Posted on Friday, 28 January 2005
Mr. Bennet was dead and buried.
This was not a longstanding arrangement as the man had been alive, if not exactly well, the week before and his coffin had been placed in its final resting place some hours before. But, longstanding or not, no one argued the fact that Mr. Bennet had expired, shoved off his earthly coil, given up his ghost, went to meet his maker, not seven days before.
Mr. Bennet was survived by his wife, five daughters, five sons-in-law, fourteen grandchildren, and of course, his cousin and heir, the Reverend William Collins. With the exception of Mr. Collins, all these people felt badly about Mr. Bennet's death, for one reason or another. And Mr. Collins really did try to feel badly about it, but no matter how many times he remarked on his fondness for his cousin and the universal grief that everyone who knew Mr. Bennet must feel, he couldn't prevent himself from being more concerned with the question of how quickly he could evict Longbourn's former mistress without appearing too unfeeling.
Said mistress was in her room, bemoaning her fate and insisting that her daughters remain solicitous of her comfort. As Mrs. Bennet was beginning to enjoy her misery, she had not considered that her daughters might have strong feelings on the subject of their father's death. Most of her daughters did not seem appropriately attentive to her plight; only Lydia was appropriately sympathetic to the impoverished circumstances which Mrs. Bennet would be entering. These complaints served to remind Mrs. Bennet that she would soon be forced to give way to Charlotte Lucas, that someone so unrelated to the family should be taking over her role as mistress. "Not, of course, that I blame you, Lizzy, for refusing that man," Mrs. Bennet had explained several times, "I always knew that you were meant for better things than being a parson's wife and Mr. Darcy is so superior to that man, in all his particulars. He did not take an estate that was only entailed on him and not lawfully his at all."
Lizzy did not think it necessary to inform her mother that Pemberley was subject to an entail and that said entail had been the reason her husband's father inherited the estate from his elder brother. She understood her mother's feelings, particularly in regards to Mr. Collins, whose repeated questions concerning what he could do to assist Mrs. Bennet's relocation were quickly progressing from irritating to infuriating.
Upon hearing of his cousin's demise, Mr. Collins had taken the bag he had packed upon hearing of his cousin's illness and immediately set out to console with his dear cousins, stopping only for a brief interview at Rosings to inform his noble patroness of his going. Lady Catherine was sorry to know that the Collinses would be leaving Hunsford. It would be difficult for her to find another clergyman who understood his duties so well and was so adept at utilizing her many talents. But Lady Catherine understood the importance of Family Responsibilities and so she condescended to suggest that Mr. Collins should leave for Longbourn as soon as possible after Mr. Bennet's death, and trust her to advise Mrs. Collins on removing their household to Hertfordshire. Furthermore, when Mr. Collins took his leave, Lady Catherine entrusted him with a long letter for her niece, who was not experienced in losing a parent to death and thus was doubtlessly in great need of Lady Catherine's advice and experience on the proper way for a favored daughter to mourn her father.
And so Mr. Collins had left post-haste after receiving the express that his dear mother-in-law sent immediately after hearing of the sad event and was able to personally convey his condolences to the grieving family not twenty-four hours after their patriarch's passing.
Mr. Darcy met Mr. Collins upon his arrival, nearly overpowering the latter at this mark of condescension from the nephew of Lady Catherine de Bourgh but soon reflected that now they were both gentlemen of property. Mr. Collins was pleased to see how much respect Mr. Darcy had for his aunt's kindness and generosity in that in the instant after they had finished with their greetings he had said, "My aunt has, no doubt, sent a letter with you for Mrs. Darcy. If you would deliver it to me, I will take care of its further delivery."
"Yes, Lady Catherine was most anxious to extend her condolences and expressed her particular wish that I deliver this missive to Mrs. Darcy as soon as I may and instructs that I convey to both her and yourself-"
"My wife and sisters are with their mother at present, and she is presently unable to leave her rooms. I must insist, sir, that you entrust the letter to me." Fitzwilliam Darcy held out his hand and, with only a slight hesitation, Mr. Collins gave him the letter.
It is perhaps fortunate that Mr. Collins was too absorbed in his new position as master of Longbourn to notice that Darcy was reading his wife's letter and had delivered the second and fifth pages to the nearest fire before taking it upstairs.
And so it was that in the time between Mr. Collins's arrival and Mr. Bennet's funeral, Mr. Darcy took upon himself the task of preventing Mr. Collins from expressing his condolences to the grieving widow herself and in this worthy purpose his brothers-in-law soon joined him. Even Mr. Wickham contributed to that cause, though perhaps unwillingly as he seemed most anxious to escape Mr. Collins's sermon on the importance of gratitude towards one's patrons. The other brothers acted in a more premeditated and consistent manner. Mr. Bingley suggested that Mr. Collins ought to devote himself to learning about the estate. Mr. Darcy requested detailed information on and pretended to be more than marginally interested in his aunt's health and well-being. Mr. Wright, a clerk in Mr. Phillip's law practice, offered his professional services and gave his unsolicited opinions on the best ways for Mr. Collins to secure his place in Meryton society. Finally, Mr. Evans, a clergyman with a valuable living in Derbyshire, asked for Mr. Collins's opinion on various parish matters; so that, as he told his brothers Darcy and Bingley, he would know what actions he ought not take.
Now, on the evening after Mr. Bennet's funeral, after the Wrights returned to their home, somewhat grudgingly taking the Wickhams with them, the other three brothers gathered in Mr. Bennet's study. Mr. Collins, who was still not recovered from the grandeur of having men such as Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley among his very first guests at his new estate, had attempted to join them, but had been thwarted by Mr. Evans's insistence that, as gentlemen, they could not allow Mr. Collins to take the burden of entertaining them at the close of such a sad day and ventured to speak for his brothers in their complete understanding of his desire to retire early. After these kind words Mr. Collins retired, attempting to be properly miserable.
And so it was that the three gentlemen were finally able to secure the privacy needed for them to discuss the matter which had been weighing heavily on their minds.
"Mr. Collins is rather anxious to have his family settled before winter," Bingley opened, and the other men nodded in response.
"Elizabeth does not think her mother has any definite plans for the future, other than visiting her daughters in their homes and at present she is indisposed to part from her youngest daughter."
"That is convenient; the Wickhams intend to go wherever Mrs. Bennet does, as at present they do not have a domicile of their own," Mr. Evans stated. As his opinions concerning Mr. and Mrs. Wickham were very much in accord with his brothers', it was not necessary for him to say any more on that subject.
"She has no intention of living with the Wrights and all but told me that my invitation for her to visit Bellebrook for as long as she likes was tardy." Mr. Bingley, who had the misfortune of living a year in the same neighborhood as Mrs. Bennet, was, despite his amiable nature, unable to repress his shudder at the thought of living in the same house as his mother-in-law. "I venture that she believes the same concerning her invitations to Pemberley and Kympton."
"That is why I reminded Kitty that the disorder at the parsonage due to our improvements makes it quite impossible for us to have visitors for the foreseeable future."
"I had been under the impression that those improvements would be finished soon," Mr. Evans's patron observed.
"I did not wish for the workers to continue while there was no member of the family in residence."
Mr. Darcy nodded as he made mental note to draw up a list of improvements for his estate, to be started at times convenient to himself and his wife. "If Mrs. Bennet intends all of the Wickhams to remain with her, Pemberley is impossible."
"No." Bingley took a long sip of port before continuing. "The Wickhams have been in residence at Bellebrooke for nearly three months. Jane and I were beginning to talk of giving them a hint to be gone when we received word of Mr. Bennet's illness. Besides, Pemberley can be an option, so long as George Wickham Sr. doesn't come. You have received Lydia and the two children before."
Mr. Evans ignored the deathly glare that Mr. Darcy gave his old friend. "We must do something; we should have made these plans before Mr. Bennet died, rather than hope that he would take responsibility for his family. But as none of us wish to take Mrs. Bennet into our households indefinitely, and the Wrights and the Wickhams cannot or will not, I think our only remaining option is to set up a house for her in Meryton."
"Yes, I believe you are right," Mr. Bingley enthused. "Hertfordshire is a charming county and I say it would be a shame to take Mrs. Bennet away from the neighborhood where she has lived her entire life. A charming cottage with two or three servants seems like just the thing for her."
Darcy nodded his head in approval and allowed a slight smile to grace his features. "While she remains a two day journey from any of us and, now, without a carriage of her own. A most excellent plan."
The three gentlemen continued their conference until they had the details behind their plan decided and ready to be announced the next morning. Mrs. Bennet's disappointment at learning she would not be traveling more that three miles north was great and she shared her discontent with the household. It took many infusions and cold compresses and exclamations over nerves and weak hearts before she could listen to her daughters' concerns that traveling further north would be damaging to her nerves and heart.
Mr. and Mrs. Wright gloried in having Mrs. Bennet's day-to-day care thrust on themselves and made all the obligatory remarks concerning filial obligations and how providing material goods was not a substitute for more mundane acts of kindness and compassion with appropriate levels of sanctimony and self-admiration. Mr. and Mrs. Wickham were pleased to know that while there was a reduction in the collective income of her family, the number of residences available to them remained the same and that, without Mr. Bennet, their visits to Meryton could be rather longer than they had before.
And so Mrs. Bennet was removed from Longbourn before Mrs. Collins and her children arrived and installed themselves in Meryton. Although Mrs. Bennet felt that the house was rather small, even she could not argue that living within sight of both her dear sister and one of her dear daughters was a most convenient arrangement and began to think her sons ought to have chosen the slightly smaller home right across the lane from her sister as she grew older and began to fancy herself arthritic.