Posted on 2015-01-23
Henry Bennets' pen continued pace as the ink flew over the paper in front of him.
Henry Bennet at last looked up at his wife, puzzled. She looked worried which was unusual in itself. He raised his eyebrow questionably.
"There is an express rider on the road to Norton" she stated.
This gave him pause.
"He was due three days ago Henry. He should have sent word. You know it is not like him. You told him he should not have gone"
"I know that Elizabeth. I have thought about nothing else for the last three days!" he barked.
Elizabeth Bennet walked over to her husbands chair and wrapped her arms around his shoulders before placing a chaste kiss to his head. "I should not have cajoled you", she apologised, "I'm sorry."
He smiled morosely. "I know"
"I will go check on our children and young James and leave you to your express." She smiled at him from the door. "All will be well Henry."
It was not long before the ever dependable Godfrey made his way to the Masters study, currently occupied by the masters younger brother, who was steadfastly seeing to the estate while his elder brother was attending to other estate business in the wilds of Scotland.
He wordlessly placed the express within eyesight.
It took but a moment for Henry to realise the express was there. He reached out his hand and with a pause, took the offered article.
It offered no clue as to what was contained within, nor who it was from. He sighed. Perusal would give no indication but merely delayed the inevitable. He opened the letter.
Ross, Gordon and Armstrong; Edinburgh
I regret to inform you of bad tidings of your elder brother, His Lordship Arthur Bennet, 9th Earl of Denton and his wife, Isobel Bennet, Countess of Denton......
He hardly noticed as the colour drained from his face. His wife however, who had returned after checking on the children, had noticed as soon a she walked in that his face was ashen white.
"Is it Arthur?" she demanded.
He nodded dejectedly. "And Isobel" he added.
"Poor James!" she whispered. "Oh Henry!"
He paid her no mind. He was not of the mood for comfort right now.
"What will happen to him?"
"To whom?" he questioned.
He looked blankly at her.
That pronouncement made Henry Bennet suddenly realise the implications for young James, who was residing in the nursery upstairs. At eleven months old, the newly titled James Bennet, 10th Earl of Denton, was an orphan.
"I had not thought", he pronounced.
"I have", she stated. "He will be coming back to Longbourne with us."
And so James Bennet travelled back to Longbourne with Henry and Elizabeth Bennet; the angelic infant Jane and the young Master Thomas. Raised amongst the family, the young earl became the playmate of Master Thomas, a friend and a brother.
The view from Oakham Mount was magnificent. An expanse of green; of grass and trees, farmland, farms and houses; a view where the the joy of nature was at its fore. Lizzy could not help but appreciate the vista whenever she was here.
This was a day that required solitude.
Glad to finally be home after having been cooped up at Netherfield with the superior sisters and the odious Mr Darcy, she had taken the first opportunity to escape outside and stretch her legs. There simply had been no opportunity as of late. Not that she begrudged Jane being ill. It was not her fault.
It was their mother that had declared that Jane had to go to Netherfield. On a horse. Because it was going to rain.
The result was a feverish sister that needed her help.
But it did no good to dwell on these things. Jane was safe and well.
She could only kick the ground in frustration.
It was not long before she arrived back at the gates of Longbourne. She was soon spotted by her father from his book room window, and he met her at the door as she came in.
"Ah Lizzy", he joked, "Would you care to drag your father around with you a while?"
"Oh papa, don't be silly. I would not waste my energy dragging you around the garden... I would get the gardener to take you in a wheelbarrow."
She took his arm as they both laughed at their amusement.
"I had a letter from your Uncle James today." he said, as they strolled.
"He is looking forward to our visit next month. And will be quite glad to introduce his nieces to his youngest daughter."
"I look forward to finally meeting little Amelia. Aunt Lavinia's anecdotes have been quite amusing"
"Teddy will be there."
Lizzy only smiled and, attempting to hide her blush, could only venture to say that she would be pleased to see him again.
Over the last few years, James and Thomas had confessed via sporadic correspondence, their wish of bringing the two families closer together. James fevered wish was that Teddy would settle down with one of the more sensible Bennet girls and had chosen Lizzy as his preferred choice. Mr Bennet, not insensible to the fact that the current earl had chosen his favourite daughter to be married to the future one, was determined to let her behaviour be his guide and would not force her into a marriage she did not want.
"Your grandmother also wrote to extend an invitation for you and Jane."
"Grandmother? Whatever for?"
He handed her the letter from his jacket pocket. "It seems that she has requested some younger company for a small visit to town during the little season. Your Aunt, it seems, is not best pleased"
Lizzy laughed. "She will not be insensible to the disservice I'm sure!"
"Why do you not write and accept on your and Jane's behalf? You can arrange it amongst yourselves. It would save me the effort."
She could only roll her eyes at his response. It was very like him to devolve his responsibility. She bit her lip. It would not have surprised her to learn that he had every intention of accepting without the thought of replying. "I suppose I must." she acquiesced, taking leave of her father.
Mr Bennet watched Lizzy go back into the house with an indifferent spirit. She was a sensible girl he mused - her just did not understand the fuss.
"It was very kind of Grandmama to invite us. Are you sure it would not be too much of an imposition for Aunt Margaret?"
"Not at all Jane. I have received a letter from her this morning. We are to settle on a date and she will send a carriage for us." Lizzy informed her. And as an afterthought quickly added, "It seems she has a a lot of things planned!"
With that, the girls fell into conversation about what their Aunt and Grandmother may have in store - eventually deciding amongst themselves that they would leave around the beginning of December, just over a week after the Netherfield Ball.
Their mother was informed of their plans the next morning. Such an invitation was not lost on Mrs Bennet, whose chief aim in life was to see her girls married well. Their pronouncement caused her to go into a state of flutters and exclaim about London throwing them in paths of other rich men.
"For a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife!" Lizzy teased.
Mrs Bennet wasted no time in ordering a trip to Meryton. Although both Jane and Lizzy both protested against a trip to the modiste, they did finally relent to a visit for some new ribbons and trimmings.
Posted on 2015-01-31
What Mr Bennet had neglected to mention to Lizzy was the impeding arrival of a guest - his distant cousin Mr Collins. He did so the following morning.
"I hope, my dear," said Mr Bennet to his wife, "That you have ordered a good dinner today. We have reason to expect an addition to our family party."
"Mr Bingley!" she exclaimed. "Why Jane you sly thing! You never dropped a word."
"Mama, it is not-" Jane chimed, catching the amused glance of Lizzy from across the table.
"And there is not a bit of fish to be got! Lydia my love, ring the bell for Hill, I shall have to speak to her this moment."
"It is not Mr Bingley," Mr Bennet interjected, "It is a gentleman I have not met in the whole course of my life."
This roused a general astonishment; and he had the overall pleasure of being eagerly harassed by his wife and five daughters at once. After amusing himself for some time on their curiosity, he then explained.
"About a month ago, I received this letter; and thinking it required some delicacy, answered a fortnight ago. It is from my cousin Mr Collins, who, when I am dead, may turn you out of the house as soon as he wishes!"
"Do not mention that dreadful man!" she fluttered, "To think, that your own estate should be entailed away from your own poor daughters!"
Jane and Lizzy tried to explain to her the nature of an entail. They had often attempted to do so before, but it was a subject on which Mrs Bennet was beyond the reach of reason and she continued to react to the injustice of having the estate settled away from a family of five daughters.
She did not have much for notion for the thought that the Earl, not wishing to see Thomas's family homeless, would have provided for them. Her mind was more disagreeably engaged with the thought that she could be turned out of her own home.
Mr Bennet, realising the futility of such an endeavour, attempted to restore the peace by way of Mr Collins letter, where, he pointed out, the disagreement between the two families had given Mr Collins much unease and now wishing to heal the breach, offered an olive branch and a fervent wish to make amends to his amiable daughters.
Mrs Bennet had no thought to discourage him.
His arrival was all that was expected. Lizzy declared him an oddity - he was a peculiar mix of deference and humility, and as sensible as they thought he would be. His admiration was profound, everything form his amiable cousins to the dining-room and furniture were all examined and admired. His adulation would have gone some way to warm Mrs Bennet's heart, but for the supposition that it was being viewed as quite his own.
Mr Bennet, who had allowed himself sometime to observe, introduced the subject in which he expected Mr Collins to be most eloquent - the fortune of his patroness, Lady Catherine De Bourgh. He did not disappoint. His ridiculousness was paramount and his attempts at flattery absurd.
"It is happy for you," Mr Bennet noted, "That you possess the fortune of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment or, are they the result of previous study?"
"The arise mainly from what is passing at the time," Mr Collins replied. "But I do like to amuse myself by writing down such little elegant comments for the ladies that I may impart on occasion."
Mr Bennet's expectations were fully acknowledged. Mr Collins was as ridiculous as he had hoped. He had listened to him with great pleasure and apart from the occasional glance at Lizzy, who had spent much of the course behind her napkin, required little more. He had a great inclination to write a letter to James tomorrow, highlighting the ridiculousness of his cousin. He was sure James would be excessively diverted that he always thought of toads when Mr Collins was near and that somehow, it would not have surprised him in the least to find him trying to eat flies at the dinner table.
Mr Collins plans to heal the breach were made in deference to his noble patroness. Her suggestion was that he were to marry, and, in atonement for his inheriting Longbourne, he sought reconciliation by marrying one of its daughters.
His plan had not varied on seeing them. Reports of their beauty and amiability had not been idle. Miss Bennet's serene countenance adhered to his notions of what was due to seniority and by the first night she had been established as his preferred choice.
This choice was altered the next morning. A tête-à-tête with Mrs Bennet after breakfast, as all bar Mr Bennet were in the garden, produced from her, in a complaisant and encouraging manner, a caution against the very Bennet sister he had designs on. She had felt it necessary to hint that her eldest may very soon be engaged but, by way of motivation, knew not of any prior attachment with her younger daughters.
It took but a moment for Mr Collins to change from Jane to Lizzy.
Their tête-à-tête was soon interrupted by Kitty and Lydia who expressed a wish to go into Meryton.
"Would you care for a little exercise Mr Collins?" Mrs Bennet queried.
"Indeed I would, Mrs Bennet" he replied, certain he would bear the walk if accompanied by his lady of choice.
It was by misfortune then, that Jane and Lizzy's walk came upon them that moment.
"Cousin Elizabeth!" cried he, bumbling forth, "Would you do me the honour of walking with me into town?" He smiled in what he thought was a pleasing manner.
Lizzy could only look towards her elder sister with a look of discontent.
It was of luck then, that the walk into Meryton was not long. The attentions of the youngest Miss Bennets' was soon lost on arrival, whose eyes were immediately wandering up and down the street in the quest for officers. Their attention was soon caught by a young man, whom they had never seen before, and of the most gentleman like appearance, walking with an officer over the way. The very officer was Mr Denny - whose return from London Lydia especially had come to enquire.
"Whose that with him?" inquired Kitty.
"Oh, I don't know."
"He's frightful handsome," Kitty responded.
"He might be if he were in regimentals. I think a man looks nothing without regimentals."
Lydia's adulation was profound, and she soon beckoned Denny over.
"What a fine joke. We thought you were still in town!"
"There was nothing amusing enough to keep us there", Denny replied. "Allow me to introduce my good friend, George Wickham."
He pointed to each of the ladies in turn as he introduced them, as Mr Wickham doffed his hat and made an elaborate bow.
"This is our cousin, Mr Collins"
"Will you be staying long, Mr Wickham?" Lizzy inquired.
Mr Wickham was happy to say indeed, he was. He had taken a commission in Colonel Forster's regiment and would be there the whole winter. The girls could not be more pleased with the addition of the handsome stranger.
The party were still standing, and very agreeably engaged, when the sound of horses soon drew their notice. The gentlemen in question, Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley, on distinguishing the ladies of the party soon came towards them. Mr Bingley's chief object was the eldest Miss Bennet, and he was very soon agreeably occupied. He was, he said, on his way to Longbourne to enquire after her. Mr Darcy corroborated this with a bow, and determined not to keep his eyes fixed on Elizabeth, were soon arrested by the sight of the stranger.
It was impossible for Lizzy not to notice their interaction and curious as to the nature of it, could only be astonished at the effect of it. Both changed colour; one looked white, the other red. After a moment, Mr Wickham touched his hat, a greeting cut directly by Mr Darcy as he rode on.
It was impossible to know what had happened. What could be the meaning of it?
The following night brought a card party at their Aunt Philips's, their mothers sister. Invitations had also been extended to Mr Wickham and Mr Collins, whom she had met the previous day.
Although Mr Collins was well received, he did himself no favours. His comparison of the apartment to a small, inconsequential room at Rosings, did not go down well with his hostess until it was explained to her the nature of the compliment. He was soon obliged to sit down for a game of whist, and spent much of that time apologising for being inattentive.
Mr Wickham on the other hand, with the appearance of goodness and pleasant countenance to match, was soon accosted by the youngest Miss Bennets' and the young Maria Lucas. The arrival of Jane at their party soon put a limit to their flirtations; with Mr Wickham soon taking this as an opportunity to step away from the group and take a seat with Lizzy.
Although curious as to the nature of the relationship between himself and Mr Darcy, she was somewhat mollified when he introduced the subject himself. He soon enquired whether the Netherfield party had been in the area long, and, in particular, if Mr Darcy had been of the duration.
"About a month, I believe", she answered. Eager for the answers she so craved, she made some magnanimous comment about his estate in Derbyshire.
"Oh, there is no-one to know about it more than I" he revealed. "I've known Mr Darcy all my life. We grew up together as children."
Lizzy could not have been more surprised. "But-"
Mr Wickham quite rightly assumed that she had noticed their cold manner of greeting. His inquiry into whether she had known Mr Darcy long, led him to understand that she was as warmly acquainted with him as she wished to be, and she found him to be a very disagreeable sort of man. "He is not at all liked in Hertfordshire", she continued. "Everybody is disgusted with his pride. He will not be favourably be spoken of by anyone."
"Is he intending to stay long in the neighbourhood?" Mr Wickham asked her, at the next available opportunity.
"I do not know - I have never heard it spoken of. But I do hope that your plans will not be affected by his staying in the neighbourhood"
"It is not me to be driven away by Mr Darcy. If he wishes to avoid seeing me then he must go. We are not on friendly terms, I admit, but I have only one reason to avoid him Miss Bennet - he has done me great wrong."
Lizzy's curiosity was piqued, but the delicacy of the subject did not allow her to enquire further.
"His father, Miss Bennet, the late Mr Darcy, was my godfather and one the greatest men I have ever known. My father was his steward, and, when my own father died, old Mr Darcy provided for me; cared for me; even loved me. His intention for me was to enter the church - and it was my dearest wish to do so - but when his father died, and the living fell vacant, the son flatly refused to honour his fathers wishes and the living for which I was intended went elsewhere."
"Good heavens!" cried Lizzy, "I had not thought Mr Darcy as bad as this! To so disregard his father's will - he ought to be publically disgraced!" After a few moments reflections she noted, "I do remember his boasting one day, at Netherfield, of the implacability of his resentments, that he might even vouch for his resentful temper."
"His temper I cannot vouch for, but he is guardian to his sister, and he is often citied as the most attentive and best of brothers."
"What sort of a girl is Miss Darcy?" she asked.
"I would hate to speak ill of a Darcy - but she is very much like her brother. Very proud. I devoted hours to her amusement as a child and I believe she was extremely fond of me. She was like a sister to me. But it was a friendship soon put a stop to by her brother, and her other guardian, no doubt for some mischievous reason of their own."
It did not take long for Lizzy to relate the conversation to Jane. Despite Lizzy's resoluteness, Jane was not convinced, especially after so short an acquaintance, and questioned whether he should be believed so unreservedly.
Lizzy had no doubts. "He gave everything without ceremony Jane! There were names. Facts. There can be no doubt."
"I believe there is. Consider Lizzy, how could it be that his most intimate friends are deceived by him?"
"I could more readily believe that your Mr Bingley had been taken advantage of than Mr Wickham inventing such a history!"
"Oh Lizzy, do be careful", Jane pleaded, "You're in very grave danger of being blinded by a slight."
"I assure you I am not. My opinion of Mr Darcy is based entirely on his behaviour!"
Jane was not convinced.
But realising that this was a subject where Lizzy's obstinacy could get the better of her, pointed out that they still had to send a letter to their Aunt. Lizzy, understanding that Jane was trying to change the subject, gladly pulled two chairs up to the writing table and sat down. The letter was thus:
Longbourne Estate, Hertfordshire
We hope this letter finds you well. Be rest assured that everyone is in the best of health and send their warmest regards to yourself, Uncle and Grandmama.
Father has relayed your invitation to join you in London, which we accept with pleasure. We are very much looking forward to coming, and anticipate what you have planned for us!
You may be unaware that Netherfield Park has been let at last. The inhabitants have planned a ball for the 26th of this month, of which we will attend before preparing for our trips to London and Yorkshire. We therefore plan on leaving on the 5th December if this is suitable for you.
We look forward to your speedy reply,
Your loving nieces,
Jane and Lizzy
Sealing the letter, they rang the bell for the letter to be taken to the post and went to join the rest of the family in the parlour.To Be Continued . . .