After her encounter with Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth quietly ascended the back stairs and entered the room she shared with her elder sister, Jane. Jane was already awake: "How was your morning walk, Lizzy?"
Instead of answering, Lizzy flung herself down onto the bed and emitted the most unladylike of noises into her pillow. Alarmed, Jane joined her sister on the bed and placed her hand on Lizzy's back. Always patient, Jane would wait as long as was needed for Lizzy to share her troubles.
Eventually, Lizzy turned on her side and began talking. Once she started, she could not stop. Everything, from the 20,000 pound dowries to her disconcerting meeting with Mr. Darcy, came tumbling from her mouth. Discovering that she was now a rich heiress, Jane could do nothing other than sit with her hand over her mouth in disbelief. If this was one of her other sisters, Jane might have wondered if the story was false, or over exaggerated. But this was Lizzy, and Jane could not, for one moment, believe that Lizzy would pull a trick of this magnitude.
Finishing her tales with a deep sigh, Lizzy finally turned her head to see Jane's facial expression. Not one to stay upset for long, one look at the shock and confusion crossing her usually serene sister's face was enough to cause Lizzy to giggle.
"Do not tease me, Lizzy! Are you sure all of this is real?" asked Jane, eyes wide.
"Which part? Our newfound riches or the stark change in Mr. Darcy?" teased Lizzy
"The money, of course! I cannot believe that papa would hide this from us for so long."
"He should still be in his bookroom. Go and ask him the reasons yourself. I found his explanations to be satisfactory. In fact, I think I have already found peace with our new status. I am now more occupied by thoughts of Mr. Darcy," Jane's eyebrows rose at Lizzy's thoughts being occupied by Mr. Darcy, and Lizzy finished her statement by hitting her sister with a pillow.
Suddenly, Jane gasped: "What will Mama say!" At this, both of the girls laughed until they cried, collapsing back onto the bed. Once calm, Jane left to go speak with her father, and Lizzy changed out of her walking dress and called the maid to help with her stays and hair.
The rest of the day passed as usual. Even the hushed conversations between Jane and Lizzy were nothing out of the ordinary, even if the topic certainly was. At dinner, during the second course, in fact, Mr. Bennet turned to Lizzy and asked: "Do you think the family is ready to hear the news I have for them?"
Slightly surprised, as well as mid-bite, Lizzy only nodded her assent. "Very well, then," acknowledged Mr. Bennet. Thomas then went back to eat his dinner, but at that point, he was the only one eating.
"What news? First the carriage and now there is news? I do not know how many more surprises I can take. Out with your news, Mr. Bennet!" Mrs. Bennet all but shouted at her husband.
"I shall tell you after dinner, my dear. You have gone to such trouble and given us all such a wonderful meal, I should not want to interrupt it for my silly bit of news. I will join you ladies after dinner and share it all at once," said Mr. Benner, diving right back into his roast beef. The creases around his eyes were the only sign of his heightened amusement. Lizzy had to stifle a laugh by coughing into her napkin while Jane was uncomfortable and stared at her plate. The others stared at Thomas in confusion. Mrs. Bennet sighed and spoke into her potatoes, "How he enjoys aggravating my poor nerves."
After dinner, Mr. Bennet joined the women, as promised, in the drawing room. With all eyes on him, he began by addressing his wife: "I hope, my dear, that you have ordered a good dinner for tomorrow, because I have reason to expect an addition to our family party."
"Who do you mean, my dear? I know of nobody coming, I am sure, unless Charlotte Lucas should happen to call in, and I hope my dinners are good enough for her. I do not believe she often sees such at home"
"The person of whom I speak, is a gentleman and a stranger."
Mrs. Bennet's eyes sparkled: ``A gentleman and a stranger! It is Mr. Bingley, I am sure. Why Jane, you never dropped a word of this; you sly thing! Well, I am sure I shall be extremely glad to see Mr. Bingley. But - good lord! How unlucky! There is not a bit of fish to be got today. Lydia, my love, ring the bell. I must speak to Hill, this moment.''
``It is not Mr. Bingley,'' interrupted her husband; ``it is a person whom I never saw in the whole course of my life.''
This roused a general astonishment; and he had the pleasure of being eagerly questioned by his wife and five daughters at once.
After amusing himself some time with their curiosity, he thus explained: ``About a month ago I received this letter, and about a fortnight ago I answered it, for I thought it a case of some delicacy, and requiring early attention. It is from my cousin, Mr. Collins, who, when I am dead, may turn you all out of this house as soon as he pleases.''
``Oh! My dear,'' cried his wife, ``I cannot bear to hear that mentioned. Pray do not talk of that odious man. I do think it is the hardest thing in the world that your estate should be entailed away from your own children; and I am sure if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it.'' At that statement, Jane and Lizzy gave each other a pointed glance.
``It certainly is a most iniquitous affair,'' said Mr. Bennet, ``and nothing can clear Mr. Collins from the guilt of inheriting Longbourn. But if you will listen to his letter, you may perhaps be a little softened by his manner of expressing himself.''
``No, that I am sure I shall not; and I think it was very impertinent of him to write to you at all, and very hypocritical. I hate such false friends. Why could not he keep on quarrelling with you, as his father did before him?''
``Why, indeed, he does seem to have had some filial scruples in that head, as you will hear.'' Mr. Bennet then began to read from the letter in his hand:
Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent,
THE disagreement subsisting between yourself and my late honored father always gave me much uneasiness, and since I have had the misfortune to lose him I have frequently wished to heal the breach; but for some time I was kept back by my own doubts, fearing lest it might seem disrespectful to his memory for me to be on good terms with any one with whom it had always pleased him to be at variance.
- ``There, Mrs. Bennet.'' -
My mind however is now made up on the subject, for having received ordination at Easter, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish, where it shall be my earnest endeavor to demean myself with grateful respect towards her Ladyship, and be ever ready to perform those rites and ceremonies which are instituted by the Church of England. As a clergyman, moreover, I feel it my duty to promote and establish the blessing of peace in all families within the reach of my influence; and on these grounds I flatter myself that my present overtures of good-will are highly commendable, and that the circumstance of my being next in the entail of Longbourn estate will be kindly overlooked on your side, and not lead you to reject the offered olive branch. I cannot be otherwise than concerned at being the means of injuring your amiable daughters, and beg leave to apologize for it, as well as to assure you of my readiness to make them every possible amends, - but of this hereafter. If you should have no objection to receive me into your house, I propose myself the satisfaction of waiting on you and your family, Monday, November 18th, by four o'clock, and shall probably trespass on your hospitality till the Saturday se'nnight following, which I can do without any inconvenience, as Lady Catherine is far from objecting to my occasional absence on a Sunday, provided that some other clergyman is engaged to do the duty of the day. I remain, dear sir, with respectful compliments to your lady and daughters, your well-wisher and friend,
``At four o'clock tomorrow, therefore, we may expect this peacemaking gentleman,'' said Mr. Bennet, as he folded up the letter.
Elizabeth was chiefly struck with his extraordinary deference for Lady Catherine, and his kind intention of christening, marrying, and burying his parishioners whenever it were required.
``He must be an oddity, I think,'' said she. ``I cannot make him out. There is something very pompous in his stile. And what can he mean by apologizing for being next in the entail? We cannot suppose he would help it, if he could. Can he be a sensible man, sir?''
``No, my dear; I think not. I have great hopes of finding him quite the reverse. There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter, which promises well. I am impatient to see him.''
``In point of composition,'' said Mary, ``his letter does not seem defective. The idea of the olive branch perhaps is not wholly new, yet I think it is well expressed.''
To Catherine and Lydia, neither the letter, nor its writer, was in any degree interesting. It was next to impossible that their cousin should come in a scarlet coat, and it was now some weeks since they had received pleasure from the society of a man in any other color. As for their mother, Mr. Collins's letter had done away much of her ill-will, and she was preparing to see him with a degree of composure which astonished her husband and daughters.
"I believe, my dear, that he means to marry one of our daughters," said Mr. Bennet to his wife.
"Well, and why shouldn't he? We have the prettiest girls in the county and it would certainly be doing a duty to his family by marrying one of our girls. He could not kick the sisters of his wife out of his home, after all," said a satisfied Mrs. Bennet.
"If, perchance, one of our girls desires to marry Mr. Collins, she may do so. I will not object to one of my daughters becoming the next mistress of this estate. But my opinion of this man so far is not very high, and there is no need for any of the girls to marry just for security. They may live out their lives well protected by their own dowries."
"Mr. Bennet! The girls will share 5,000 pounds. That is not enough to live on for very long, not unless you wish for them to live like paupers! They are the daughters of a gentleman and should live as such their entire lives," said Mrs. Bennet with outrage and indignation. Jane and Lizzy were watching their father very carefully at this point.
"I agree. 1,000 pounds each is certainly not enough for our girls to live on. That is why, ten years ago, I began investing. I believe each girl has now about 20,000 pounds to her name."
For the first time ever, every member of the Bennet household was completely silent. Mrs. Bennet stared at her husband with her jaw dropped, not even bothering to cover her mouth with her hand. She wasn't sure how to react; was he teasing her again? She tried speaking a few times, but not a single word was able to form.
Mr. Bennet then got up and knelt before Mrs. Bennet. He pulled a small box from his pocket. The words that came next were soft, meant only for his wife: "Fanny, I know that we both wished and prayed for a son. It was not in God's plan for us. But you have given me 5 wonderful and beautiful daughters. I am thankful for my family every day. You have raised magnificent girls. I have enjoyed our life together, here, exactly how it has been. Please do not worry any more about your future or our daughters should I leave this Earth. You are all well taken care of," Mr. Bennet then opened the box in his hands. Both Bennet parents had tears in their eyes. "I saw this in a window of a shop while I was in London. It is everything beautiful, but just a little bit too much," Mr. Bennet smiled, "just like you, my dear wife. Please take it and know that you have made me very happy, no matter how much I may tease you."
Mr. Bennet handed the diamond and ruby ring to Mrs. Bennet and she put it on her finger. After examining the exquisite piece of jewelry, something much finer than she ever imagined wearing, she looked into Mr. Bennet's face, cried "oh, Thomas, I do love you!" and grasped him in an embrace. While she cried and shook in his arms, Mr. Bennet turned to the astonished girls and said "I think I will need some time alone with your mother, girls. Jane and Lizzy, please take the others upstairs and explain things to your sisters. I will be available tomorrow for any questions they might have for me". As they were walking up the stairs, they finally heard their mother's voice bombarding their father with questions, very loudly and very quickly. This was followed by the sound of their father's hearty laughter.
I have moved the dates of a few events around. For those of you who follow the chronology of the original novel, I am aware of this and changed it to fit my purposes. The Lucas dinner originally happens before Mr. Collins arrives. Also, in my version, the girls do not take the trip to Netherfield. Do not worry, a courtship between Jane and Mr. Bingley will continue once they are all in London. Also, part of this chapter was taken directly from the original novel. I do not want to claim authorship of something I did not write, not that I could compare my amateur writing to the amazing Jane Austen and I believe it is pretty easy to tell our two styles apart.
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