mr. Collins, and his wife, Charlotte, at Hunsford Parsonage. Yes, it is the same Mr. Collins that had evicted her family from Longbourn. But at the time, Charlotte was a dear friend and her visit had been more for Charlotte’s sake than her cousin’s. As coincidences go, Mr. Collins’ patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, was none other than an aunt to Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy and those two gentlemen were in the neighborhood on their annual Easter duty call with their relative at the same time as Elizabeth had visited the Collinses.
It was the first and only time she had met Colonel Fitzwilliam but with Mr. Darcy, she had a previous acquaintance. Mr. Darcy had been staying the previous autumn at the leased estate of his friend, a Mr. Bingley, and said estate, Netherfield Park, was situated but three miles from Longbourn. With such a close proximity, the inhabitants of the two estates were thrown together often in the small country society around Meryton, the small town near both estates. If Mr. Darcy had not wounded her vanity on first making his acquaintance, Elizabeth might have been more disposed to think better of him but subsequent events only worsened her opinion of him. It seemed a gentleman, a Mr. George Wickham, with a prior connection to the Darcy family had related to Elizabeth the ill treatment he had received at the hands of Mr. Darcy. Apparently Mr. Darcy’s father had bequeathed Mr. Wickham a living in the church, but when the living became vacant, the son had flatly refused to honor his father’s wishes, according to the woeful tale told to her by Mr. Wickham. Elizabeth now knew his tale to be utter rubbish—not that someone had told her but that she now knew the true character of the man she had believed and admired. If Mr. Darcy had indeed denied Mr. Wickham the living, Elizabeth was sure there had been a justifiable reason. Elizabeth had now come to realize that Mr. Wickham ought not to ever be a vicar, for he would have been a shepherd who would have fleeced the sheep.
But there had been more to her dislike than her poor discernment of Mr. Wickham. Adding to her already poor opinion of Mr. Darcy, during her visit in Kent she came upon the knowledge that Mr. Darcy had been responsible for separating Mr. Bingley from her sister, Jane, leaving Jane quite broken hearted. Colonel Fitzwilliam unknowingly related the specifics of how Mr. Darcy liked to take prodigious care of his friends and family and had suggested to Mr. Bingley that Miss Jane Bennet would not be an appropriate match and that Miss Bennet’s fortune-hunting mama might press the matter without any consideration that Jane Bennet might not reciprocate any tender feelings for Mr. Bingley.
Also, unbeknownst to her during that fateful visit, Elizabeth had unwittingly become the object of Mr. Darcy’s affections as he proceeded to offer for her hand in marriage. While Elizabeth would not have been inclined to accept such an offer, the fact that Mr. Darcy delivered a most offensive proposal only ignited her ire with him and she said things to him that should never have been said. Considering the situation that her family would soon after be facing, Elizabeth never regretted her refusal of the offer but she did regret her harsh words to the gentleman. It troubled her that she never had an opportunity to apologize as later that same night of their argument an express came requesting her presence at home. It stated that her youngest sister was missing, thereby beginning the downward spiral of the Bennet’s fortune.
Thankful it was to be such a short visit in town, she prayed that she would be safely back in Branford before she would have to deal with either of those two gentlemen. Besides, if things became too difficult, she could leave and stay with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, who lived in Gracechurch Street near Cheapside. She had hardly seen her relatives since she went to live at Standfield Hall, and a visit was long overdue.
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