Much has been made of the to-ings and fro-ings of the Bennet daughters as they navigate the Bennet Wardrobe Universe. To date I have recounted Mary’s two recorded journeys, Kitty’s trip to 1886, and Lizzy’s surprise as a ten-year-old. There is more to Kitty’s tale…and we have yet to learn what occurred when Lydia learned that “The Wardrobe has a nasty sense of humor.” There have been some inklings of journeys by Thomas and Jane (although we do know of her efforts in 1856 on Mary’s behalf).
However, one of the concerns that I have had as I write about the remarkable Wardrobe and how it works to help Bennets learn what they need rather than what they wish was that it would become far too much like its kindred form of magical transport–Dr. Who’s T.A.R.D.I.S. Not to fault that worthy police box, however its chroniclers have seemed to determine that if one trip in the device is good, two or three is better. I am loath to have the Wardrobe present itself like some sort of #27 bus from Paddington to Chalk Farm…leaving every 20 minutes or so…and spinning Bennets all over the timeline.
I would much rather have the Wardrobe act as an Alfred Hitchcock “MacGuffin:” something which is instrumental to create the circumstances for the entire scheme of things. What this does is give the Wardrobe itself agency…a form of control that determines where Bennets must go to discover what they must. This also, therefore, confers a sort of intelligence upon the Wardrobe. And that implies that the Wardrobe has a deeper purpose…something which we may discover if we continue to research it, the travels of its users, and their destinies which they themselves chart.
Of course, researching the Wardrobe has uncovered both good and bad. The recent discovery of Lydia Bennet Wickham Fitzwilliam’s privately published edition of The Journals of Captain Sir George Percival Wickham KGCB has been particularly useful in the preparation of the final portion of Kitty Bennet’s story: The Countess Visits Longbourn. In it, he offers researchers insights into what went on both on the main stage and off-camera…a sort of privileged view of the unpublished history. Lady Fitzwilliam never recounted any of the events at Madras House, preferring to focus only on her time meeting with her father.
Back to the main Bennet story: One question is about uncontrolled/uninformed Wardrobe use. This is a core difficulty in the Wardrobe which does create much tension. So…here is what happened–at least from the 1690s to 1946.
Is there anything which can prevent a Bennet from using the Wardrobe?
Unfortunately, no. The only way in which the Wardrobe will not send a Bennet bloodline descendant into the future is if they simply do not touch it in such a manner so as to activate the its “mechanism.”
Ignorance of its powers was one preventative utilized by the Keepers. Within three generations of its creation, Christopher Bennet’s grandson, Richard Bennet (Thomas Bennet’s grandfather), decided not to give his daughter, Maude, “the talk” in which the workings of the Wardrobe are revealed to Bennet blood children. This came about because she had determined to marry William Collins…a man Mr. Bennet found despicable, smarmy and venal. He feared what would happen if this Collins ancestor learned of the Wardrobe’s powers.Having already lost his heir (George) and not knowing the fate of his youthful soldier son (Samuel), Richard Bennet placed the much-discussed entail on Longbourn which would have directed the manor–and the Wardrobe–to the Hunters line.
Maude’s grandson, the Reverend William Collins, although his unintended use broke his already flawed mind, discovered the powers of the Wardrobe. Those events are detailed in The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey.
The other prescription was isolation of the cabinet. Ms. Austen revealed that Mr. Thomas Bennet generally barred his female children from his bookroom. What she did not discuss was that this was a tradition that had been passed down to him from the previous Keepers. The remarkable story of Thomas Bennet’s fourth child and her unintended use of the Wardrobe, begun after she had been called into the Longbourn library for discipline after her complicity in Lydia’s elopement, is described in Volume 2 of The Bennet Wardrobe Series, The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque. Thomas also took the advice of a Keeper from the future in Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess.
With literally thousands of Bennet bloodline descendants alive after the end of World War II, the Keeper, Lord Thomas Fitzwilliam, the 12th Earl of Matlock, decided to secret the Wardrobe from the probing eyes of the U.S.S.R. and the United States. He feared that the Wardrobe’s powers would be used to bring knowledge of the fearsome weapons of the future to play in the Cold War. The cabinet passed into the care of the Bennet Family Trust and its security/governmental counterpart: MI5 & MI6.
An Excerpt from “The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn.”
In an earlier excerpt, we saw how Thomas and Kitty interacted when she returned to the Longbourn library after having spent 46 years in the future. The two of them have discussed much: the creation of the Bennet Family Trust, the status of Mary Bennet, and Kitty’s time in a future vastly changed from Thomas’ Regency present. What has not changed is the evil of men desiring to dominate others–be they Napoleon or Hitler.
This chapter discusses Kitty’s “future” in 1811-12. She has work to accomplish and cannot upset too many apple carts or disturb “too many butterflys” as Hiro Nakamura would say. She is still in the Longbourn bookroom in conversation with her father, although her time there grows shart as the day ages.
This excerpt from a work-in-progress is (c) 2017 by Donald P. Jacobson. No use–either digital or analog is permitted without the author’s expressed written consent. Published int he United States of America.
What surprised Kitty most after her encomium on Mary’s behalf was the relative calm with which her father received it. She had never known him to hold anything about Mary in high esteem. In fact, her youthful observations suggested that Papa did not have any particular regard for Mary at all. Admittedly, the pile of Kitty’s praises had been a bit overmuch. One could argue that they had risen like bouquets and poesies collected by an heiress the morning after a ball.
Yet, Mr. Bennet placidly sat there as if words in Mary’s favor were only her due.
He also had not missed his daughter’s perplexed expression.
“You may know that which happens in the future, Lady Fitzwilliam, however apparently you do not know what has happened in the past…in this case the past few hours. Your sister has anticipated you.
“Rather than me taking charge of Mary’s education, t’is the other way around. She has already tasked me to accompany her on her own journey of discovery.
“That was, of course, in recognition of my informing her that you were to be sent away to a seminary while she was to remain at home.”
Now it was Kitty’s turn to pause and reassess her notions.
Of course Mary would do-it-herself! She was always the strongest of all of us because she had to grow up alone even in a house full of family.
A thought struck her, and she gave voice to it almost immediately recognizing how quickly the day was ageing.
“Before we continue, Papa, let us speak of when we are finished.
“I have no plans to leave this time for at least a month. There is much we have yet to accomplish. Even assuming a speedy conclusion, the paperwork establishing the Trust will take several weeks and many meetings.
“On top of that, I have been anticipating viewing Town and some of the entertainments with an adult’s eyes.
“As I know how little visiting Town pleases you—let alone multiple trips, I will be pleased to act as your factotum in the creation of the Trust. However, Uncle Edward will have to be the primary agent. My altered appearance should present me to Mr. Gardiner as a stranger. My persona as the Countess of Deauville and the widow of one of your Cambridge connections—a forward-thinking French aristocrat—should eliminate any discomfort he or your solicitors should experience.
“The fact that you designate me to act on your behalf can be laid at the feet of your notorious eccentricity.”
Once again she paused to sip from her wine before continuing, “However, I cannot spend the night in this house for fear of encountering my mother who would immediately demand explanations that would inevitably lead her to gossip with my aunt, Mrs. Philips. I would likewise be loath to come into contact with Mary for fear that I could not maintain my composure.
“Spending a night at The Three Boars to then take a coach to Town would only expose me to prying eyes and curious minds. Rather have Mama start chins wagging than strangers who may wreak all sorts of havoc.”
Bennet straightened up in his chair and brushed his hands down the legs of his butter-soft cotton pantaloons. Then he rose and circled behind his worktable. Penning a quick note, he folded the foolscap sheet[i] from top to bottom and side-to-side before sealing it with a glob of wax into which he impressed his signet ring. Waiting for the wax to fully cool, Bennet reached beneath the edge of the desk and pushed a hidden lever. A thin drawer slid open from which he removed a scrap of paper that he then slipped into his waistcoat’s front pocket. Finally he scribbled a direction on the message before striding to the door. He opened it and called out for Mr. Hill.
“Quickly, Hill. Have Tom saddle up Herodotus and ride for Town. He must deliver this missive to young Mr. Hunters of Wilson and Hunters in Lincoln’s Inn before the end of business today. Hunters can advance Tom a few shillings and direct him to a coaching inn so he may board my horse and spend the night in a comfortable bed. I will further reward him upon his return.
“I also desire you to send one of the stable hands into Meryton to hire a closed chaise to carry the Countess into Town. Have it in the front drive in about an hour. The coach will, I imagine, return to Meryton late this evening,” Bennet ordered.
Closing the door, he returned to sit across from Kitty.
He explained what he was about. “The express is to ensure that young Hunters will remain at his post until you arrive. By the way, the gentleman is probably seventy years old if he is a day. However, we have always referred to him as “young Mr. Hunters” to differentiate himself from his Grandfather who founded the firm. The old man has been dead for at least five-and-thirty years.
“Mr. Hunters will assist you when you reach Lincoln’s Inn sometime after sunset.”[ii]
Thomas removed the slip of paper from his pocket and handed it over to Kitty. She took the parchment—apparently a bill of hand—and turned it over several times. She saw that it was cleanly cut on three of its edges, but the fourth was ragged, the result of having been torn from its other half. The bill had been ripped across its handwritten amount which likely would have delivered to the bearer five pounds, although only “…ive pounds” was visible.
What was noteworthy was the signature that clearly identified the issuer as Samuel T. Bennet and the date was 1785.
In reply to her glance up from her hands, Bennet said, “This is a sort of security instrument which will establish your bona fides. There are but two parts to this bill. My father wrote it out and after tearing it in half, entrusted one part to young Mr. Hunters while he retained the other portion. This was handed down to me when I succeeded him as Keeper.
“There are certain resources which are available to traveling Bennets. Wilson and Hunters controls access to these reserves and properties. When Hunters is presented the half you hold, he will allow you to avail yourself of the means you will need to maintain yourself for as long as you chose.
“My father wished to prevent a Bennet moving down the timeline from encountering difficulties if he chose to remain in the future—much like yourself.”
Kitty jumped in, “Grandfather Samuel was worried about your brother Edward, was he not? He did not want Edward to face privation in whatever future he discovered—much as you worried about me when I left.”
Kitty’s mention of his long-lost brother, returned to his present knowledge but yesterday, shocked Bennet into stunned silence. Kitty caught his change in mood.
She tapped an index finger aside her nose and gave him a knowing look. Then she sought to calm him, “You forget, Papa, that Keepers have access to nearly every trip taken in the Wardrobe. You, yourself, ordered written reports be prepared by every Bennet. Edward did so. I have read it.
“But, I will tell you no more. I do have one question, though.
“Why did you not give Edward this proof when he appeared at the wedding breakfast yesterday?”
Thomas laughed, “I did try. He refused outright.
“If you had spent some time with my brother, you would not ask. Edward is a saver of souls, a man of the Word. Since you know his story in greater detail than even I, you are aware that it will take two or three weeks to put our plans for him into motion.
“He said to me after he had cadged a few guineas and a five-pound note, ‘Now, Tom, I could never be comfortable as some sort of drawing room parson. Better I put my hands to the Lord’s work. After all, it has been over thirty years since I helped those of His flock who are in need.’ He pocketed the money, grabbed a change of clothes from my closet and hiked off toward Meryton. He has probably already lost himself in the warrens surrounding Watson’s Mill.”
Unbidden the thought rose quickly to the top of Kitty’s mind.
How like Mary. The Good Lord shaped them for one another.
[ii] 3:50 PM, London time, 12/11/1811.