Posted on Saturday, 18 August 2007
The morning after the Netherfield Ball Elizabeth woke with a little less than her usual good spirits. Yet the day looked to be crisp and sunny; a walk was definitely called for. It was to be a good, long walk, so she helped herself to an apple and a freshly baked bun from the kitchen, tied on her bonnet and headed out.
The rest of the family took rather longer to rise; when Elizabeth returned a good two hours later they were just slowly meandering in for breakfast.
Cheerfully she greeted her father and slipped into her usual place, though she did lose a little of her freshly-restored good humour when Mr Collins immediately pulled up the chair next to hers.
He did his best to keep Elizabeth's attention firmly fixed on himself, alternating between filling his mouth too full and leaning too close to speak to her of nothing she cared to hear.
She was reminded of a favourite saying of her father's: "It is better to say nothing and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."
Her cousin had long since removed all doubt.
Mr Bennet disappeared as soon as he had eaten, leaving his favourite daughter in the clutches of her mother and, as it turned out, Mr Collins.
Soon after breakfast, that worthy addressed Mrs Bennet, "May I hope, madam, for your interest with your fair daughter Elizabeth, when I solicit for the honour of a private audience with her in the course of this morning?"
Mrs. Bennet instantly answered, "Oh dear! Yes -- certainly. I am sure Lizzy will be very happy -- I am sure she can have no objection. Come, Kitty, I want you upstairs." And gathering her work together, she was hastening away, when Elizabeth called out --
"Dear ma'am, do not go. I beg you will not go. Mr. Collins must excuse me. He can have nothing to say to me that anybody need not hear. I am going away myself."
"No, no, nonsense, Lizzy. I desire you will stay where you are." And upon Elizabeth's seeming really, with vexed and embarrassed looks, about to escape, she added, "Lizzy, I insist upon your staying and hearing Mr. Collins."
A moment's consideration made Elizabeth realize that it would be wisest to get it over as soon and as quietly as possible. She sat down again, and tried to conceal, by incessant employment, the feelings which were divided between distress and diversion. Mrs. Bennet and Kitty walked off, and as soon as they were gone Mr. Collins began.
"Believe me, my dear Miss Elizabeth, that your modesty, so far from doing you any disservice, rather adds to your other perfections. You would have been less amiable in my eyes had there not been this little unwillingness; but allow me to assure you, that I have your respected mother's permission for this address. You can hardly doubt the purport of my discourse, however your natural delicacy may lead you to dissemble; my attentions have been too marked to be mistaken. Almost as soon as I entered the house, I singled you out as the companion of my future life. But before I am run away with by my feelings on this subject, perhaps it will be advisable for me to state my reasons for marrying -- and, moreover, for coming into Hertfordshire with the design of selecting a wife, as I certainly did."
The idea of Mr. Collins, with all his solemn composure, being run away with by his feelings, made Elizabeth so near laughing that she could not use the short pause he allowed in any attempt to stop him farther, and he continued at length until it was absolutely necessary to interrupt him.
"You are too hasty, sir," she cried. "You forget that I have made no answer. Let me do it without farther loss of time. Accept my thanks for the compliment you are paying me. I am very sensible of the honour of your proposals, but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than decline them."
Mr Collins, not to be dissuaded, continued, and finally finished off another ridiculous and lengthy discourse by declaring, with an air of awkward gallantry: "You are uniformly charming! and I am persuaded that, when sanctioned by the express authority of both your excellent parents, my proposals will not fail of being acceptable."
The sound of a shotgun blast awfully close to them caused Elizabeth to jump. Mr Collins' sudden bug-eyed expression did nothing to make his looks more appealing as he seriously considered if he should crawl under the table for protection before deciding he really would be much safer hiding behind his fiancée.
That option was removed from his choices when the young lady hastened to the door, meeting Hill in the hall.
"What has happened, Hill?"
"I do not know myself, Miss," the housekeeper admitted. "It was outside, I am sure."
The two hurried outside, Mr Collins remaining behind while he debated if the safest spot wasn't under the table after all.
Elizabeth hurried around the house and to the stables, with Hill behind huffing to keep up to her brisk pace. They saw the stablehands gathered together, but their circle quickly opened to allow Elizabeth access to her father.
Mr Bennet was flat on the ground, his face already deathly grey as a large red spot on his chest continued to spread.
"Papa," cried a horrified Elizabeth as she knelt by his side. It was obvious that nothing could be done for her beloved father.
Three minutes later the news reached Mrs Bennet upstairs, and if anyone thought the shotgun blast had been loud, it was nothing to the screech that now filled the house and beyond.
Caroline Bingley slept in until well past noon before ringing for her maid. When Dotty entered the room she was moving rather more quickly than usual, certainly not conducting herself with the deference her mistress demanded. Caroline glared, and Dotty skidded to a graceless halt.
"Pardon me, ma'am, but there is such news . . . "
"What news could be so important that you cannot conduct yourself properly in my presence?" her mistress demanded imperiously. "Has cook burned the buns?"
"Oh, no, ma'am," Dotty assured her immediately. "The news is not from here. It's from Longbourn."
Caroline grimaced. Was her brother gone yet? Or, heaven forbid, was he the news? What had Charles done?
"Yes," she snapped impatiently. "What could possibly be important at Longbourn?"
"It's Mr Bennet, ma'am. He was cleaning his gun and it went off. Shot himself plum' though the chest, he did."
"Is he dead?"
"Indeed he is, ma'am."
Caroline dressed as quickly as her standards would allow and descended the stairs, hoping to hear that Charles was gone and Mr Darcy had things well in hand. Surely they could escape before there was a wake and a funeral and those horrible condolence calls would be expected of her.
Poor Miss Bingley was not granted her wish. Mr Darcy refused to budge until he had condoled the family at Longbourn; he went so far as to send a message to Charles that brought him immediately back to Netherfield, leaving his sister with no option but to pay her own condolence call upon the Bennet family.
She did find one silver lining in the cloud that was Hertfordshire: the Bennets being in mourning meant that they would not be socializing. Caroline hoped to get back to town a.s.a.p. and never set foot in Hertfordshire again.
At Longbourn, Mr Collins took charge, and the funeral was arranged with all possible speed.
Elizabeth's and Jane's requests that they wait until their Uncle and Aunt Gardiner could travel from London were ignored; two days after the accident Mr Bennet was buried and Mr Collins ensconced as Master of Longbourn.
There was no sign of Mr or Mrs Gardiner.
When her brother and Mr Darcy returned from the funeral it was obvious that both were in a foul mood. Caroline's efforts to cheer them up by organizing that they all leave immediately met with no success.
The evening that followed was dull and dreary at Netherfield. At last Caroline was so frustrated with the gentlemen that she retired in a huff, leaving them to their morose thoughts and their brandy.
Elizabeth was becoming increasingly vexed. Mr Collins insisted on acting as though she had accepted his proposal and they were engaged. He seldom stirred from her side, generously doled out advice to all the ladies but saved the greatest portion of it for his beloved fiancée.
His "fiancée" was not impressed, nor did she consider herself affianced. But all her efforts to keep the odious man away from her were in vain, especially as her mother declared her satisfaction over and over that they would still have a roof over their heads because her dear Lizzy was to be married to Mr Collins and they would be spared the hedgerows and was it not wonderful?
The day after the funeral, the Bennet ladies dressed in their finest mourning attire to visit Mr Bennet's grave. At the last moment Mrs Bennet declared herself too distressed to join them and sent the girls off alone, accompanied by the ever-hovering Mr Collins.
No sooner were they on the path to the cemetery than Mr Collins slipped his arm into Elizabeth's and tried to draw her away from her sisters.
Elizabeth calmly removed her arm from his and quickly placed herself on Jane's other side.
It took him a moment, but Mr Collins huffed and puffed his way over there as well and slipped his arm once more in Elizabeth's. She promptly removed it and snuck in between Kitty and Lydia, who were giggling their way down the path in amusement at their sister's predicament.
Mr Collins waddled behind the trio, watching gimlet-eyed for his next opportunity.
Once at the grave side, Jane stood close to Elizabeth, an arm around her sister's shoulder.
Mr Collins took up his position on Elizabeth's other side, again attempting to take her arm. Elizabeth shrugged him off; Mr Collins persisted.
A frustrated Elizabeth cut across in front of Jane, nearly stepping on her father's freshly covered grave in the process, and Jane hugged her close again on her left.
As Mr Collins attempted to once more get close to Elizabeth by moving behind Jane, a deep, powerful voice rang out, "Mr Collins! What is this -- the cemetery reel?"
Ah! Recognition at last! Mr Collins raised his eyes to the heavens -- but what was this? No member of the heavenly host appeared there. He couldn't understand it -- had he not just heard . . . .
Meanwhile all the mourning Bennets turned in unison to see Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley striding around the corner of the church toward them, Mr Bingley immediately moving to stand beside Jane, Darcy glaring at Mr Collins as he approached the group.
"I believe, sir, that Miss Elizabeth has made it clear that she does not wish your attentions. No gentleman would still force himself on her after such a clear gesture on the lady's part."
"But . . . but . . . but . . . " spluttered the astonished clergyman as he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe his suddenly sodden brow, not noticing that a letter fell out as he did so.
Darcy was quick to pick up the envelope. Seeing that it was addressed to a Mr Gardiner in London from Mrs Bennet, he handed it to Elizabeth.
" I believe your mother wanted to mail this, Miss Bennet."
Elizabeth looked at the letter in astonishment, then glared at her cousin.
"Mr Collins! All this time we could not understand why Mr and Mrs Gardiner have not yet arrived. You have kept mother's letter in your pocket for the last three days. How dare you!"
"You are uniformly charming! " declared a flustered Mr Collins once he was sufficiently recovered from the shock. "But you will see, my little turtle dove, that it will all work out for the best."
It was all Elizabeth could do to avoid retching.
It was all Darcy could do to avoid strangling the absurd caricature of a man before him.
"Mr Collins!" the same deep voice rang out. "How dare you attempt to compromise the lady right at her father's grave side? Have you no manners at all?"
Mr Collins went back to wiping his brow until he had gathered his thoughts, such as they were.
Drawing himself to his full, if limited, height, he declared with only a slight stammer in his whiny voice, "You . . . you do not understand, sir. We are engaged."
If Darcy looked as shocked as he felt, he must have looked awful indeed.
His Elizabeth, promised to this pathetic excuse of a man? Impossible!
Something inside Darcy niggled at him, She is beneath you.
He glared at Collins, looked down at Elizabeth's teary face, and ignored that feeling. How could he leave her in such distress?
"Miss Elizabeth," he spoke so softly that besides Elizabeth only Jane could hear, "Is this true? Are you engaged to this . . . this . . . creature?"
"Drat," thought Darcy. She'll be furious with me now. Why could I not simply refer to the pathetic creature as "this man?" He took another look at Collins and knew why.
A stunned Elizabeth could only gape up at him.
What was Mr Darcy doing here? Why did he reprimand her cousin? Oh, certainly she had no objections to being rid of her cousin's annoying attentions, but -- Mr Darcy?
Finally she was able to shake her head. "No, sir, we are not engaged."
Relief flooded over Darcy much like the proverbial flood of Noah's time, although he didn't need a handkerchief to deal with it.
"As you see, sir, the lady declares herself not engaged to you. I will not stand by and allow you to compromise her."
"But . . . but . . . but . . . " Mr Collins was back to stuttering and wiping.
"I did propose . . . "
"And I did not accept," declared Elizabeth firmly. This was her chance to avoid marriage to the bumbling clergyman and she was not going to waste it.
"You did not reject my offer," declared an agitated Mr Collins, "nor could you afford to. I now own Longbourn," he finished triumphantly.
Elizabeth glared; Darcy glowered; Lydia snorted; Kitty giggled; Mary desperately searched her memory for a suitable quotation from Fordyce but came up blank.
"But you do not own me," snapped Elizabeth,
It took a moment before Mr Collins broke out into an evil grin. He, after all, now lived at Longbourn, and there was no other man in the place. He would prevail.
"It is just a matter of time, dear cousin," he simpered smugly.
Elizabeth shivered; Darcy glowered; Lydia snorted; Kitty coughed; Mary desperately searched her memory for a suitable quotation from Fordyce but came up blank.
"Let_me_be_rightly_understood." Darcy's voice could have frozen molasses. "You_will_not_ compromise_Miss_Elizabeth."
Mr Collins reminded himself that he was, after all, the only man who resided at Longbourn, and just smirked.
Darcy understood that smirk perfectly.
"Because, you see, Mr Collins, I will compromise her myself," and he bent down and kissed her soundly.
All six mourners turned in unison to see Mr Darcy's arms firmly wrapped around Elizabeth and his lips firmly planted on hers.
Jane gasped; Bingley gawked; Lydia was speechless; Kitty's eyes nearly popped out of her head and Mary began to wonder about gaps in Mr Fordyce's sermonizing.
When the two came up for air, Darcy looked at Elizabeth with satisfaction.
"Marry me, my love?"
She could not believe it -- had she just escaped the slimy trap of Mr Collins only to fall into the clutches of Mr Darcy? Was she not supposed to be in mourning? Did neither of these two dunderheads understand the meaning of the word?
She could only stare at him in shock.
She shook off her lethargy and stated firmly, "Before I marry you, sir, I must have your word that you will give Mr Wickham exactly what he deserves."
Darcy's eyes widened in disbelief.
He had just overcome all his doubts and scruples to offer marriage to Elizabeth Bennet, only to have her champion that man?
But wait! What had she said? . . . give Wickham exactly what he deserves?
Darcy grinned cheerfully. "Be assured, dearest, that he already has what he deserves."
Elizabeth was not amused.
"Everyone in Hertfordshire knows what his misfortunes at your hands have been. No one can help feeling an interest in him."
"His misfortunes!" repeated Darcy contemptuously; "yes, his misfortunes have been great indeed."
"And of your infliction," cried Elizabeth with energy. "You have reduced him to his present state of poverty -- comparative poverty. You have withheld the advantages, which you must know to have been designed for him. You have deprived the best years of his life, of that independence which was no less his due than his desert. You have done all this! and yet you can treat the mention of his misfortunes with contempt and ridicule -- and you expect me to marry you?"
Darcy raised his eyebrows in disbelief.
"We have to talk," he declared firmly, swept Elizabeth off her feet and carried her to his carriage.
An agitated Mr Collins, seeing his prize being snatched out of his reach, ran after the rapidly disappearing couple, his black cloak billowing out behind him as he tried in vain to keep up with Darcy's long strides and desperately screeched, "my fiancée," "my turtle dove," "my sweetkins."
Reaching the carriage, Darcy placed Elizabeth inside, gave instructions to his coachman to slowly circle the churchyard and sat himself beside Elizabeth. He wrapped his arm around her, pulled her close and began,
"Elizabeth, I have to speak to you about Mr Wickham."
She nodded. "Indeed you do, sir. You have played an unbecoming role in that gentleman's concerns."
"Have I now?" Darcy was wondering what it would take to make her understand what sort of rake Wickham was when the door to his carriage was abruptly opened and an unknown man swung himself in.
"I beg your pardon!" A furious Darcy glared at the stranger.
"Elizabeth!" thundered a voice that she knew very well indeed.
"Uncle Gardiner!" Elizabeth was stunned -- how did her uncle know to come just now? The letter . . . never let it be said that Elizabeth was not resourceful. "Here, Uncle," she declared brightly, "I have a letter for you."
Mr Gardiner did not even look at the letter that he now held in his hand.
"Elizabeth!" he thundered again, then turned his eyes on the man beside his niece.
"Unhand my niece, sir," he demanded in a tone of voice that made it clear: this man expected to be obeyed.
"Your uncle?" Darcy asked Elizabeth.
Darcy picked up Elizabeth and perched her on his lap so that he could free his right hand and offer it to Mr Gardiner.
"Fitzwilliam Darcy at your service, sir."
Mr Gardiner ignored the outstretched hand.
"Elizabeth! Remove yourself from this man!"
"Mr Gardiner, may I trouble you for the hand of your niece, Miss Elizabeth?"
Mr Gardiner could only glare in disbelief. He had come to Hertfordshire for a funeral only to find himself in the midst of a circus.
Darcy asked Elizabeth, "Dearest, is your uncle discreet?"
"Absolutely," Elizabeth assured him. "I would trust him with my life."
"I am glad to hear it," and Darcy began to relate the entire history of George Wickham and the Darcy family.
"Oh my," gasped Elizabeth.
"What a rake," thundered Mr Gardiner. "Rest assured, sir, that I will keep him away from my nieces."
"I am glad to hear it, sir," said a relieved Darcy. Perhaps Elizabeth had some relations with sense after all.
Mrs Gardiner paid her respects to her sister Bennet before joining her nieces at the grave side.
Coming in view of the cemetery what should meet her eyes but Kitty and Lydia doubled over in hysterical laughter, Jane being most decidedly kissed by a young man who was a stranger to her aunt, Mary standing, hands on hips, as she glared from one misbehaving couple to the other, and a very grand carriage being driven slowly around the perimeter of the churchyard while something that looked like an overstuffed crow with a black cloak billowing out behind ran frantically after said conveyance, screeching something that sounded suspiciously like "my turtle dove," "my sweetkins."
Mrs Gardiner shook her head. She must be hearing things -- perhaps seeing things as well.
Mary came storming toward her.
Her aunt was about to offer her condolences but had no chance, Mary immediately beginning a diatribe against Mr Collins who had tried to compromise Lizzy and Mr Darcy who had compromised Lizzy and Mr Bingley who was now compromising Jane and her younger sisters who had no notion of comportment at all and they were supposed to be in mourning and would Aunt Gardiner please do something about it.
When Mary finally ran out of breath, Mrs Gardiner hardly knew what to reply -- she hadn't quite caught on to all this.
"How did you know to come?" Mary asked. "Mr Collins refused to mail mother's letter and has been keeping it in his pocket for the last three days."
"We had a letter from Lady Lucas," explained Mrs Gardiner, and went back to watching the carriage.
"Who is that?" She indicated the crow.
"Oh. And in the carriage?"
"Mr Darcy and Lizzy. He just picked her up and carried her in there and they have been going around in circles ever since."
"Yes, indeed," said Mrs Gardiner. "Everyone seems to be going around in circles. Where is Mr Gardiner? He came here before I did."
"Uncle Gardiner is here? I had no idea," said Mary, wondering if now she could expect her sisters to settle down at last and get on with the business of mourning their father. As to herself, Mary would be looking for a replacement for Mr Fordyce's sermons. That revered gentleman had left too many gaps in his.
When the carriage stopped at last, having left an exhausted crow gasping for breath at the other side of the church, the group at the grave side were quite astonished to see not only Mr Darcy and Elizabeth descend from the vehicle, but Mr Gardiner as well.
Having sorted out the relationship with Mr Darcy and one niece, the uncle now approached another niece who was most unbecomingly engaged with another stranger -- and right beside her father's grave, no less.
"Jane!" thundered a voice that she knew very well indeed.
Jane started. Her effort to pull back from Bingley met with stiff resistance.
"Jane!" thundered the voice once more, followed by, "Sir! Unhand my niece!"
Bingley removed his lips from Jane's at last, a decidedly goofy grin on his face. He got down on one knee, but almost toppled over, so giddy was he.
"Jane, dearest, Jane, will you not marry me?"
"Oh yes, Charles, my dearest Charles. Of course I will marry you.'
Mr Gardiner glared; Lydia and Kitty laughed hysterically; Mrs Gardiner wondered what had happened to the crow; Mary desperately wondered who would replace Fordyce; and Darcy, seeing that everyone was too busy to watch him, went back to kissing a very cooperative Elizabeth who was no longer the least bit concerned about the misfortunes that had reduced the infamous Mr Wickham to his present state of poverty.
Since neither newly engaged man was willing to leave his fiancée at the mercy of the universally distrusted Mr Collins, only Mary and Lydia returned to sleep, along with Mrs Bennet, at Longbourn.
Bingley brought Darcy, Elizabeth, Jane, Kitty and the Gardiners back to Netherfield, where Caroline was accorded the honour of hosting all the additional guests. And if she thought this was an insult to her pride, it was nothing to her horror when she discovered that not only was her brother engaged to the lovely Jane Bennet, her beloved Mr Darcy was to marry the insupportable Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
"Good bye, Pemberley," sobbed Caroline. There went her dream of the biggest pumpkin patch in England.