Posted on 2010-09-25
Mr. Bennet scanned the document, smiling nefariously, the glint of mischief in his eye.
"It is what you requested," said the broad-faced, stuffy, Mr. Philips, breathing port wine.
"Yes, it is precisely what I desire."
"I do not like to underestimate you, but I believe I can say with confidence that you will never get him to sign it," said Philips, shaking his head. "No sensible man would ever agree to it."
"I do not mind if you underestimate me, but I think you overestimate him. I can say with equal confidence that he is not a sensible man."
"Well best of luck to you, man," replied Philips and off he went back to Meryton.
"I am sure Mr. Collins will propose to one of the girls during his stay here," Mrs. Bennet was proclaiming to her husband as they awaited the expected guest. "Why else would he pay this visit? His father has been estranged from us for years. It would only be proper for him to marry one of the girls as he is to inherit your estate."
"Oh I do not think that will be necessary, my dear. Let us consider his marriage to one of our daughters only as a last resort. Perhaps we may find another way around the entail."
Mrs. Bennet only shook her head. Marriage to one of her daughters was the only solution to the entail that her limited understanding of the matter would allow.
Her daughter, Elizabeth, however -- having heard the exchange -- said, "But papa, how can it be possible to get around the entail?"
"Lizzy, my dear, the entail was added to the deed of our estate many generations ago to protect the family name and its position in society. But as we have only daughters, our family name will not be carried on; and at present your mother cares more for her own future than that of our family's position in society. So, I can see no present reason for the entail."
Mary, who was listening intently, stated profoundly, "Your ancestors were not very forward-thinking at all, Papa."
"Indeed, they did not have the foresight to preoccupy themselves with your mother's plight."
Jane then asked with interest, "Are you saying there is a way to break the entail, Papa?"
"Only with Mr. Collins' consent, my dear," he responded with the gleam of assurance in his eye. Mary looked confused. "Both the present owner and the next in line must agree to cut off an entail," he explained further.
Lydia rolled her eyes and flopped back onto the sofa. "Oh, la, Papa! That's not very likely to happen, is it?"
"I can not believe I am saying this, but you are right, Lydia. He will not do it willingly. Which is why we must all work together to persuade him." The girls all gathered 'round him as he outlined his scheme until the guest was announced.
"Mrs. Bennet, what a lovely table you set here at Longbourn. Why, the silver pattern reminds me very much of the third-best silverware at Rosings Park, the estate of my esteemed patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh."
"Are you interested in the silver, Mr. Collins?" asked Mr. Bennet. "I have taken the liberty to prepare a list of the silver and china pieces that will remain with the house when you inherit. Perhaps you would be so good as to sign at the bottom of the second page to confirm your agreement."
Mr. Collins looked puzzled. "Are you ill, Mr. Bennet?"
Mr. Bennet chuckled. "You are not so fortunate, my dear sir. I plan on retaining posession of the house for some years yet. I just want to get things in order, you know," he said, passing him the document and a quill.
"Oh no!" cried Mr. Collins with civility. "I would not dream of claiming the property of this house, my good sir, until after, well, ahem, when it is, er, rightly mine." He waved away the papers. "I'm sure there will be time aplenty to inventory the housewares."
"Curses!" mumbled Mr. Bennet under his breath.
The next day, Mr. Collins accompanied his fair cousins to Meryton. As they walked, Lizzie and Jane struck up a discussion with him in which they argued that women have superior handwriting to men.
Mr. Collins, at first, could not be prevailed upon to disagree with them. But after suffering their criticism long enough, he was moved by his male ego to take up the argument on behalf of his sex.
By the time they entered the millinery in Meryton, they were having a heated debate.
"Now, see here, Mr. Collins," said Lizzie, "I have a shopping list in my reticule we can use for paper."
"I just happen to have some ink and a quill," added Jane. "Please do demonstrate your superior hand for us, Mr. Collins."
"What would you like me to write?" he asked, as he put the quill to the paper. "'The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain?'"
"No!" said Lizzie, grabbing his hand to stop him. "Just write your name."
"Right here, on this line," said Jane, pointing to the paper.
Not seeming to hear them, he continued, "Or how about something befitting a clergyman? 'Go ye therefore...' or perhaps a sonnet! 'Let me not to the marriage of true minds...'"
"Oh, just forget it," said Lizzie, snatching the paper away from him, and turning to look at the watch fobs.
"Curses," muttered Jane.
Mrs. Hill appeared in the doorway of the drawing room. "Mr. Collins, if you please, there's a package here for you. Looks like it is from Rosings Park."
Mr. Collins sprung out of his chair. "What can it be? A present for me? Lady Catherine is generous indeed!"
He walked to the front door where a messenger awaited. Mr. Collins held out his hand for the package, but the messenger handed him a document and a quill instead. "Sign here, sir, please," said the messenger.
Just then, Lydia walked by, distracting the messenger. Mr. Collins took the opportunity to grab the package and run off to the prettyish kind of little wilderness on one side of the lawn to open it in private. "A new watch fob? How generous of Lady Catherine to have sent me this!"
Mr. Bennet watched from the upstairs window of his library, twisting his pinky ring. "Curses! Foiled again!"
The Bennet family arrived to the Netherfield ball in style. Mr. Collins felt so proud to be escorting his fair cousins inside. He took pleasure in the recollection that he had secured Elizabeth's hand for the first dance and looked forward to writing his name on her dance card. His eagerness had not escaped Mr. Bennet's notice.
Mr. Bennet handed Mr. Collins a piece of paper, saying, "I am sure, sir, you will be happy to affix your name to Elizabeth's dance card."
"But sir! That looks like a legal document and not a dance card at all. What is it with these Bingleys? And why the devil would I sign my name at the bottom?" he added agitatedly, noticing where Mr. Bennet was pointing. "I have secured the first dance!"
"Er, the Bingleys are trying something new. I understand it is all the rage in London."
But, alas, the first notes of music began to play, and Mr. Collins was off to claim his fair partner.
Mr. Bennet watched him walk off. "Curses..."
"Foiled again?" queried Mr. Phillips, who was standing next to him.
The following morning, Mr. Collins proposed to Elizabeth.
"I cannot consent to marry you," she said, desperate to succeed in her family's schemes at last, "but perhaps we can reach an . . . arrangement if you agree to sign this document." She waggled her eyebrows as she said the last.
"Actually," he replied, "there is only one Bennet who could tempt me, and you are not she."
"Shall I call Jane?" asked Elizabeth suggestively, more relieved than offended.
"Gentle Jane? No indeed."
He smirked, "Coughing Kitty? I think not."
"Laughing Lydia? Good God, no."
Elizabeth wracked her brain. "You cannot mean Mary?"
"Mousy Mary? I may not be a clever man, but I am a man, my dear cousin."
Mrs. Bennet, who had been listening but had not quite caught the last exchange, fell ungracefully through the doorway. Mr. Collins gazed at her salaciously.
Elizabeth looked back and forth between them, then leaving the room said to her mother, "I'll leave him in your capable hands," as she passed her the document.
The next morning, Mr. Collins handed Mr. Bennet the signed document and headed back to Hunsford Parsonage, where he would live happily until the end of his days, basking in the presence of the beloved de Bourgh family and clinging to the memory of one glorious night!The End