I am in the process of writing the next volume (#3) of the Bennet Wardrobe novels. This book deals with the story of Thomas Michael Bennet and his wife, Frances Lorinda Bennet. The underlying backdrop of the story is Mrs. Bennet’s desire to see her daughter Kitty, now “off to school in Cornwall” for over two years on the Longbourn timeline. Mr. B decides that he will use the Wardrobe (with Fanny drugged into oblivion) to go into the future to satisfy his wife’s desire.
However, he neglects to consider that he is the Bennet that will be assessed by the Wardrobe…and the Wardrobe determines that Tom Bennet must travel to 1947 to learn that which he needs to learn…how to become a father worthy of the name.
And, thus, the voyage of Tom and Fanny Bennet begins.
Oh, before we launch off to the story, I want to take this opportunity to thank Janet B. Taylor and the More Agreeably Engaged blog for recognizing the Bennet Wardrobe Series as the Outstanding Series for 2017. I will continue to strive to remain worthy of this honor.
This excerpt is (c) 2018 by Donald P. Jacobson. All rights reserved. No portion of this excerpt may be published in any form without the expressed written consent of the creator of this work. published in the United States of America.
A gentle knock presaged Thomas’ entry into her room. She could not help but notice his well-shaped shoulders—and his modest paunch—as her husband crossed the threshold. Mrs. Bennet also apprehended that he did not close the door behind him: a regular practice since this unusual situation had begun. She rose from her chair in recognition of the apparent change in her status. She assayed the man she had previously thought to know well, but was questioning now, having revealed a mysterious side to the bookish mein he had normally assumed.
Bennet looked back at the bantam hen facing him, fists planted upon her hips, standing adjacent to the sitting room’s fireplace, cold now in the depths of summer. His wife was still an attractive lady although her years and six pregnancies had rounded her features somewhat. Her girlish figure had certainly filled out in recognition of her status as a gentlewoman who frequented the parlors and drawing rooms of the Four-and-Twenty Families, and who, likewise, enjoyed viands of the first cut. Yet, she was not stout, but rather had become silkily voluptuous in a pleasing sort of way, reminiscent of the muses of Meester Rubens. Thomas still could see the young Miss Gardiner whose pair of fine eyes so effectively captured his heart back in ’89.
He knew that he would have to tread lightly as he felt his way across rocky ground over the next several minutes.
Am I engaging in the height of arrogance? Who am I to presume to reveal matters concerning the Wardrobe to a non-Bennet? Yet, young Thomas showed me Gibbons’ original rules as a refresher. I had not closely considered them for three years, not since I gave Janie and Lizzy The Keeper’s Talk just before their weddings.
And, there is no rule against discussing the Wardrobe with a non-Bennet. That was a Keeper conceit to ensure security…one that was suitable in my Great-grandfather’s time when the cabinet sat in the Longbourn bookroom. Now, though, it is safely hidden in one of the great townhomes in Mayfair!
So, the Wardrobe is protected. And, however much Fanny likes to gossip, she has never once spilled our family secrets. Not only will she not be a danger to the Wardrobe, she will also be an invaluable asset in the future.
Bennet cut short his inner dialogue and refocused on his wife. He prayed that she would not revert to form with a bout of her famous nerves. He counted on the fact that she had found her own form of emotional comfort after Jane, Lizzy, and Lydia had wed in ’11. Plus, their adoption of little Eddie had allowed the maternal to rise again in her matronly bosom. He required a fully functional Frances Bennet if he was to successfully conclude his business.
Secure in this understanding, he made to begin.
Except that Mrs. Bennet launched the first salvo.
In her pleasing alto, so like Elizabeth’s, she surprised him with, “You must think me the most foolish woman in all of England. You hide me away here in this gaol…for such it is even though it is my home. Or so it appears to be except for many unusual discrepancies which a master but not a mistress would ignore.”
She swept her hand around the room.
“Do you believe me to be so insensible as to not notice that the pattern on the fabric upholstering this furniture is subtly different from that which I selected shortly after we wed? The broad stripes of these chairs and sofa are picked out in violet and not the gold I chose to be burnished by the sunlight flowing in through the western windows.
“The same holds for the bedding and the drapes. Every item is certainly something I might have picked, except that I could not and did not as I have never seen threads dyed in this level of perfection.
“And, I must ask you: where are our servants? Even if I were contagious, can you convince me that Hill would not insist on tending me? Rather, nameless mutes of maids bring my meals, fill my bath, and empty my chamber pot—the latter accomplished with an expression of such distaste that makes me wonder if these girls have ever seen manure, human or otherwise.”
Bennet unconsciously rocked back on his heels as one sally led to another. He could sense his wife’s concealed anger in her indecorous reference to night soil. Her litany reminded him in some ways of Mary’s delivered nearly four years ago,[i] except his serious middle daughter had been engaging in self-criticism where Mrs. Bennet was laying the foundation for a potent conclusion.
Fanny Bennet now warmed to her task and continued, “None of my friends visit. Where is Lady Lucas? Mrs. Long? Mrs. Goulding? If their husbands were too inept—as most of your species surely are when dealing with a woman—or their children too small, I have stationed myself by their sides through illness, injury, and childbirth. They would have returned the kindness without a blink. And, surely they would have left a card or a note even if they were barred from my presence for fear of some malodorous disease.
“Somehow I believe that there has been no such undertaking.
“Now, Thomas, I can accept that Lydia is not here, but I cannot believe that she is in Derbyshire for you, my dear husband, so firm in your estimation of my powers of observation…
“No…do not object. I know that you have oft considered me one of the silliest women in the kingdom.
“Please allow me to finish.
“You, Mr. Bennet, have been so convinced that my waking moments have been occupied by thoughts of ribbons, lace, and weddings…so convinced, mind you…that you made a mistake.
“You told me that you sent Lydia to Lizzy at Pemberley. While you claim that an illness has made me lose my memory, how is it that I recall that Mary is helping Colonel Fitzwilliam raise poor motherless little Annie at Rosings?[ii]
“However, that is not what has convinced me that you have been less than truthful with me. The tiniest mistake will tear down the greatest fortress. And you made such an error because you concocted the tale based upon what you, not I, would find believable.
“You see, my dear, you trust Elizabeth beyond all words. That is not to say that you do not love our other girls, but if you wish something accomplished, you, Thomas Michael Bennet, would turn to none other than Lizzy.
“Except that you were dispatching Lydia away from Longbourn. Can you honestly believe that inserting Lydia Wickham into the Pemberley household would go smoothly? While she has become fast friends with Miss Darcy, Lizzy would have to hold her husband away from Lydia’s throat at least two times a day.
“And, I imagine that Lizzy would have to hide away Darcy’s supply of brandy.
“T’would have been more believable if you had told me that you sent Lydia to stay with Jane and Bingley at Thornhill!”
Fanny stopped and drew a deep breath and drilled deep into Bennet’s soul with her sky blue orbs…
And delivered the foundation stone that had been most deeply laid in her heart, “I will not hear another reference to my illness…ever. A mother knows where her children may be. Deep inside, right here.”
At this she laid a hand atop the lace decorously shielding her now heaving bodice.
Then she firmly stated, “And I cannot feel any of my five daughters. They simply are not here.”
In a flash, Bennet knew that his wife possessed her own measure of the uncanny otherworldly connection that gave Lizzy her infallible sense of direction.[iii]
Gathering strength and further marshaling her arguments, the lady of the manor continued, “And, speaking of not here: you have vanished every single day taking a strange and brand new carriage to who knows where. You have told me that you are off on estate business.
“Now, I have known you for over five-and-twenty years. One thing you have learned to do is dissemble, but you are a terrible prevaricator. Your only defense is that you have become adept at convincing yourself of the truth of your statements. Thus, I have no doubt that you firmly believe that whatever you find yourself doing has everything to do with Longbourn.
“I will grant you that…,” she noted with a snicker and then a pointed pause, “However, you must agree that one of the last items on any of your daily agendas has been estate business.”
Bennet released a wry chuckle at his wife’s perspicacity.
Now Mrs. Bennet raised a quelling hand as she glided, although Bennet would later aver that she stalked, across the room to the wall adjacent to the doorway. She stroked the wall at one particular location about four feet above the floor.
In a quiet voice, Fanny returned to an earlier theme, “I am saddened that you would think so little of me that I would not apprehend that I am living in a place that looks like Home, but is not. Do you see me as one who, like Queen Catherine, would be fooled by a Potemkin Village?[iv]
“I have lived in these rooms since our wedding, Thomas. I know every bump and scratch. And this freshly patched and painted area right here by the door post…and that new wainscoting there in the middle of the wall…tell me that someone removed items that were never present in my rooms Home at Longbourn.”
She spun around, leaning toward Bennet before fiercely laying out the last item in her bill of particulars.
“You may lock me away indoors, but you have yet to paint over the windows to blind me to the strange markings crisscrossing the sky overhead and vanishing into the clouds.”
She paused for effect, noting the stunned look that had transformed her normally staid husband’s face. She came close to him and took his hands in hers to whisper, “I can accept that where we are is some version of our beloved Longbourn, in spite of its altered state. But, Tom, I need you to be honest with me…what is the when?”
[i] Please see The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, Chapter X (2017).
[ii] Anne DeBourgh Fitzwilliam died from complications of childbirth on June 11, 1814. Mary Bennet had been residing in the manor house after being a party to Anne and Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam’s wedding in April 1812. Please see Chapter XXX of The Keeper.
[iii] Please see Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess, Ch. IV.
[iv] Here Mrs. Bennet refers to Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, who was deceived by her lover Grigory Potemkin, governor of the Crimea, with a portable village that would be erected prior to her passage along the Dnieper River and then disassembled to be re-erected further down the channel. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potemkin_village accessed 3/20/18.