Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ruined Forever Part the third

Never in the history of Mrs. Bennet’s very good dinners and card parties and suppers had her front hall been so crowded. The gentlemen attending the morning’s hunt constituted a respectable collection of the local gentry all sent by their wives to impress the new arrivals in the neighborhood. With Bingley and Darcy, ten in number. With the arrival of the constable, the apothecary - Mr. Johns, and the coroner, Mr. Jeffers, the room barely allowed polite breathing space. With Mr. Jeffers, came the vicar, Mr Prescott, cousin to the coroner and the curate, Mr. Marks. Mr. Jeffers had been visiting the vicarage for his weekly chess game with his cousin when they’d received Mr. Hill's summons.
It was necessary for the magistrate, an ancient solid squire better known for his ability to ride to hounds than his jurisprudence, to raise his voice quite loudly to be heard over the questions and cross questioning and bring the gathering to some sort of order.
While he was thus engaged Mr. Bennet escorted his second daughter down the hall to a quieter corner where they could converse.
“Quickly my dear, tell me. What has happened? And, if you can, save your entirely justified distress until later.”
Lizzy gave a sharp nod but did not raise her gaze from the floor, therefore she did not see that Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy had positioned themselves near to hand.
“Oh, papa, I am so sorry.”
Mr. Bennet laid a hand over Elizabeth’s chill fingers.
“I am certain you did nothing wrong.”
Lizzy shook her head and in a bare whisper began: “After you left the house Mr Collins solicited my mother for an opportunity for private speech with me. I knew his intent and tried to turn him from his purpose but mother insisted I stay and hear him.”
Mr Bennet muttered a barely heard curse and Lizzy nodded. “Yes, she must have waited for you to leave. I felt it was arranged between them. He was so smug.”
“I am certain. What happened next?”
“He made the oddest speech about his patroness encouraging him to marry, his role as your heir, and then became quite … overly familiar.”
There was an indrawn breath that caught both their attention. Father and daughter looked up to see Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy watching them. Mr. Darcy looked quite shocked and disturbed by that intelligence. Elizabeth gave a small cry and turned her face away.
“My dear,” said Mr. Bennet, urging her to raise her chin. “You will have to tell the tale before the inquest. These gentlemen, at least, will be sympathetic listeners.”
Lizzy sighed and nodded again.
“What manner of familiar, Miss Bennet?” asked Darcy. “It is necessary to be clear.”
“He did not touch me, if that is what you mean. At least. Not in the parlor.”
“Were you in the parlor when this began?” Mr. Darcy’s voice was soft. There was a gentleness to his manner, the set of his shoulders. His whole form surprised Elizabeth. Never in the weeks of their acquaintance had he been so approachable and mild in his countenance.
“Must you know? We were alone for the barest moment. I assure you he did not … impose upon me in any significant manner. It was only that he made a proposal that I rejected and he refused to accept my word.”
“I did not mean to suggest such a thing, Miss Bennet. Only they are about to convene an inquest. You should settle your thoughts, prepare to give your description of events.”
“You have some experience in this field?” inquired Mr. Bennet.
“I read Law in Cambridge in expectation of assuming the duties of magistrate in my neighborhood when the current office holder retires.”
“Excellent. If you might assist my daughter with her preparations while I shall speak to the magistrate and coroner. But before I leave, my dear, how did this come to pass? The death.  You have not yet told me.”
“Briefly, papa, Mr. Collins made the most preposterous proposal, refused to believe I would presume to decline the honor and when I departed the room he followed me. On the stairs…” Elizabeth hesitated. “He… I am not certain but suddenly he … he fell.”
“Down the stairs,” said her father. “To his, forgive me, my child, to his death?”
She nodded.
“Immediately or… after some little time?”
“No, father. By the time we reached his side he was not breathing.”
Mr Bennet patted his daughter on her hand. “Mr Darcy, if you would be so kind as to help her prepare? You are acquainted with the progress of an inquest?”
“Indeed. I would be honored to be of assistance to her.”
“Thank you. Then you should perhaps adjourn to my book room for pen and paper and a moment of privacy so she might clear her mind.”
“Mr. Darcy, I apologize,” began Elizabeth, as the door closed behind her father.
“Not at all, Miss Elizabeth, I am more than willing to be of assistance.”
Elizabeth huddled down further into her chair, but her attention was directed toward the closed door.
“What are they about?” she asked in the softest voice he had heard her use. “What shall they require of me?”
In all the time Darcy had the benefit of knowing Miss Elizabeth he knew she valued honesty and directness of speech, therefore he was as practical as he would be to any young gentleman in a similar situation.
“First they will decide if the inquest should be held today. Since your father will be presenting the death as a simple accident and there is not reason to conduct a search for a attacker… no reason to raise a hue and cry there is little enough reason to delay.”
“Because I am here.”
“Because you are not an attacker,” said Darcy, firmly. “Since this is a legal gathering it is necessary that do not accuse yourself. If anything you should remind them you, a young lady in your own home, were fleeing an intolerable situation.”
“Yes, intolerable.” Her voice continued soft and the palor of her lips and cheeks were beginning to concern him. He went to where Mr. Bennet had a tray with a decanter of brandy and small glass. When he pointed to the glass Miss Elizabeth declined with a shake of her head.
“Come. Come, Miss Elizabeth. Are you not the woman who told me that your spirit rises at any attempt to intimidate you?”
“Oh, heavens.” Lizzy gave a shaky laugh. “Foolish child that I was. I cannot imagine such a circumstance occurring.”
“I have faith in you. Miss Elizabeth. You have the strength to endure this.”
“Thank you.”
“Perhaps I should ask Mrs. Hill to keep you company,” suggested Darcy. “A dish of tea? Would that restore you?”
"That would be most welcome, Mr. Darcy.”
“Then so I shall. Bear up, Miss Elizabeth. I have faith in you.”
He glanced about finally sighting the bell-pull behind the master’s desk. A sharp tug summoned Mrs. Hill herself who stared at Miss Elizabeth as if she had never seen the girl before. Darcy cleared his throat catching the housekeepers attention. The woman gave a belated curtsy.
“Miss Elizabeth is overset," said Darcy, "as you can see. She would benefit from a dish of tea, and can you see if a blanket or a shawl could be fetched?”
When Mrs. Hill left Darcy busied himself with the fire. At this time of the year a low fire shimmered in the grate but now Darcy could see that Elizabeth needed more than mere warmth, she needed restoration. A high burning blaze, Darcy knew, gave strength with the light as well as heat. Elizabeth confirmed his supposition by coming to stand beside the fireplace, staring into the blaze and holding her pale hands out.
When Hill returned she placed a tea service on a side table before warming the blanket she carried before the fire.
“Shall you take some tea, Mr. Darcy,” offered Miss Elizabeth, with the same courtesy he remembered from her mother’s dinners.
“Thank you, yes,” said Darcy, automatically. "And when you are ready, if you would come to your father’s desk, we shall begin working on your deposition. Shall I prepare a pen for you?”
Elizabeth stood, the blanket falling away as she gave a shallow laugh.
“Pen? I can mend my own pens, thank you.”
“Excellent.” He smiled and held out a hand, then his gaze focused and he stared at her bodice. “Wait. What is this?”
Lizzy halted, looking down, then cried out and pulled the blanket back.
“No, Miss Elizabeth. Show me. When did this happen? Did that scoundrel strike you?”
He caught hold of both of her hands and examined her left arm. The thin muslin cap sleeve hung down, torn clearly free of its stitching where it joined the bodice at the back. Along the length of her smooth upper arms were lines of reddened skin that foretold coming bruises.
“What did that scoundrel do to you?”
“Nothing? Nothing I assure you.”
“No, Miss Elizabeth,” Darcy’s voice was low, soothing. “Quite obviously he did do something. You would not be so bruised unless that man tried to lay hands on you. I hold him entirely responsible but I must know, why did he take hold of you?”
“I… I don’t entirely recall.”
"In the parlor?"
"No. No, I left the parlor before he could approach me."
"then it must have been when you were upon the stairs." 
"Possibly, I cannot be certain." 
Darcy frowned at her arm for a moment, considering, then the chiming of the clock caught his attention.
“Sit here,” Darcy held her father’s chair away from the desk. “You should prepare. Should they decide to hold the inquest today you must have a declaration ready, written, that you must read for the coroner and jury to hear.”
“A letter?”
“A declaration of events.”
“Very well. What shall I say?”
“The truth. The facts. Simply and clearly.”
“I wish I could say I could do that but I fear, I cannot say.” She looked down at her bruised arm. “I do not recall. When did he take hold of me? Surely I should be able to say…”
“Please sit, and we shall go over the matter slowly.”
“As you say.”
“Begin. How did this day, this interview, come about?”
I do not remember. I cannot recall at all. Did I push him?
“Do not write that. Surely that would not be your action. I know you well enough that you would not lay hand upon a gentleman unless he gave you significant motivation. Only consider, what do you recall? Go back to the beginning of the day.”
“I remember being angry.”
“At him?”
“At his presumption. At my mother. Forgive me, I must appear to be most disrespectful of my mother but I had told her several times that Mr. Collins did not inspire my regard and yet she pushed the attachment. Then, when he came to the point, Mr. Collins did not so much as propose to me as to give the strangest speech I have been encountered. He described to me, as if I did not know, that he admired this house, his inheritance. Then he presented the arguments your aunt, his patroness, gave instructing him to gain a wife. As if the opinions of a person so removed from me would influence me in any way, and then he outlined who having a wife would suit his health and happiness. The whole of the time he described how it would serve his good, his advantage, his patroness as if I were a… some useful tool he was contemplating purchasing. It was most odd, then, without actually forming a proposal he declared his warm feelings, at which point I decided I could not longer endure the nonsense.”
“When did he touch you?” asked Darcy, in as disinterested tone as he could manage despite the burning in his chest. How dare that pretentious parson dare aspire to touch Elizabeth. Did he not realize how far above him the woman was? How intelligent? How witty? How wise and beautiful?
Elizabeth paled but answered in a voice that did not waver.
“He was about to, I think, but no, not in the manner you think. He might have kissed me, he was preparing to kiss me, but I interrupted and declined his offer. Then he declared my mother had already accepted his suit on my behalf and he was certain that my father would agree. I was so angry at my mother for saying that to him that I declared my intent on making clear my wishes on the subject to her and I left the room. I had to speak to her. That was my only thought at that moment.”
“And he followed?”
“Yes. I knew my mother was upstairs and my father was away with the gentlemen, shooting. Otherwise I would have gone to his bookroom and my father would have made clear my refusal would stand.”
“You were that certain of your father’s support? Mr. Collins was your father’s heir, after all.”
“I am completely certain. I know my father despised him. No. I cannot write that.”
“But you are clear in your mind that your father would support your refusal? Viewed impartially, it is a good match for you.”
Fire snapped in her eyes for the first time during the interview and Darcy rejoiced. His Elizabeth was returning.
“Impartially, do you say? How can you, sir? All sensibilities revolt. He is, was, an ignorant toad. He has no address, no grace, no education at all. He is an embarrassment to us all. Besides my sister Jane and I have long declared we would never marry where there is no affection and certainly there was no inducement in Mr. Collins appearance, manner and general address to suggest any woman expend the effort to learn to like him.”
Darcy’s silence suggested his confusion.
“It has always been my ambition, my dream," continued Elizabeth, "to marry where there is true affinity of mind. A true affection. I know that you will despise me and think me provincial beyond all reason. Marriages between those of your rank and standing will always be to advance in society, but for me, with little to offer my husband beyond myself, I have hoped for some similarity in the turns of our minds and hearts. Forgive me, I should not waste your time with my romantical nonsense. It is not important.”
“No. No, this makes matters clearer to me and I know that, under the circumstances, you would not be eagerly running to notify your mother of an engagement. I agree, Mr. Collins does not impress upon close acquaintance. Therefore I must ask, your father, are you completely certain that he would have supported your refusal?”
“I can say that with complete certainty."
“Very well. But after you left the room. Not able to seek your father’s sanctuary, what did you do?”
“I realized arguing with my mother would serve no purpose and since Mr. Collins left the parlor after me, I determined that I should go to my room and lock the door, never to emerge until father returned.”
“Did you fear Mr. Collins would attempt … to force his attentions upon you?”
“No. No. I was fatigued with his company and sought solitude. If I could have left the house I would have but it is still my home, not his and I will not be driven from it.”
“Excellent. Remember to write that down. Now, what happened next? From where did Mr. Collins fall?”
“The stairs. He came after me. Followed me upstairs, intending, I think to continue to argue his case before my mother.”
“He came after you?” Darcy frowned. “Be careful to phrase it exactly as you did now.” When Elizabeth gave him a quizzical stare he continued: “It implies that you were frightened of him. That his manner was aggressive at worst, and impolite at the very best. The jury’s sympathy will be engaged.”
“Are you certain I need to perform in such a manner? That I need to imply I was a weak fragile female?”
Darcy smiled. “Those who know you well will know you are strong enough - in your spirit. Your form, forgive me, is small. Even an ill-made youth as was Mr. Collins might seek to intimidate you.”
“Very well.” Elizabeth considered the still blank page without enthusiasm.
“And on the stairs, Miss Bennet? When did he seize hold of you?”
“I do not recall. Indeed, until you pointed out the bruises I would have sworn he had not.”“I went upstairs. He followed, still taking. Then, when I was about to reach the topmost stair he … he fell. I heard him cry out.”
“Is that when he seized your arm?”
Elizabeth looked down at the bruise. Now she knew it was there it began to ache. Mr. Darcy held her elbow gently and turned the limb.
“I do not remember him doing that.”
“And yet, your arm bears the mark of his fingers. Did he catch hold of you to stop your flight? To continue his argument? Or, to stop his own fall?”
“I do not recall,” whispered Elizabeth. “Truly, I do not!”
“Think of the events. You were walking up the stairs…”
“Running,” corrected Elizabeth.
“Yes, of course,” Darcy grinned at her and was delighted when she grinned back. “And Mr. Collins, was he attempting to catch you up or progressing with dignity?”
“Hurrying. I have the impression he was not pleased with my escape and wanted to reach my mother’s side before I did.”
“A good word to use.”
“Yes. You are a lady with delicate sensibilities, aware you have just disappointed a young man’s hopes and were seeking to escape. Perfectly understandable.”
“Oh, yes, I understand.”
“So you were running, hurrying to get away and he was close on your heels.”
“No, actually I was a few steps ahead of him when he cried out.”
“He cried out? As he fell or before?”
“I…” Elizabeth considered, biting her lower lip.
Darcy waited, watched, patiently. She was uniformly wonderful. There was no other way to describe it. Despite her trauma she was everything ladylike and charming. His only wish at this moment was to comfort, to protect. The responsibility had been yielded to him by her father and if it had been the transfer that occurred before the altar during a wedding Darcy could hold it no less sacred!
“I think I … yes, I was turned away. I heard him cry out, I turned and Mr. Collins was already falling. Fallen.”
“You turned. Might it be because he caught your arm?”
“Now you say it, yes. I felt him touch me and was offended by his touch.”
“Did you move away? Brush him away?”
“No. That is, as he was falling I was reaching out to the banister, holding it so that I would not fall!”
“Excellent. Now we both have a good understanding of today's events, yes?”
“Yes, indeed. Thank you, Mr. Darcy for aiding me.”
“It is my honor, Miss Elizabeth. Now, I should like to know what the gentlemen are saying. If you are able, I shall leave you to write out your declaration.”
Elizabeth looked down at the blank sheet and did not answer.
“Thank you,” she said, then as he turned away she added: “Mr. Darcy?”
“I am certain, that is, I want you to know I do not believe I should ever push a person. Not even Mr. Collins.”
“Miss Elizabeth, I never doubted you.”
Elizabeth sat at her father’s desk staring at the closed door while Mrs. Hill picked absently at her apron and gazed about at every familiar thing in the room - except Elizabet. The whole morning was a confusion of thoughts and feelings. Elizabeth’s horror at Mr. Collins’s proposal warred with the memories of Mr. Darcy’s unaccounted kindness. Who would have thought such a stern, unyeilding, man could speak with gentleness? Could hold her wounded arm with tenderness and concern and look at her, after all she’d told him about the morning, as if she were worthy of his regard and respect. Previously she had thought he looked at her only to find fault and yet this morning when her conduct did not bear close examination he was respectful. Who could account for such a man? What was one to think of him? Oh, teasing, teasing man, what must she think of him?
Lizzy confused by kindness but mind is caught with struggling with her memories. Did I push Mr. Collins? Did I mean him to fall. The picture refused to form in her mind. How close had Mr. Collins been when she’d reached the topmost step. Had she been at the top? Surely not. She’d been able to touch the carved wooden ball at the top of the banister and that meant she was second from the top. And Mr. Collin’s, where had he been? Had he reached the step with the torn carpet?
How odd that she couldn’t recall something that had happened - she glanced toward the clock - good heaven’s, where had the morning gone? Two hours had passed since Mr. Collins imposed his presence upon the parlor. It felt as if it had been minutes. Or hours.
Grasping her courage she addressed the page before her and began outlining, as clearly as possible, the dreadful events of the morning. She very much wanted to explain to herself, and to the coroner and magistrate, how it came about that a man now lay dead.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Ruined Forever part the 2nd

That sound was enough to bring Elizabeth back to an awareness of herself. She rose and, with Jane following along, tiptoed down the stairs. Jane slipped and clutched at the banister as she passed the third step and looked down.
“Oh, the carpet runner.”
“What?” demanded her mother.
“Tis torn and the carpet bar as broken loose,” said Elizabeth pointing at the polished brass bar now pulled completely free of the oak boards and the carpet hanging loose on the steps. Mrs. Bennet leaned forward and shook her head.
“Oh. Oh. Hill! Hill!, I need you immediately.”
Elizabeth ignored the noise abve her head and crept up upon the body. Mr. Collins was not improved by death. His receding jaw was slack, hanging open displaying all his prominent teeth. His narrow chested body was stained and damp in places. His head, tilted to one side, was held at such an angle to show that he had carefully combed his hair to one side to hide his balding forehead.
His coat fell open to show his vest was food stained and shirt indifferently laundered.
This, Elizabeth reminded herself, was the man her mother wanted her to marry.
Mrs. Hill and her husband arrived at a run.
“Hill. Mrs. Hill. The stairs. The carpet is torn. I cannot bear it. Have the maid fetch her darning kit and carry the carpet out to repair it at once. It must be mended before Mr. Bennet comes home.”
“Mother,” cried Elizabeth. “The carpet? The carpet? That is what must be done? That is your occupation? Mr. Collins lies here, dead and you are troubled by a tear in the carpet?”
“Well,” said Mrs. Bennet, folding her hands into her shawl. “Yes, you are right. Hill, first take… that… Mr. Collins away and lay him out.. Somewhere out the the way.”
“No!” cried Elizabeth, rising. “The body must stay where it lies. Do not move it, Hill or you shall anser to not only Mr. Bennet but to the Magistrate and the coroner!”
“The magistrate,” repeated Mrs. Bennet. “No. No I cannot endure it. Hill, my salts. Hill.”
Lizzy shot her elder sister a look.
“Take care of mother. Give her a dose and calm her if you can.”
Jane nodded and ran upstairs followed by the housekeeper and together they took Mrs. Bennet in hand.
Lizzy turned to Mr. Hill.
“My father must be sent for. Send one of the stablemen. Be careful to tell him only that I, not my mother, but I ask that father comes home this instant. Do not tell him why!”
“Yes, miss.”
When the servant left Lizzy leaned her head against the cool wood panels of the walls. Footsteps from above caught her attention. Mrs. Hill was clattering about, preparing to free the carpet runner.
“Mrs. HIll. I was quite clear,” said Lizzy. “The carpet must stay where it is, as must Mr. Collins.”
“Oh, miss, your mother is in a taking. If you are calling the magistrate to the house she will not have anyone criticize her housekeeping.”
“At this moment, the death of a house-guest is of more significance. Let it be.”
When the house keeper continued working at the brass carpet rails Lizzy raised her voice. “Mrs. Hill. Leave it be, I insist and my father will agree with me! You have a legal obligation to leave him exactly as he lies until the coroner has seen him!”
Flustered, and startled by the unexpected volume and determination in Elizabeth’s voice, Mrs. Hill departed back to Mrs. Bennet’s chamber.
Mr. Bennet stood, cradling his gun across his chest, and watched as his fellow hunters took turns displaying their prowess. As an established sketcher of characters Mr. Bennet was willing to be taught.
Since being honored with a knighthood Sir William Lucas was more deliberate in his actions and acquired a habit of purchasing fashionable equipment. It was Mr. Bennet's observation that a little less attention to fashion and decoration and a little more attention to the shape of the barrel and preparation of powder and shot might improve his old friend’s aim.
But Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy were more interesting.
New to the neighborhood and with Mr. Bingley paying pointed attention to his eldest daughter, they were near to unknown to him and Mr. Bennet was well entertained by their relationship. Bingley could easily be described as amiable and while not the greatest wit, clever enough to manage the business and money he had inherited. The only problem Mr. Bennet could see for Jane’s happy marriage to his pup was for as long as Mr. Bingley continued to differ to his friend, and social superior, he could not be counted as secure in his standing in society. Bingley was not a sycophant - while the same could not be said about his sisters - he did show a touch too much consideration toward Mr. Darcy’s point of view until his own was almost invisible.
Mr. Darcy himself was, indeed, worth watching.
While Bingley asked for advice and direction in everything from his choice of weapon to his posture while shooting Darcy stood firm on his own feet and held his own opinions - and acted upon them.
Well, a few years of fatherhood and Jane’s gentle guidance and if Bingley was going to become any sort of man, Mr. Bennet would be pleased to watch him discover it.
Bingley let loose with a barrage of admiration just as the silent, morose Hurst took his shot, and missed.
Having Mr. Bingley as a son-in-law would be good entertainment in the years to come. Yes, Mr. Bennet could be proud of that young man.
His sycophantic cousin was burden enough without adding a stupid son-in-law.
To be honest, Mr. Bingley could have become one of the foolish men of fashion instead of attaching himself to Mr. Darcy.
Darcy was economical in his movements, silent in his stance and accurate in his aim.
Rapid feet charged through the half frozen mud behind them catching all their attention. The men put up their weapons at a warning cry from the hunt master.
Mr. Bennet frowned as he recognized one of his younger servants.
“Micheal? What goes, lad?” demanded Mr. Bennet. “Is something amiss at home?”
“Sir. Sir,” gasped the boy. “You… Miss Lizzy, sir. She says as how you must come home, sir. Tis important.”
“Lizzy? Lizzy has sent for me?” At the boy’s nod Bennet handed over his gun to another servant. “Gentlemen, please excuse me. I must return home.”
“Is aught the matter, Mr. Bennet?” said Bingley, who was conscious of his duties as the host. “May I aid you in any way? Shall I send for my carriage?”
Mr. Bennet hesitated then moved closer to his servant. “Do you have any information?”
“Well, Meg, the kitchen maid says as how they’ve sent for the magistrate and the coroner as well.”
“Me?” ……………………..the magistrate cried, stepping closer. “What has gone forward?”
“Why would your daughter need a coroner?” demanded Darcy.
“Good heavens,” cried Bingley. “Why the coroner and not the apothecary?”
“Oh, they’ve sent for him too. And the constable.”
The gentlemen exchanged worried looks as Mr. Bennet went pale. Bingley stepped forward to take the elder man’s arm.
“Mr. Bennet, if you will permit, we shall see you home with the greatest dispatch. You, lad,” Darcy waved to Bingley’s servants. “Run ahead. Carriages take too long. Horses are to be readied immediately and bring them to meet us.”
The servant touched his cap and set off at a run.
Mr Bennet remained voiceless and impassive the length of the journey home. It was not until he entered the building to be greeted by all the ladies of his household, that he drew a deep breath and seemed to come to life. Mrs Bennet charged down the stairs to seize his arm.
“Oh, Mr. Bennet. Mr. Bennet, we are in an uproar. Mr. Collins is dead and now he cannot marry Lizzy. We shall be cast out to starve in the hedgerows.”
Mr.Bennet stepped into his hall his gaze taking in both the linen covered shape at the bottom of the stairs and his daughter, his dearest Lizzy, with a shawl wrapped around her shoulders. He gave his frantic wife a quick hug and set her to one side.
“Lizzy, my dear,” he said softly to the pale creature who sat on the hall bench. “Can you tell me what happened?”
“It is of everything horrible,” interrupted his wife. “And what are you thinking, bringing the hunt home? I am not prepared. Lizzy will not permit the.. the… him to be removed - some nonsense about the coroner - and nothing is prepared for guests.”
“She was entirely correct,” declared Mr. Bennet. “Jane, please, take your mother above stairs.”
“Yes father.”
“But. But,” stuttered Mrs. Bennet.
“My dear Mrs. Bennet, I must insist,” said her husband. “There is work to be done this day and it would offend your sensibilities to endure it.”
“But you cannot have the gentlemen come in,” protested his wife, as she slowly strangled her kerchief. “What they must think of us.”
“No more and no less than ever they did. No, my dear, you must leave us to it. Lizzy has the right of it. Now go and rest.”
Casting a glare toward her oblivious daughter Mrs. Bennet suffered herself to be borne upstairs as the gentlemen of the hunt entered and divested themselves of their outerwear.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Ruined Forever - a P and P variation.

Ruined Forever

It was never my ambition to write a variation on Pride and Prejudice. I swore I would never do it. Promised myself, I did.

So, here it is.

This book starts as Mr. Collins begins his rather clumsy proposal to Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

I have done my best to be consistent with the laws and rules of order for the era. I will take responsibility for my mistakes and would welcome references if you can prove me wrong. That being said, this is a work of fiction.


For Elizabeth Bennet, known to her intimates as Lizzy, to her mother as “that dreadful hoyden”, the previous sennight had not been notable in her personal journal as a time in which she was able to sketch amiable and interesting characters.
Sadly, no.
The only new person to introduce themselves into the society of Meryton was that of her cousin, the parson of Hunsford and, sadly, the heir to her father - Mr. William Collins.
No sooner had that man presented himself at the door of Longbourne that he admitted in confidence to Mrs. Bennet his intention to review the daughters of the House and chose from their number a suitable wife.
This news immediately delighted Mrs. Bennet for this woman was, one must admit, selfish, self centered and much occupied in the pursuit of her own comfort. Soon after her marriage to Mr. Thomas Bennet she became aware of the entail bound upon the estate of Thomas Bennet, that required the estate be surrendered to the male descendants of a Mr. Hurbert Bennet, grandfather to the current Thomas Bennet. In this generation, there being no male children of Thomas Bennet Mr. Collins was that beneficiary. This entail had been constructed with no consideration to be extended to the late Bennet’s widow.
For a woman who thought she had exchanged her dowry of five thousand pounds for a life-time of security and comfort, Mrs. Bennet was horrified to discover she would be ejected from her home at the whim of a stranger. Her grief was inexpressible - although she did attempt it on an almost daily basis.
Therefore Mrs. Bennet, seeking her own future comfort, directed Mr. Collins attention toward the second daughter, Lizzy. Not valuing Lizzy’s intelligence or educated conversation herself, Mrs. Bennet could not imagine Lizzy capturing any useful man’s attention. Lizzy was not classically beautiful, as was Jane, nor vivacious and charming, as was Lydia. And far to given to speaking her own mind.
The fact that Lizzy’s attributes were not those usually found in the wife of a parson did not inhibit Mrs. Bennet in the least. The taming and managing of a wife was the responsibility of a husband and once they were wed the matter was no longer Mrs. Bennet’s concern.
Therefore, this wet spring morning, Mrs. Bennet was delighted when Mr. Collins approached her with his usual sideways scuttle and curious half bowed posture to declare, loudly: “May I hope, madam, to solicit for the honour of a private audience with your fair daughter Elizabeth in the course of this morning?"
Throughout this speech Mr. Collins kept casting a glance toward were Lizzy sat, watching to see if she blushed and looked conscious of the impending honor.
Elizabeth was seated beside her favorite sister, her hands clenched about her embroidery and would not raise her gaze to meet his, which was satisfactory to the parson.
He would have been horrified if he could perceive the path of Lizzy’s thoughts. That girl was caught between rage at her mother, and fury at herself for not avoiding this situation. Hadn’t she labored at avoiding this man? Had she not worked hard to politely suppress his pretensions?
Oh, and now she would be forced to directly refuse him.
Mrs. Bennet answered before Lizzy could speak, "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. Jane. Jane, leave that for now and come along."
Lizzy leapt to her feet and caught at her mother’s sleeve, "Dear mama, 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!"
Mrs. Bennet took her daughter by the shoulder and pressed her down into a chair.
"No, no, nonsense, Lizzy. I desire you to 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." She gave Elizabeth a meaningful glare. “You know what you are to do!”
Elizabeth knew 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, Jane 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 would 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 further, and he continued: "My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish; secondly, that I am convinced that it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly—which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness. Twice has she condescended to give me her opinion (unasked too!) on this subject; and it was but the very Saturday night before I left Hunsford—between our pools at quadrille, while Mrs. Jenkinson was arranging Miss de Bourgh's footstool, that she said, 'Mr. Collins, you must marry. A clergyman like you must marry. Choose properly, choose a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way. This is my advice. Find such a woman as soon as you can, bring her to Hunsford, and I will visit her.' Allow me, by the way, to observe, my fair cousin, that I do not reckon the notice and kindness of Lady Catherine de Bourgh as among the least of the advantages in my power to offer. You will find her manners beyond anything I can describe; and your wit and vivacity, I think, must be acceptable to her, especially when tempered with the silence and respect which her rank will inevitably excite. Thus much for my general intention in favour of matrimony; it remains to be told why my views were directed towards Longbourn instead of my own neighbourhood, where I can assure you there are many amiable young women. But the fact is, that being, as I am, to inherit this estate after the death of your honoured father (who, however, may live many years longer), I could not satisfy myself without resolving to choose a wife from among his daughters, that the loss to them might be as little as possible, when the melancholy event takes place—which, however, as I have already said, may not be for several years. This has been my motive, my fair cousin, and I flatter myself it will not sink me in your esteem. And now nothing remains for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the violence of my affection. To fortune I am perfectly indifferent, and shall make no demand of that nature on your father, since I am well aware that it could not be complied with; and that one thousand pounds in the four per cents, which will not be yours till after your mother's decease, is all that you may ever be entitled to. On that head, therefore, I shall be uniformly silent; and you may assure yourself that no ungenerous reproach shall ever pass my lips when we are married."
It was absolutely necessary for Elizabeth, who had been listening with increasing astonishment and horror, to interrupt him now.
"You are too hasty, sir," she cried. "You forget that I have made no answer. Let me do it without further 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 to decline them."
"I am not now to learn," replied Mr. Collins, with a formal wave of the hand, and a smug sideways smile, "that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second, or even a third time. I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long."

“Upon my word, sir," cried Elizabeth, "your hope is a rather extraordinary one after my declaration. I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal. You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who could make you so. Nay, were your friend Lady Catherine to know me, I am persuaded she would find me in every respect ill qualified for the situation."
"Were it certain that Lady Catherine would think so," said Mr. Collins very gravely."but I cannot imagine that her ladyship would at all disapprove of you. And you may be certain when I have the honour of seeing her again, I shall speak in the very highest terms of your modesty, economy, and other amiable qualification."
"Indeed, Mr. Collins, all praise of me will be unnecessary. You must give me leave to judge for myself, and pay me the compliment of believing what I say. I wish you very happy and very rich, and by refusing your hand, do all in my power to prevent your being otherwise. In making me the offer, you must have satisfied the delicacy of your feelings with regard to my family, and may take possession of Longbourn estate whenever it falls, without any self-reproach. This matter may be considered, therefore, as finally settled."
And rising as she thus spoke, she would have quitted the room, had Mr. Collins not thus addressed her: "When I do myself the honour of speaking to you next on the subject, I shall hope to receive a more favourable answer than you have now given me; though I am far from accusing you of cruelty at present, because I know it to be the established custom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, and perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character."
"Really, Mr. Collins," cried Elizabeth with some warmth, "you puzzle me exceedingly. If what I have hitherto said can appear to you in the form of encouragement. Indeed, in all the days you have been here have I once indicated that I have any regard for you? Nay, sir, I have not. I know not how to express my refusal in such a way as to convince you of its being one except to say clearly, I shall not marry you!"
"You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course. My reasons for believing it are briefly these: It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy your acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would be any other than highly desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of de Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in my favour; and you should take it into further consideration, that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females."
"I do assure you, sir, that I have no pretensions whatever to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man. I would rather be paid the compliment of being believed sincere. I thank you again and again for the honour you have done me in your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible. My feelings in every respect forbid it. Can I speak plainer? Do not consider me now as an elegant female, intending to plague you, but as a rational creature, speaking the truth from her heart."
"You are uniformly charming!" cried Mr. Collins, bowing again, with an air of awkward gallantry; "and I am persuaded that when sanctioned by the express authority of both your excellent parents, my proposals will not fail of being acceptable."
“It is not my intention to be charming, sir, but to make myself as clearly understood.
Further I am convinced you shall not receive my father’s endorsement. I am determined that you shall not be my husband. There, I have said it. Whatever my mother has said to you, or you to her, I am the one who must stand before God and swear my allegiance in marriage and I assure you, Mr. Collins, the man standing beside me will not be yourself!”
Mr Collins straightened from his habitual half bow even as his jaw dropped and Elizabeth realized he’d finally understood. Even in this pose his head was still barely on a level with Elizabeth’s. His hands folded and unfolded before his chest as his agitation increased.
“Do I understand you? You dare to refuse me?”
“Dare? What if I declare I decline to enter into a marriage with you? What shall become of them then?”
Lizzy narrowed her eyes. “Do you hold my families fate and future happiness as a threat against me? Do you imagine that any motivation exists whereby I should give myself to a man who would threaten to cast my mother, my sisters out of their home?”
“No. No,” Mr. Collin’s considered his words and paused. “Yes.”
“Then, sir, my respect for you is hereby lessened. I shall not marry you.”
“Your mother…” began a confused parson.
“Yes, my mother. She has promoted your case to me, beyond reason and I have said to her what I have now said to you. I have tried to make my feelings clear to her and now it seems I must be emphatic. I shall not marry you!”
So saying Elizabeth turned and abandoned the room. For a moment she hesitated, turning toward her father’ book room. But the man was not there. Her father, known for rarely setting foot outside his own home, had accepted an invitation to go shooting with a party from Neitherfield. Of course her mother had insisted he do so. Her exucse was wanting to promote the match between Jane and Mr. Bingley, but her other reasons, Elizabeth was coming to realize, was to have Mr. Bennet gone from the house when Mr. Collins came to make his proposal.
A thud came from behind Lizzy. Mr. Collins, while making his exit from the room behind her had kicked the door. He glanced down, shaking his head but not crying out as he tried to settle his foot back into his shoes.
There was a hole in his stocking over the heel. Knowing that her mother had chosen her fate to be the woman seeing to this man’s wardrobe and other wifely duties made Elizabeth cringe. She took to her heels, up the main staircase, her indoor slippers making not the least sound on the staircase. Her objective was to hide in her room, door quite effectively locked, and wait for her father’s return.
Not so Mr. Collins. The heavyset parson muttered and groaned as he followed her with his pecular sideways gait. Seeing Elizabeth about to evade him he increased his speed and caught hold of Elizabeth’s arm.

“Cousin Elizabeth…”
Elizabeth, deeply outraged by his presumption, pulled her arm free, then cried out when he seized hold of her again, this time but briefly and then, with a high pitched squeal, Mr. Collins was gone, falling back down the stairs. Elizabeth clutched at the banister, clinging even as her slippers sent from under her and she slumped toward the floor. For an instant safety seemed beyond her strength to stay upright, as she swayed but in time her balance restored and she leaned against the polished wood, breathing deeply.
Jane was the first to reach her.
“Lizzy. Lizzy what is forward. What has happed to you. And to, oh, to Mr. Collins?”
Elizabeth turned her head slowly and let out a soft cry.
“Oh, Lizzy!” whispered Jane.
Far below them, twisted and broken, was the unbreathing body of Mr. Collins.
Elizabeth sat abruptly on the top step unable to do anything more than stare. Jane pressed her hands to her lips to smother a cry. With a clatter Mrs. Bennet and her other daughters emerged from the upstairs sitting room. Lydia was the first to lean over the railing to see what held her sister’s attention.
“Oh, Lizzy,” cried Lydia. “Well done. You’ve killed Mr. Collins. Now you won’t have to kiss him.”
And she giggled and clapped her hands.