So Much Time, So Little To Do
This tells some of what was happening at Longbourn while Jane was in London and Elizabeth was in Kent.
Mr. Bennet was not the only member of his family adversely affected by Jane's and Lizzy's absences. The absences of her oldest daughters had left Mrs. Bennet without sufficient occupation for her talents, for one who delights in managing the prospects of five daughters cannot hope to be content to do so for so small a sum as three. But, since three daughters were all that were to be had, she considered how she might best enhance the marital opportunities of Kitty, Lydia, and Mary.
Mrs. Bennet was sensible that Kitty and Lydia were already established as favorite dance partners for the gentlemen of the community. Likewise, their easy dispositions had soon made them favorites with the officers of Col. Forster's regiment. Longbourn did not have a room of sufficient size for dancing, so Mrs. Bennet schemed to invite the officers for teas, card parties, and dinners. While the officers were forced to turn down some of these invitations in order to attend to all of the families which wished to partake of their company, Mrs. Bennet was satisfied to have the officers visit two or three times a week. Since increasing the amount of their society with the officers was all that seemed necessary to be done for her youngest two daughters, Mrs. Bennet next turned her attention to Mary.
Mary, removed from the pursuit of refinement, suffered greatly from this increase in maternal solicitude. She found herself pushed forward into society in a manner which she did not desire, for Mrs. Bennet had become quite determined that Mary should dance. Mrs. Bennet had two or three of Jane's gowns from last year reworked to do for Mary, just in time for several of the dances which were given in honor of the militia. Before each dance, Mrs. Bennet's admonishments rang in Mary's ears, "Exert yourself, my dear. Stand up straight and smile. You'll never be as pretty as Jane, or Lizzy, or even Kitty or Lydia, but you can do very well for yourself. Remember to thank each gentleman when asked to dance." While Kitty and Lydia danced every dance, Mary was made to accompany her mother as Mrs. Bennet made a circuit of the room, seeking partners for her dear Mary. However, there were not many invitations to dance for the countenance of the daughter belied her mother's flattery.
After three weeks of her mother's solicitude and its ensuing mortifications, Mary's agitation was so extreme that solitude in her room was all that she could be persuaded to enjoy, despite the increasingly insistent entreaties voiced by her mother. The peace which had formerly been present in the household was only restored when a parcel arrived for Mrs. Bennet three days after Mary had confined herself to her room.
Mrs. Bennet emitted a scream of delight when she saw the contents of the package. It contained swatches of the newest prints and colors of fabrics from the best of London's warehouses. Mrs. Gardiner, her dearest sister, had sent the swatches to her, knowing that Mr. Bennet's dislike of Town would limit her selection to those available in Meryton. Seizing the bundle, Mrs. Bennet hastened to her husband's library.
"Oh! Mr. Bennet, I must have money enough to order lengths of these fabrics so that my dear daughters can have fine new gowns," began Mrs. Bennet as she burst upon Mr. Bennet. Mr. Bennet shut the book he had been reading, shut his eyes, took a deep breath, and opened his eyes again. His wife was still before him. He sighed and replied, "My dear, I do not know what you are speaking of. More money? Did you speak of more money?"
"Yes, yes! Mr. Bennet, I must have money to order fabric for gowns for our daughters. See what my dearest sister Gardiner has sent me---samples of fabrics from the best warehouses!" On speaking this, Mrs. Bennet spread the swatches across Mr. Bennet's desk.
"My dear, it is not necessary to display all of these samples to me, for they mean nothing at all to me. Can it really be necessary to order new gowns for our daughters? It seems to me that they have plenty of clothes."
"Plenty of clothes? Mr. Bennet, they have been seen many times by everyone in the neighborhood, by each of the four and twenty families, in their gowns. They must have new gowns! Mr. Bingley may yet come back to Netherfield and he is such a fine gentleman that Jane should look her best when he does. This muslin will suit her very well. And Lizzy needs new clothes for her trip to the Lakes with my brother and sister Gardiner this summer, though I do not know what she has done to deserve them. But she may still yet make a match, you know. And how can Kitty and Lydia hope to secure an officer each if they do not represent themselves well! As for Mary..." Mrs. Bennet spoke quickly, trying to convince her husband of the necessity for the money.
"Enough, Mrs. Bennet, enough! How much money will this cost me?" Mr. Bennet made a stern face, but he did not really feel so stern. He wanted to accede to his wife's wishes as reasonably as possible and to be left in solitude with his book once more. Mrs. Bennet named a sum which was twice what she knew her husband would give. Mr. Bennet countered with an offer of a sum which was half of what his wife had asked. She readily supposed she would be able to make do with such a sum and he was once again left in peace with his book.
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