It was warm in the parlor--someone had once said that the sun slanting in from the west would make it terribly hot during the afternoon, and she had been right. Lydia flung aside her embroidery and leapt to her feet. "Kitty," she cried, "this is all terribly dull, sitting about and waiting. I have the grandest idea! Let us walk to Meryton and pick out some hats for ourselves. Come along, Kitty!"
But Kitty kept sewing, putting neat stitches in the shirt she was repairing. "I have enough hats, Lydia."
Lydia snorted and turned away. "Enough for the wife of a country clergyman, I suppose."
Kitty glanced up. "Yes. And the children will be needing new shoes soon, far more urgently then I will be needing a new hat."
"Lud, Kitty, what happened to you? Ever since you married that clergyman, you've become become as stuffy and dull as--as Mary!"
"Not dull, Lydia. Practical. I am forced to be--Arthur doesn't make nearly the kind of money that would allow me to be frivolous."
Lydia twitched aside the curtain to look out onto the grounds. Her mouth tightened as she caught sight of two more of her sisters walking. "Like Lizzy or Jane, I suppose. 'Tis not fair. Their husbands are rich--four thousand and ten thousand a year, if you please--and they know not how to enjoy it. I know what I should do with ten thousand a year."
"Yes--spend it all on hats."
Lydia gave a brittle laugh and let the curtain fall. "You are so amusing, Kitty."
Kitty made no answer.
Her sister let out a little huff of breath and swung about again. Her fussy lace shawl caught the edge of a simple and rather lovely vase of green Venetian glass and knocked it to the floor, where it shattered into a thousand pieces.
Kitty dropped her sewing as she sprang to her feet. "Oh dear--Lydia, are you hurt?"
Lydia, who had jolted, tossed her head. "Not at all."
Kitty stared at the wreckage, and said again, "Oh, dear. That lovely vase."
"I'm glad I broke it," Lydia said with a brittle laugh. "'Twas far too plain, anyhow. I shall never know what prompted Lizzy to bring it back from Italy. Had I gone to Italy, I know I should have brought back something much more grand--"
She kept chattering as Kitty went to the door and called out to Hill to come and sweep up the mess. Lydia left, stepping over the broken glass with no more care or attention then stepping from the outside of a house to the inside. Kitty's company was boring her half to tears.
She wished she were back home, where people were merry and knew how to have fun, not like this deadly dull place. Really, it was too mean of her mother to have gotten sick just now, when all the best parties were. And it was too mean of Jane to summon all her sisters back to Longbourn just so they could sit about and see if Mrs. Bennett died or not. Lydia had tried to convince all of them to accompany her to an assembly the night before, but a positive babble of protest had arisen.
"Lydia! How can you be thinking of assemblies at a time like this!" Lizzy had exclaimed.
"Yes, Lydia," Kitty had added. "'Twould look so terribly thoughtless--all the neighborhood knows of Mama's illness."
"I, for my part," Mary had stated, looking lofty, "should certainly never wish to foster the image of a heartless daughter, which this action of attending a frivolous party should certainly accomplish."
Lydia had stormed, "Just because I am so bored that I wish to get out of this deadly dull house for a little while--"
"Lydia," Jane had said, in a soft, reproving voice, "I know you must wish to get away from the reminders of our mother's illness, but perhaps an assembly is not the proper place to go for forgetfulness."
When Lydia had begun to cry, she had added, "Perhaps we could make an expedition to the lending library tomorrow, dearest. Would that make you feel better?"
The lending library!
Lydia stomped her foot a little now, just thinking of it. What did she look like, Mary?
She gave a brittle giggle at the thought of her older sister, married to a sturdy, stodgy clerk--a clerk of all professions!--in her Uncle Phillips' employ. Lud, she should not wish to be Mary for all the hats in the world!
Lydia went outside to see if Lizzy or Jane would accompany her to Meryton. But she might have saved her breath, for she got even a worse reaction from them.
"Hats! Lydia, are you so silly that--"
"Now, Lizzy," Jane murmured.
"No, Jane. I could excuse last night, but this--! Lydia, not only would it be thoughtless and insensitive, it would be pointless! What, pray tell, should you pay for these hats with?"
Lydia tossed her head. "I should send the bill to Father, of course. With all of us out of the house, he has more money to spend."
"Yes, but not on your hats!"
Lydia stomped back inside, and back to the parlor where she had left Kitty. She knew better then to ask Mary's company on her expedition--she should only get an hour's sermon from that quarter. Really, Mary should have had Kitty's clergyman. At least then her husband would be used to sermons.
The glass had been swept up, and Kitty was sewing again. She looked up when Lydia stormed in and dropped down to sulk on a chair. She sighed softly. "Oh, Lydia. Why can't you be happy?"
"I would be happy, if people would only let me do what I want, without prosing at me about decency and bills. I am sure nobody ever sermonizes at Lizzy about those things."
"Because nobody has to."
"She may do anything she likes, just because she caught Mr. Darcy. 'Tis not fair," she said again. "He indulges her all the time, and then writes notes to my own Wickham about the amount of money he's spending--!"
"Because she has the sense not to live outside of her means."
"I don't see how she could, with all that money. I'm sure even you could be as happy as she with ten thousand a year."
"I am as happy as she, even without ten thousand a year."
Lydia stared at her sister, then laughed fit to bust. "Oh, lud, Kitty, you are not telling me that you are actually happy with your--clergyman!"
"My husband loves and respects me, I have happy, healthy children, and we contrive to live as best we can on what we have. Indeed, I am extremely happy."
Lydia kept giggling. "No, no, Kitty, you are funning me. You must be! Happy on a clergyman's wages! Next you will be telling me that Mary is rapturous with that clerk of hers!"
"Not rapturous, no--but content. Like me, she has the love and respect of her husband and children, and they live just fine on what they have. Why should she be unhappy?"
But Lydia kept laughing. "Oh, Kitty, you are really too amusing."
"As you wish, Lydia."
With the next doctor's visit came the news that Mrs. Bennett was recovering quite nicely, and was believed to be fully out of danger.
Well, if that was so, there was no reason for her to stay! Lydia left the next morning, turning her back on Lizzy, Kitty, and Mary's disapproving faces. Even Jane looked rather disappointed in her.
She was fretful and peckish when she finally arrived home. Wickham, dressed for going out, was standing in the foyer before the mirror when she came in the front door. He glanced up, then back at the hat he was positioning on his curls. "Hello, my dear," he said absently.
Apparently satisfied with the state of his dress, he stepped towards the door. Halfway out, he paused and asked in an obvious afterthought, "Er--how's your mother?"
"She will be fine. I could have told you that when I left, as Mama's nerves--"
"Good, good," he cut in. "Nice to know I shan't have to attend any funeral. They're always such deadly dull affairs. I'm late--going to dine at Petersham's, and then a night of cards. Goodbye!"
"Goodbye," she called out after his retreating form.
She dined alone, then went up to her room and sat in front of her mirror. She studied herself, taking note of the lines about her mouth and eyes and the new puffiness of her face and figure. Kitty's voice echoed in her head: "I am as happy as she, even without ten thousand a year."
Lydia shook her head at her sister's folly. How could anyone be happy when they were poor?
Her mouth turned down as she became aware of a nagging sense of emptiness. She wandered over to her wardrobe and took stock of her things. They all seemed terribly old and tired and out-of-fashion. She needed new things.
Yes, that was it. She would go shopping tomorrow.
Perhaps she could find some new hats.
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