Here is my newest story. The research I did showed that people of color were not widely accepted during the Regency time frame in England. This story is about Mr Bennet’s second wife is mulatto, which causes much controversy in the community surrounding Longbourn. The hatred and mistrust brings dangerous consequences to many people.
The door to Longbourn’s manor house was adorned in black. The mistress of the house, Fanny Bennet, had died after giving birth to her second child. Thomas Bennet sat behind his desk in his study, numb from the news. His housekeeper, Mrs Betty Hill, knocked gently on the door.
When she heard no voice from inside the study, Mrs Hill opened the door slightly. Upon seeing her master, silent and unmoving, the woman spoke gently. “Mr Bennet…pardon me, Mr Bennet. The midwife has sent for the wet nurse to tend the babe. Is there a name you have chosen for the girl?”
As if coming out of a stupor, Mr Bennet responded. “A girl…Fanny wished the first daughter to be named after her mother, so she is Jane. But she was certain that this would be a boy. We had chosen boys names. Perhaps I should name her after my mother. Elizabeth Madeline Bennet. Yes, that will do nicely.”
“Very good, Sir. Shall I bring you something to eat? It has been two days since you have had much to sustain you.”
“Not hungry, Mrs Hill.”
“Would you care to see your daughter? I can bring her down to you.”
Tears began to stream down the gentleman’s cheeks. “Not now. I cannot look upon the babe. Cannot face…my dear Fanny, my dear wife.”
“Hush now, Mr Bennet. Mrs Bennet gave you the greatest gift she could. She gave you a part of herself, a wee one to love you and look after you. The babe is small, but she is a dear little thing. Just as different from Miss Jane as possible, with a head full of chestnut curls and a spark of life that makes you know she will live her life to the fullest.”
A small smile graced the master of Longbourn’s lips. “My dear little Jane will miss her mamma very much. If only Fanny had survived. But she would have been disappointed that it was not a son, as she had so hoped. Fanny wished more than anything to give me an heir, to break the entail on the estate.”
“If Mrs Bennet had seen her beautiful daughter, she would have put all thoughts of a son aside. Besides, Miss Jane and her sister will take care of you in your old age, mark my words.” Mrs Hill spoke softly.
Several hours past before Mr Bennet could bring himself to climb the stairs of his home and make his way to the nursery. There was a young woman with Mrs Hill, both were fussing over the infant who was sleeping in the cradle.
“Mr Bennet, come, take a look at Miss Elizabeth. Is she not a beautiful babe? Miss Jane has just now gone to her bed, after giving her dear little sister a kiss on the head. They will be close to one another, I am certain of it.” Almost forgetting the other person in the room, Mrs Hill declared. “Oh my, forgive me sir. Mr Bennet, this is Mrs Owens. I have hired her to be the wet nurse for the little miss. Alice is assigned to be the nursemaid for your daughters.”
Thomas nodded his head, though his eyes never strayed from the cradle. Slowly, painfully, the gentleman moved closer to where his baby daughter was sleeping. Peering inside the cradle, he was shocked to see the beautiful babe inside. The girl was unlike her elder sister who had been born with wisps of blonde hair and an angelic face. Elizabeth had such an unruly mop of chestnut curls. Her expression, though beautiful, had a bit of mischief hidden in her. Even with her eyes closed, he was certain that she would be quite a beauty, rivaling her elder sister.
“How am I supposed to go on without your mother? I loved her dearly, yet she was taken from us before you even knew her. You girls deserve better than a father who knows nothing of raising a daughter. We will have to rely on the kindness of friends and family.” Bennet reached over and gently brushed his daughter’s hair from her forehead. “You will always know that you are loved, my dear girl.”
~~ ** ~~
Six months after the birth of his daughter, he received a letter from his mother’s sister, Mrs Edith O’Brien. She had just returned to England after living on the island of Antigua. Mrs O’Brien’s husband had an estate on the island, where they grew sugar cane and tobacco. When her husband, Donald, passed, Edith sold her estate and returned to England after spending most of her life on the island.
Mrs O’Brien’s brother in law, Joseph O’Brien, had also owned an estate on the island. Unlike his brother, Joseph was unmarried. That did not stop him from fathering children with one of the workers on his plantation. Of the women, the one who captured his heart to was Miss Abigail, who worked in his home as a maid. Miss Abigail was the first generation of her family born on the island, as both of her parents had been sold into slavery and taken from their homes in Africa. Fortunately, when the O’Brien brothers purchased their estates, they gave the slaves their freedom. The brothers believed that slavery was barbaric and treated their workers with fairness and kindness, as they would have if they had an estate in England and the slaves were their tenants. Joseph and Miss Abigail were secretively married by a ritual from Africa. To have a marriage in England would have been disastrous for them, as it would never have been accepted. The couple were blessed with a son and a daughter. Both children were mulatto, and though the son was accepted as his father’s heir, it was only when he was on the island. The one time he went to England, he was treated wretchedly, and he vowed he would never go there again.
When their son, Frank, was nearing his four and twenty birthday, Joseph and Abigail were in a horrible accident and their carriage overturned, killing the couple. Frank leaned on Donald to smooth the path forward with the estate, until four years later, Donald had also died.
The daughter, Miss Margaret O’Brien, was only three and ten when her parents died, so she lived with her aunt and uncle. After a year of mourning for her beloved husband, Edith made the choice to return to the land of her youth. Margaret decided to join her aunt when Edith moved to England.
Though Margaret had been warned of how people would behave towards her, being fairer skinned than her brother made the young lady believe she would have an easier time than her brother. Margaret was fond of her aunt and had traveled with her several times, acting as a companion for Edith.
Edith had loved her niece and nephew, having never been blessed with children of her own. Having Maggie, as she was called by her family, with her lessened the loss Edith felt after almost forty years of marriage to Donald.
Having sold the estate to her nephew, Edith purchased a small estate in England for herself and Maggie. The lady held no false hope that her niece would be accepted, and Edith preferred to live in the country, so they had no plans to stay in London.
When she learned of her beloved sister’s son losing his wife after the birth of his daughter, Edith could not help but reach out to the gentleman to invite Thomas and his dear little daughters to visit her home near Bath. At first, Thomas did not feel he could make the journey, especially as it was soon to be harvest time at his estate of Longbourn.
Longbourn was fair sized, averaging over two thousand pounds per annum. Thomas had inherited the estate from his father, as the Bennet men had owned Longbourn for seven generations. There was an entail on the estate, and only male heirs could inherit. This cut his daughters from being able to inherit, though the last thing on Thomas Bennet’s mind was marrying and having more children. He was still in mourning for his dearest Fanny and did not like leaving him home.
Over time, Edith O’Brien continued writing to her nephew until she was finally able to persuade him to come to her home for a holiday. Mrs O’Brien was determined to act as a grandmother for little Jane and baby Elizabeth, as Thomas’ mother had died many years prior.
Reluctantly, Mr Bennet made his way to his aunt’s estate. Seeing her for the first time since he had been a boy, brought back memories of his parents. Edith and her sister, Elizabeth, had similar appearance, so seeing Edith brought back Thomas’ memories of his cherished mother.
It took over a week before Thomas had come to relax at Chelsey House. The fresh air with a nip of ocean breeze was like a tonic, allowing Thomas to reflect on his life. He dearly loved his wife, but he knew that it was important to have a mother for his girls and, hopefully, have an heir and a spare to keep the estate in the Bennet line. If he had no sons, Longbourn would be inherited by his loathsome cousin, Mr Albert Collins. Knowing the cruelty Collins had demonstrated when young, Thomas could not allow his family estate to be destroyed by Collins becoming master.
While he was visiting Chelsey House, the love that Jane and Elizabeth were receiving from their great aunt and her friend, Maggie, was priceless. Two year old Jane Bennet was the perfect child, and the ladies were thrilled to spoil her with love. Baby Elizabeth changed each day, learning to grasp things with her tiny hands, smiling and making her opinion known to the adults through her sister, who was happy to translate her sister’s coos into words. Thomas would watch as the ladies devoted time to playing with the girls, melting away the pain that had wrapped around the gentleman’s heart.
The Bennets remained at Chelsey House for half a year. Thomas decided that they would remain there until Elizabeth’s first birthday, then he would take his daughters home to Longbourn. The birthday marked a year since his wife’s death, and Thomas decided he must continue living, as his daughters and estate required him to care for them.
There was no way for Thomas Bennet to fully thank his aunt for what she had done for him, rescuing him from his self-destructive state. Edith and Maggie had made the young man feel alive.
Not long after the Bennets returned home, a letter arrived for Thomas from his aunt.
I recently learned that I have a weak heart. The physician has stated I do not have long to live. As you, Jane, and Elizabeth are the only family on my side, I wish to name you as my heirs. I have set aside a sizeable inheritance for Maggie, though she will require someone to assist her in managing it without being taken advantage of by unscrupulous men. It is my prayer that you will look after Maggie, aid her in finding a life here in England. My solicitor will be in contact with you to go over all my accounts and what you will be inheriting.
Thank you, my dear nephew, for bringing your precious children to stay with us at Chelsey House. Having such an angels with us reminded me of the love of a child can always make one smile. For that, Jane and Elizabeth will have dowries of twenty thousand pounds each. There are funds for any other children with whom you might be blessed. It is my prayer that the girls are not your only children. With her good heart and loving nature, Jane will be a wonderful elder sister, and I am certain Elizabeth will emulate her sister.
My solicitor is Mr Jerimiah Abernathy. He will be contacting you soon. If you have any questions, please write to me soon.
Your most devoted and loving aunt,
Eighteen years had passed since Edith O’Brien died. It had been difficult for Thomas Bennet to accept the passing of another lady from his family, someone who he loved nearly as much as his own mother. He had remarried, and the Bennets had four more children. Samuel Thomas was born when Elizabeth was over two years of age, followed by Phillip Joseph, Thomas Donald, and finally, Mary Margaret. Yes, Thomas Bennet had married Margaret O’Brien shortly after their mourning period for Edith’s passing.
At first, Thomas attempted to force his neighbors to accept his decision. For him to marry a lady who was mulatto was not looked upon as acceptable by most people. Only a few of his closest friends acknowledged Bennet and the family soon kept to themselves.
Fanny Bennet’s sister, Mrs Amelia Philips, had aided in Jane and Elizabeth, known to her family as Lizzy, coming out in society. Jane was treated fairly, as people accepted that it was not her decision for her father to marry someone of dark skin. With her pale skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes, it was easy enough to forget her father was married to someone who was considered a half caste. The same could not be said about Elizabeth. Her unruly dark curls had only grown more unruly, the longer it got. Lizzy also had a love of being outdoors, usually forgetting her bonnet, thereby allowing her skin to tan in the sunlight. There were plans for Fanny’s brother, Edward Gardiner, and his wife, Helen, to host Jane in London for a season, though there was hesitation with all concerned when it came to Lizzy having a season.
The truth of their dowries had been kept a secret, as Thomas was determined that his children would all have the option to marry for love. If it were known that his children had substantial inheritances, the gentleman knew there would be many unscrupulous people attempting to gain the money. His children were taught how to spot such people who would act kindly towards them so as to take advantage.
One afternoon, Mrs Philips came hurrying to the Bennet home. “Brother, you will never guess what I just learned.”
Mr Bennet smiled. Fanny Bennet’s sister still referred to him as her brother, simply due to Jane and Lizzy being her nieces. Though the other children were not her blood relations, she treated them kindly, as she also came to befriend Maggie. Their friendship was kept private from the rest of the community. When asked, Mrs Philips stated she visited Longbourn to see Jane and Lizzy.
“What is the news, Mrs Philips?”
“My husband informed me that Netherfield Park is let at last. It has been at least five years since the Marquis died and his family moved away. His heir lives in Italy now, and leaves the leasing of the estate to Mr Philips.”
“It will be pleasant for the neighbors to have new people to invite to gatherings.” Mr Bennet could not remember the last invitation that had come to Longbourn from any of the neighbors. The very people who condemn him for finding love in a woman who was darker skinned than himself, would all be clambering over one another to invite the newcomers.
“Oh, Thomas, my husband says that it is to be leased by a young unmarried man and he plans to bring his two sisters, one sister’s husband, and a friend of the young man, who is also unmarried. They will be arriving two days prior to the next assembly in Meryton. Sir William Lucas will invite them to the assembly, as he is the magistrate in the area.”
“Please tell me how this matters to us?” Mr Bennet inquired.
“Why the young man, a Mr Bingley, will be in want of a wife. Who would be better than our beautiful Jane? You must allow her to join me for the assembly.”
“You know how I feel about my family attending functions here, in the area.”
“But Jane can attend with me and my husband, as she has in the past. Allow Mr Bingley to fall in love with her before he learns of the rest of your family.” Mrs Philips attempted to speak softly, as she knew the subject was not one the gentleman cared about.
“In other words, fool the man before he learns that Jane’s stepmother is mulatto and that she has siblings who are darker skinned than Jane is. Lizzy is beautiful as well, though she has no chance to attend assemblies or any social gatherings, as she is considered an outcast, even though Fanny was her mother as well as Jane’s. Everyone sees her dark hair and her skin from her walks outside being darker than Jane’s, so she is treated as her younger siblings. They never look at Lizzy and see realize that she is the image of my mother, who had the same hair color as my daughter. She also has Fanny’s smile and the same brown eyes as your sister, yet that does not matter to those of this community. You wish me to send my eldest to be kind to those same people who condemn her family.”
“Thomas, as you are well aware, my husband and I, as well as my brother Gardiner and his family, do not find any fault in your family. I only offer Jane a chance to find someone who will love her and treat her as the precious young lady she is. Lizzy has made the decision to remain at your side, as she does not like the way she is treated. You know full well that if the young man were to meet your entire family with Jane, she will be shunned. It has happened before. Remember the young man who wrote poetry to Jane? As soon as he met the rest of the family, the young man was gone and never heard from again. I only wish to see my niece have the life she deserves.”
“Do you not think I wish the same for all of my children? Most of the people from Meryton and the surrounding estates have all judged us as evil and refuse to acknowledge us. It pains me to see my family treated so poorly.”
“Then allow us to assist. Jane is such a beautiful young lady. Edward and Helen wish to give Jane a season in London. If nothing comes from meeting the gentleman coming to Netherfield, Jane can have a season.” Mrs Philips pleaded her case.
“Allow me to speak with Maggie and Jane. It will be up to Jane if she wishes to participate.”
“Very well, Thomas. If there was another way that we could have all your children accepted by society, you know we would be willing to assist.”
Mr Bennet knew the lady was honestly speaking. The Philips had attended when the family was celebrating any of the children’s birthdays, treating them all with kindness. “I appreciate how your family has accepted Maggie and our children. Your husband’s assistance over the years has been valuable to us. You have always treated the children with equal kindness, even allowing them to refer to you as their Aunt Philips. I have no doubt that you have received unjust treatment due to your association with us.”
“Tittle tattle from small minded people. Your children are such blessings, and Maggie has always been a joy to be around. They may not be from our blood, but they are just as precious to us as Jane and Lizzy.”
“Thank you. I will send word when I know how Jane decides.” Mr Bennet said as he stood to show Mrs Philips out. “You and your husband will join us for Mary’s birthday next week, will you not? It is difficult to believe that she will be turning two and ten.”
Mrs Philips smiled. “Of course, we will be here. I purchased some new sheets of music for her. Her talent on the pianoforte is a pleasure to experience.”
“There will, of course, be a chocolate cake, as it is Mary’s favorite. Cook is planning quite a feast for us.”
“I would have been disappointed if there was no chocolate cake. Your youngest daughter and I share an affinity for chocolate.”
“We will see you then. Thank you for all you do for our family and informing us of the new family at Netherfield. Take care, sister.”
After Mrs Philips left, Maggie entered her husband’s study. “What did Amelia have to say?”
“She wishes to take Jane to the assembly in Meryton next week. Netherfield has been let at last and Amelia says the young man taking the lease is unmarried.”
Maggie chuckled. “I swear she will find every available man in the county. As you have not spoken of the assembly, I assume that it is the same as all other assemblies. We will not be attending.”
Mr Bennet took hold of his wife’s hand and pulled her closer to himself. “Am I wrong in keeping our family isolated? It has been many years since the last time we had any harsh words from any of our neighbors. Perhaps now would be a good time to introduce our children to those who live near here.”
“No, there would be too much cruelty if we were to take rest of the children to an assembly. You remember how terrible they treated Lizzy when she went into Meryton with Jane to purchase some ribbon. Mrs Long declared that she would not shop in a business which allowed lowly people such as our girls to purchase items. Mr Mavery was horrified by the outburst, he apologized for nearly a month for what happened. Lizzy has never liked that shade of green after how she was treated. The boys and Mary will have it worse, as Lizzy is Fanny’s child. If they mistakenly treat Elizabeth as they do, I can only imagine how they will treat our sons and Mary. I love our children, and our son broke the entail on the estate, which pleases me. There will be another generation of Bennets to run Longbourn after I am gone. That is what matters most, their futures. I have seen the way the masters have reacted when they discovered you have a half caste wife. I want better for our children.”
“If only people would be more accepting rather than judging with their ignorance. No matter what, I will never regret our marriage and our beautiful children.” Mr Bennet took hold of his wife’s hand, placing a gentle kiss on it, as Maggie sighed. “Now, what are we having for dinner?”
His question was met with laughter. “You are always thinking of your stomach. It just so happens that Cook is fixing your favorite stew.”
“Hiring our cook is another thing I will never regret.” Mr Bennet smiled as he embraced his wife. “My dear Maggie, I would never have survived all these years if it had not been for you. You gave me a life I never would have expected. How can I ever explain to you how dear you are to me?”
“No more dear than you are to me, my love. Oh, a letter arrived from Edward. He must have some new books for you.”
“Ah, Edward. Fanny’s brother has also been a blessing to our family. Lizzy will be pleased, as her reading has increased of late. She requires some new books to keep her happy.”
“There will never be enough books to sate our daughter’s thirst for knowledge. When is she to begin learning Latin?”
“Next month. I have no doubt she will take to it as she has to all other languages she has been taught.”