Whatever Happened to Lydia?
"Whatever happened to Lydia?"
These words were not actually spoken, but were what Elizabeth Bennet was thinking as she gazed at the forlorn expression on her youngest sister's face. She surveyed the rest of the room, where her family had gathered around the large dining room table. At her left sat her husband, perfectly composed. Fitzwilliam Darcy was a man of meticulous manners and courtesy. He had a certain air about him that made others believe he was completely in charge. He seemed to be one who was always right and never doubted his thoughts. She had come to love and respect him over the last ten years though she had learned that his astonishing sense of duty and willingness to help others was not always the wonderful quality that it seemed. Recently, he had had little time for her, and she was often left alone with no one to talk to.
Sitting to her right was her favourite sister Jane whom she had not seen in over a year. The realisation that it had been so long since the sisters had last talked was overwhelming. She and Jane had always been especially close and until this last year they had visited each other at least once a month. Jane and Charles Bingley were happily married and had three daughters of ages eight, seven, and three.
Elizabeth's younger sister Lydia had been to Pemberly more frequently, often begging money or small favours, but she never visited with her husband. George Wickham was always embarrassed when he saw Mr. Darcy and the two made every effort to avoid each other except when was necessary. Their subtle animosity left Lydia unscathed; she was never the wiser to Darcy's involvement in her marriage.
"Lydia." The syllables tasted bitter in Elizabeth's mouth. She had never been particularly fond of her youngest sister, thinking her flighty. Her sister Jane, however, had always said that it was just Lydia's youth, for she was but a teenager when she married, that made her seem so frivolous. Lydia's husband Wickham was the only one not present at their family reunion. His absence was noted by all, as was Lydia's reaction for it seemed that she was mourning for her own death. Mrs. Bennet was the most disappointed as she had always favoured Lydia, thinking her to be the daughter with the most initiative and promise. In many ways Lydia was exactly the same as she had been at a younger age. But recently Lydia had become more distant and withdrawn. She had matured a great deal, yes, but she had been harshly initiated with the world and had become rather hollow. Gone was her carefree attitude and her cheerful disposition. For her every day had become a struggle of survival and one in which she saw that her dreams had been soured.
Mrs. Bennet had undergone many changes herself. After three of her daughters had been married, she showered her attention on Kitty, hoping to find the perfect match for her. Four years earlier, Kitty had finally gotten married to Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy's cousin, and she now had an infant son. Mrs. Bennet had been surprised at this marriage but it seemed to have worked out rather well. After Kitty had left Longbourn, Mrs. Bennet had grown very bored and irritable. She had spent a year traveling and then had become ill and bedridden for many months. Only recently had she begun to feel better and with Mary's nursing had been able to attend the family reunion.
She was happy to see all of her daughter but was rather disappointed with Lydia, fearing that her life had become as lonely as hers had been. Lydia and Wickham did not have any children and they apparently had little in common at all. Darcy and Elizabeth had heard that Wickham had of recently taken to an affair with another woman although Elizabeth had not had a chance to inquire her sister as to the validity of such rumours.
Mr. Bennet had been much happier than his wife. He had grown accustomed to Mary's company and had learned to like the attention-seeking girl's singing and piano recitals. The two often had long discussions about books they had read, but he still missed Elizabeth and often went to Pemberly to visit her and escape from his wife.
Mary's was for the most part content with her life, although she suffered at times from extreme jealousy of her sisters who were all married. She longed desperately for their company but seldom saw them as she did not venture outside of the house very much. Instead, she spent long periods of time writing poetry, a luxury which her life would not otherwise afford. It was in the rare moments like this reunion when she was happiest, and after dinner she played the piano for several hours while the others gathered in one of the parlours to talk.
Elizabeth had received a letter from her friend Charlotte Lucas, which she read aloud to the others.
Thank you most kindly for your warm regards. . . .
Mr. Collins and I regretfully cannot attend your gathering as we shall be traveling to London that very same weekend. I have not left the country-side for the longest of times now. Do not misunderstand my words; I am not complaining in the least, for our house is lovely and I need not be concerned with money. Elizabeth, I know you must still disapprove of our marriage, but there is no need for you to pity me. We do not plan on having any children, though this may change with time and gentle prodding. I have taken to tutoring two children, the delightful young son and daughter of our nearest neighbour. The job is most fulfilling. I am most grateful that I have something to keep myself occupied. I hope that all remains well with you. Please stop by sometime; perhaps we shall meet next month. William sends his greetings to the family.
On the whole, the conversation that evening was fairly stifled. It was not that the sisters did not have anything to tell each other. On the contrary, they had too much to share; too much time had elapsed since they had last talked.
It wasn't until much later that night, after most everyone had gone to bed that two separate conversations occurred. The first was between Elizabeth and Jane; the second amongst their three younger sisters.
Elizabeth and Jane soon settled in to the main parlor and after lighting the fireplace Jane inquired about Elizabeth's marriage. Although Elizabeth was not one to complain about small problems, she had long felt the need to talk to someone and as Jane was her trusted confidante, she began to speak.
"To tell you the truth things could be better. Darcy is a wonderful man, and as a person I love him deeply. But I can never tell if I am feeling love for him as a husband or simply that I am indebted and in awe of him. I know he loves me, but he simply does not have that much time for me."
"I know what you mean, Lizzy. I love Charles, but he is a man, and so he has other things that he must attend to. Such is the way for women. I of course have my children to take care of and they certainly are a handful. With them I am never lonely for watching them is like watching a miracle and a storybook story unfold before my eyes. I only hope that I do not turn out like Mother."
"I never thought I wanted children, although I am sure that I will one of these days. Probably in the next few years. After our first year of marriage, Darcy and I decided that we would wait. We were enjoying each other's company too much and did not want the responsibility of children. I am almost afraid to have children as Darcy is far to busy to have much to do with them. I am sure that he would be a wonderful father though. No, it is for myself that I am concerned."
"But you would make a fine mother."
"I only wish I could be as certain as you Jane. I fear that one day my entire life will be forced to revolve around my children's marriages."
"And then after that they shall be grown up and I will have nothing left to do."
"I feel sorry for our mother. She did what she had to, what we will probably have to. Marriage really is everything. Only I have trouble believing that sometimes. It is not that I feel I am only a wife. Far from that. Darcy treats me as his equal intellectually and in all other regards. But I grow bored easily. You know that."
"With three children I haven't the time to give my situation much thought. Overall though, I would say that Charles and I are very happy, and if I may make such an observation based solely on the hours of dinner, I would say that you and Darcy are as well. You are a wonderful match for each other."
"I cannot help but envy Charlotte a little though. Darcy is always so busy with other people and their problems. It is almost that he doesn't have time for me."
"Surely you do not mean that."
"I suppose not. I married for love and was capable of doing nothing else. I did not mean I envied Charlottes marriage, only her independence. She has a job of sorts, a part of her life that is truly her own."
"You married for love, as did I, and in our situations it worked out."
"I assume you are referring to our sister Lydia, although I am not sure if I would credit her with having married for love."
"I think that she must have, for Wickham is not rich. I do not think she is very happy. She is not one to settle down in marriage."
"I must agree. She had an infatuation as a child, and now she has learned to live with it. It took her a few years, but I think she has matured. I cannot say the same for Wickham though."
"What do you know that you are not telling me?"
"It is not what I know, but what I have heard. Jane, I am afraid that Wickham has not been faithful to our dear sister. This is the cause for her misery."
Jane was left dumbfounded at this news and the room grew silent. Were it not for the crackling of the fire, they would have heard the voices upstairs. . . .
"Kitty, I am sorry that I have not kept in touch more. Why I haven't even seen you since your son was born. You must be rather busy."
"I am, Lydia. You were wise to wait before having children. Of course you were much younger than I."
"Yes, perhaps I married too young. I did not realise that marrying young simply meant that I would grow tired of being married earlier."
"You are not happy?"
"You know me, I always enjoyed flirting more than the seriousness of a relationship. And of course we do not have much money. I fear that one day we will truly be poor."
"That will not happen Lydia. You know that we will all help you financially should that become necessary."
"Enough of that talk. How is it that you came to marry Darcy's cousin? I know you had once been friends but I did not think you had kept in touch; I did not think it anything serious."
"I am not entirely certain myself, Lydia. I spent quite some time, as you will recall, waiting for the right man. And then he came along."
"And then you knew that you were in love?"
"No, not at all. And then I realised that it was time to settle down, that Colonel Fitzwilliam was nice enough and wealthy enough to provide for me. His cousin, too is a wonderful man, quite the matchmaker and peacekeeper."
"I cannot understand how Elizabeth ever married him. He is too proud for her."
"There is a lot that you don't know Lydia. Though you married first, you are still in many ways the youngest."
"No she isn't. I am." Mary had apparently overhead their conversation and joined in. "The four of you are grown up and married, but I am here alone, destined to live without excitement."
"You don't mean that. Perhaps I for once have gotten as much excitement as I desired," said Lydia sourly.
"What do you mean?" inquired Kitty.
"I am afraid that George no longer loves me. I am not so young anymore. He would not even come to this gathering with me."
"You can't be serious. Do you suspect he is interested in someone else?"
"I don't think so, but he is always so distant. And I have heard talk about his past."
"At least something is happening to you," Mary remarked wistfully. "You have no idea how lonely I am here."
"Nor how lonely I am with George."
The girls talked for a bit longer, but as it was late, Lydia and Kitty soon went to sleep. Mary remained awake to watch her sisters and write some poetry.
The next morning Jane, Charles, and their children awoke early to return to their estate. Lydia left an hour later to meet her husband. In the afternoon Mary accompanied her mother home. Mr. Bennet was to stay at Pemberly until the next day and Kitty and the Colonel were remaining for the next several days. Two days later the foursome received word that Mrs. Bennet had again fallen ill and she would probably live for only a few months. A month later she died and perhaps too soon after that, the daughters lives resumed their normal course. The sisters made an effort to see each other often, but at times their communication was reduced to written correspondence and their yearly returns to Pemberly.