After a week of rain, Elizabeth is eager to get outside and walk. When a letter from Jane arrives, who is in the Lake District with her aunt and uncle, she decides to head up to Oakham Mount so she can read it in privacy.
The theme this month is April Showers, and while this definitely does not take place in April (you shall see when you read it), there had been some rains. This is a story I began a while back, and thought I would post it as an incentive to continue on. I have about five chapters done. I have about 4 other stories I am working on, and I figured I need to concentrate on finishing just one, so let me know what you think.
Chapter 1 ~ Chance and Circumstance
“My dear Mrs. Bennet, a letter from Jane has arrived.” Mr. Bennet stepped into the drawing room where his wife sat quietly with their daughter, Elizabeth. The tall, lanky gentleman, who was in his early fifties and had thinning grey hair, beamed a rather youthful, teasing smile.
Mrs. Bennet squealed as she quickly pushed her plump body out of her chair and rushed to her husband’s side. She snatched the letter from his hands. Elizabeth, also eager for news from her sister, felt like doing much the same but restrained herself.
“It has been far too long since we heard from her,” Mrs. Bennet whined. “I have been quite despairing that something dreadful had happened to her.”
“Well, now you may rest assured that all is well,” her husband said, as he looked at Elizabeth and winked. “I do hope, however, that it does not contain news that something has befallen your brother and his wife.”
“Oh, do not be ridiculous!” She walked to the bottom of the stairs and called out while gesturing nervously, “Girls! Come quickly. We have a letter from Jane!”
Elizabeth smiled as she heard the commotion of hurried steps coming down the stairs. Such an eager response by her three younger sisters might not have occurred had a persistent rain not kept them indoors the past week; consequently, they were all quite eager for news of any sort. Usually, that news would come from Mrs. Phillips, their mother’s sister in Meryton, and involve all the neighbourhood gossip. Elizabeth, on the other hand, would heartily welcome news from Jane over anything else. The two sisters were very close, and Jane had been gone over a month. Elizabeth missed her terribly.
They gathered in the drawing room and surrounded Mrs. Bennet.
“Oh, I hope they are having a good time. I so love the Lake District.” Mrs. Bennet wore a broad smile as she tore open the letter, bouncing her shoulders up and down in anticipation. “It has been many years since I was there. I was a little younger then than she is now, however, and attracted many a gentleman’s eye.”
Mr. Bennet rolled his eyes and let out a huff.
“Do you suppose they are on their way home already?” Mrs. Bennet asked.
“Well, my dear, I suppose you can read it and find out for yourself.” Her husband folded his arms across his chest.
“So what do you think, Lizzy?” he leaned over and whispered. “Would your mother consider it better news if she finds out Jane is about to return home directly or if she is to remain with the Gardiners a little longer?”
“I think she would likely find something equally good and bad with either,” Elizabeth laughed.
“Read it aloud to us!” Lydia exclaimed. “I so wish I could have gone to the Lake District with them.”
“You shall have your turn once the other girls have had theirs,” Mrs. Bennet replied, carefully unfolding the stationary. “Lizzy goes next year, and then Mary, Kitty, and finally, you.”
Lydia slouched and let out a groan. “It is not fair being the youngest! I have to wait for my four sisters to have their share of everything before I have my turn!”
“Someone has to be the youngest, Lydia, and it happens to be you.” Elizabeth knew there was little sense in trying to get Lydia to see reason, but she could at least make an attempt. “We all will have waited an equal amount of time as you when it is our turn to go.”
“I shall likely be married by then,” Lydia retorted. She crossed her arms as if defying anyone to refute her claim.
Elizabeth laughed and looked at her with a raised brow. “Do you really think so? You have to wait for your four elder sisters to marry before you do that.”
Lydia shrugged. “I shall not wait if the right man asks me!” A smile then formed, and she remarked to Kitty with a giggle, “I am certain I shall be married first, before any of you! La! It would be a great deal more fun to go to the Lake District with my husband than with our aunt and uncle.”
“Then we need hear no more about it,” Mr. Bennet said, prompting Lydia to look up surprised, as if she had not thought anyone could hear her – or had paid attention to her. He then looked at his wife. “Read the letter, my dear.”
They all turned their attention to Mrs. Bennet and listened silently as she began to read.
Dearest Father, Mother, and Sisters,
I hope this finds you all well! We have been having a wonderful time in the Lake District, and will have so many stories to tell when we return.
Although there has been some rain of late, we have been able to see so much, and have greatly enjoyed the scenery. The lakes are beautiful. One day in particular dawned perfectly clear, and we set out to for Lake Windermere. The water glistened with all shades of blue and green as the sun shone upon it, and a slight breeze travelled across it, creating playful ripples. I do not think I have ever seen anything so beautiful.
We walked across green meadows that overlooked the lake and took in the view as we enjoyed a picnic lunch. We had two chance encounters that afternoon. The first happened as we were eating our lunch. We were sitting on a hill overlooking the lake when we heard a noise off to the side. We turned and beheld three large sheep standing shoulder to shoulder on the path, staring at us. We stared back in astonishment. I think we were as startled to see them as they were to see us. We remained very still, and, at length, the sheep moved on. I suppose they wanted to graze in peace, as much as we wished to eat our meal in peace.
Later that day, we strolled along the lake, looked in the shops, and met some long-time friends of the Gardiners whom they had not seen in over ten years. They invited us to join them at a soiree they were hosting the following evening. We were delighted to be able to go and were entertained by some very talented musicians and singers. We had a wonderful time.
I have to confess that I had been thinking how nice it would be to remain here for a while. Well, just this morning, Aunt Gardiner asked me to write to see if our return could be delayed a few weeks. The unusually poor weather we have had has hampered several of our outings, and we wish to spend more time with these friends. Please write and let us know if this is acceptable to you. I hope you do not mind.
I miss you all and send you my love. Aunt and Uncle Gardiner send their love, as well.
“Well! That was rather short,” Mrs. Bennet lamented, turning the stationary over several times to ensure she had not missed something. “I suppose they are so busy with these friends that they have forgotten all about us! So they are to stay longer!”
“I know my trip will not be extended when it is my turn,” Lydia complained. “They shall be so tired of taking this trip for the four previous years that I will be lucky if it is even half as long!”
Elizabeth leaned over to her father and whispered, “I do not doubt that when Aunt and Uncle Gardiner take Lydia, they shall be ready to return with her before they even set out!”
Mr. Bennet folded his arms across his chest. “Perhaps we ought to pray that Lydia does get married before it is her turn to go!”
Elizabeth chuckled and followed it with a sigh. “I also wish Jane had written more, but I suppose she is too busy. It sounds as though she is greatly enjoying the trip.”
“Perhaps,” her father replied with a twinkle in his eyes. He reached into his pocket and pulled something out. “But then it just might be that she saved her more detailed observations for you.” He furtively handed Elizabeth another letter. “For you, Lizzy. I would assume you will want to read it on your own without interference from your mother or sisters.”
A smile brightened Elizabeth’s face, and she said in a fervent hush, “Oh, yes! Thank you so much!”
Mr. Bennet nodded in acknowledgement. “You are more than welcome, but in turn, I expect a little report on what she writes. Not all, mind you, but enough to satisfy my curiosity.”
Elizabeth smiled. “Of course, Papa.”
As the others talked about what little Jane said and did not say, Elizabeth announced over the din that as the rain had stopped and the sun was finally shining, she was going out for a stroll. She turned to walk away when she heard her mother.
“Heavens, Lizzy! Do you know how muddy it is out there? Why would you want to do such a thing?”
Elizabeth stole a glance at her father and smiled. Turning back to her mother, she answered, “I shall take care and try not to step in the mud or fall into any puddles.” She walked over to the chair, where she had last placed her shawl and threw it about her shoulders. “I will see you later.”
Before waiting for a reply, she left the room, patting her pocket where Jane’s letter safely resided. She was eager to read what Jane had intended only for her eyes.
She walked in the direction of Oakham Mount, attempting to avoid the puddles of water by jumping over them or skirting around them. Her mother had been correct. It was quite muddy, but she was determined to read Jane’s letter in solitude. She knew none of her sisters would have wanted to accompany her out on a walk, and if she had taken it up to her room, there was the likelihood that at least one of them would intrude on her solitude and alert the others.
Elizabeth drew in a breath as she reached the well-worn path that would take her to the top. A slight, cool breeze whipped up the ties of her bonnet, tickling her neck. The hot days of summer were over, and September had bid them farewell with several days of a light, but steady, rain. She stopped, closed her eyes, and lifted her head, allowing the rays of the sun to warm her. She smiled, as it was the first day in over a week that she had been able to get out and breathe in the fresh air.
If Jane were here, she would have joined Elizabeth on her walk, and they would be enjoying warm conversation and frequent laughs, while sharing the deepest secrets that made the two sisters close. They certainly would not have walked to the top of Oakham Mount, as Jane was not an avid walker, but they would have enjoyed their time together away from the others. Elizabeth let out a sigh. How she missed her and looked forward to her return!
Being confined to the house for the past week had been a trial on Elizabeth’s nerves. She would likely have taken a walk today in the midst of a flood if it was the only way to spend some guaranteed time alone to read Jane’s letter! She was grateful the sun had risen to a perfectly blue sky, dotted with a few clouds left behind from the storm.
She opened Jane’s letter and was pleased to see that it was longer than the one written to the whole family, and she eagerly began reading.
I cannot begin to tell you what a lovely time we are having. As I told everyone in my other letter, we have had rain, but that has not deterred us from enjoying our stay. The meadows are so green, and the water is so blue. When the sun shines, it dances off the surface of the lakes like sparkling diamonds.
Oh, Lizzy! I do not know where to begin! I wrote about the friends of the Gardiners whom we encountered. They had known the Marshalls in London, and the family now resides in Ambleside in a lovely manor. You can actually see Lake Windermere from one of the windows if you stand up on your toes when you look out.
The Marshalls have been very gracious to us, taking us out sailing in their boat and inviting us to a soiree in their home. But the one thing I did not mention in my other letter was that their son, Jacob Marshall, has been exceedingly attentive to me, and we have gotten along quite well. I know I am not overly expressive of my feelings, but there have been times when we have been together that I have been almost overcome with emotion. I sometimes think I might just burst out in song.
And perhaps the reason I say that is because Mr. Marshall sang several songs for us at the soiree. He has the most pleasant voice I have ever heard. There were times when he sang that he looked directly at me, and I felt as though I might swoon. My heart feels as though it might burst! I know you are wondering if this letter is truly from me, but believe me, Lizzy, I have never felt this way!
Please do not mention him to Mother or our sisters, as it would likely cause unwarranted speculation. I wanted to share this with you, however. He is the real reason that our stay was lengthened. His family inherited the manor in which they live from an uncle, his father is the magistrate here, and they have a good standing in the county.
You will likely want to share this with Father, and I will allow you that. I know you and he will look at this as it should be, and not conjecture what may or may not happen in the future between the two of us. I have to admit, however, that Mr. Marshall is a most handsome and proper gentleman, and I fear it will prove to be difficult for me to leave when we return home. It is my dearest hope, however, that he will come to Longbourn soon so you can meet him. I hope you will like him as much as I do.
I look forward to getting back home and seeing you and the family. I miss you and especially our long talks. If you were here with me now, I know we would not get a minute of sleep at night due to our talks and giggling.
I hope you are in good health and that all is well at home. Our plan now is to return in two or three weeks. As much as I look forward to seeing you, I will greatly miss Mr. Marshall.
All my love,
Elizabeth smiled as she read the letter and pressed it to her heart when she finished.
“So Jane has a beau,” she whispered softly and smiled. “Oh, how I wish we were not separated! I would want to know everything about him. Is he as kind and generous as you are, Jane? Does he have a good opinion of everyone he meets?” Chuckling, she asked, “But most importantly, is he a man to whom you can ardently attach your affections?”
She pinched her brows as she thought of the gentleman who once tried to woo Jane by writing her poetry. “I do hope he is not a poet. He must have some qualities and accomplishments that will not only endear him to you, but endear him to me, as well!”
She glanced up the path and saw that she was almost at the summit. From there she would be able to look out over the whole neighbourhood. In one direction she could see the little town of Meryton, and in the other direction she could see Longbourn, her home. If she walked to the other side, she would see several large country manors, including Netherfield, the grandest of all, which apparently had just been let.
The breeze was brisk at this height, and she hugged her shawl tightly about her. She did a little side-step around a mud puddle and then began to laugh as she looked down at the hem of her dress which was now caked with mud. “Mother will be quite displeased when I return!” She shrugged her shoulders slightly. “At least it is unlikely I shall encounter anyone!” She smiled as she considered that no one with good sense would venture a walk up here in the mud.
Elizabeth looked at the letter again. “Oh, Jane. I am so glad I had the opportunity to read your letter in peace and solitude.” She hugged her arms about her. “I love sharing secrets with you.” She chuckled softly. “Especially secrets such as this one.”
She came to another, much larger puddle, which covered the whole path, and she puckered her mouth in thought. “I do want to get to the top to see the view.” She shook her head. “I refuse to let this puddle stop me!”
She lifted her dress slightly, and just as she readied herself to jump, a noise behind her startled her, causing her to lose her balance. She began to tumble head-long to the ground. Her hands flew out to break her fall, but the slick mud caused one foot to slide, and she landed on her side. At least she had been able to keep her head up.
She looked back to see what the noise was, and was startled to see an unknown, but well-dressed, gentleman, quickly dismounting his horse. Curly blond hair framed a round pleasant-looking face, and warm and cheerful blue eyes looked down at her with concern.
“I am so sorry! Are you all right?” he asked as he hurried over.
Elizabeth looked down at herself, feeling her face warm in a blush. “I have been better, sir, but I am not injured.”
“I am relieved to hear that. I would have been deeply grieved if you were hurt.”
She sat up and looked about her, wondering what she could say to this young man that would excuse her appearance. “Perhaps only my pride is injured, having been discovered in such a state!”
He reached out his hand with an apologetic smile. “It is solely my fault that you stumbled; the sound of my horse startled you. Pray, allow me to assist you.”
“Oh, no. I do not think that is a good idea, sir.” She put up a hand to stay him and added, “And have no fear; it was all my doing. I have been confined to our house this past week by the incessant rains, and when the sun began shining this morning, it beckoned me to come out and enjoy the day. I had to step out for a walk, despite the mud.” Elizabeth slowly extricated herself and stood up. She wiped her hands together to brush off some of the mud, but to little avail.
“Yes,” he said with a cheerful laugh. “I know what you mean. I wondered if the skies would ever clear.”
Elizabeth looked down at her dress and laughed. “I do look a fright, do I not?”
The gentleman shook his head and smiled. “On the contrary, I think you look… charming.”
Elizabeth felt her cheeks warm again. “You are too kind, but I fear you must be blind!” Elizabeth drew in a breath. Was he flirting with her or was this his usual manner of behaviour? “I hope you do not mind my asking, but are you new to the neighbourhood or merely visiting? I do not believe we have met.” She smiled. “My name is Miss Elizabeth Bennet. My home, Longbourn, is down there, through the trees.” She pointed in the direction of her home.
“I am very pleased to make you acquaintance, Miss Bennet. And yes, I am new to the neighbourhood!” he announced joyfully. “I recently let Netherfield. In fact, I came up here to see if I could get a good view of the land surrounding it. My name is Charles Bingley.”