Friday, July 25, 2014

Ruined Forever part seven

The men from the hunt who had gone home rather than to Longbourne, carried the first part of the gossip. Something - eyebrows were raised and eyes flickered from side to side - something had happened at Longbourne necessitating the summoning home of the master of the house, as well as Squire Pennington, Mr. Jeffers and Mr. Honeywell.
What, the neighborhood inquired of each other what could possibly require that combination of local authority?
Eagerly they awaited the next part of the story and they were not disappointed.
***
Not a single member of the jury was required to pay for his own drinks in the pub that night. The state of Miss Elizabeth’s dress was described and exclaimed over in kitchens and dining rooms across the county.
And in Netherfield, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy returned in silence, avoided Bingley’s sisters and brother in law in order to retreat to the study for a moment of private discussion.
Bingley poured out two healthy portions of brandy.
“Dear heaven, what a dreadful day!”
“You are entirely correct!” Darcy accepted the glass then walked away to stare blankly out of the window. By some coincidence it was the one facing toward Longbourne. At this distance nothing could be seen, but it could be felt. Oh, yes, it could be felt.
“I must say, Darcy, I am astonished at you.”
Darcy raised an eyebrow. “How so?”
“I have never in the course of my life heard so many words from you.”
“Strange, is it not,” said Darcy. “Indeed. Only think what my tutors would have said at such eloquence. Instead of being hesitant and uncertain of my words they seemed to flow from me.” But, he added in the privacy of his own thoughts, perhaps, I have not until this time had adequate inspiration and need.
“It is a shame you are not heir to your uncle, the earl. I can see you rising to give your speeches before the House of Lords.”
“I shall be forever grateful for my two cousins. That thought is quite beyond my ambition. I cannot imagine anything worse…” And then Darcy’s countenance grew shadowed. “Except what has befallen the Bennet family.”
“Yes. Poor Miss Elizabeth.”
“Mr. Collins was a fool indeed to think he deserved her.”
“That Collins was an idiot,” observed Bingley, “but what an embarrassing way to die!”
“No family is without their embarrassing relatives,” said Darcy, softly.
“True,” said Bingley with a quirk of his lip. “There is a reason you have not been introduced to my aunts, old fellow. I want to remain your friend.”
“I have an aunt of my own whose manners and conversation does not bear close examination,” said Darcy to the window.
“I met the redoubtable Lady Catherine a few years ago in London and you have my sympathy, Darcy, but I would put meeting both our aunts into the scale against what our poor Miss Elizabeth has suffered and give all my pity to Miss Elizabeth. That Collins, what an idiot!” Bingley shuddered. “When can we pay our condolence visit? Of course, condolences seem to lack something when one is aware that none will truly grieve for his passing. What can one say to eulogize a fat embarrassing fool who was avoided when alive, and so much trouble with the manner of his dying?”
At this point Bingley realized that he was conducting the majority of the conversation.
“Darcy? Are you listening?”
His friend turned. “Yes.”
“Shall you come with me to pay a call tomorrow?”
“On whom?”
“On the Bennets, of course.”
“We are not family,” said Darcy. “Condolence under these circumstances, as you have pointed out, is insufferable. The family will not welcome our presence to remind them of our part in today’s events.”
“Despite everything, the man was their cousin,” said Bingley. “Some notice must be made. And we have been guests in their house many times and owe them condolence.”
“We shall attend the funeral. No doubt it shall be in a day or so.”
“But the ladies, they shall not be there.”
“Of course not. At least, not at the graveside.”
“Then what is to be done? If I wait until the wake to speak to her there will be other visitors demanding her attention. And then the family go into mourning. My Jane shall look very well in blacks but am I to be prevented from seeking her company under the circumstances? When shall I be permitted to seek her out?”
“Collins might not be sincerely mourned but the conventions must be observed. Since Collins is a mere cousin they will not be required to put on blacks for more than a month. In that time there shall be no socializing, in the common way.”
“I do not want to think that it shall be a month before I might see Miss Jane again and we have not yet reached an understanding whereby I might explain my absence in a letter.”
“I sympathize Bingley, but Miss Bennet will be much occupied with her sister at this time. Miss Elizabeth will need her.”
“Yes, poor Miss Elizabeth. I have never seen her so shocked and pale. One is accustomed to seeing a smile on her face. To see her cast down is heartbreaking.”
Darcy could agree with that. At least he had the comfort of seeing her rally, of giving her what little advice would aid her. She was admirable and now, fallen completely out of his reach. The horror of the day’s events clenched his breath in his throat.
“One month,” Bingley considered. “He hardly seems worthy.”
“Society has its rules and cares not for what sort of person you are.”
“I do not want Miss Bennet to think I have abandoned her.”
“But, sadly my friend, I suspect you shall have to.”
Darcy pressed a hand against his chest. Sad did not adequately express the pain he felt. With his place in society to consider, with his sister’s own fragile position, he could not see Elizabeth again. It was impossible.
It was, of everything, horrible.
And his duty was not yet done. It was necessary to explain to his otherwise oblivious friend why he must cast off his current flirt!
Fortunately Bingley was prone to falling in and out of love. He would recover. Darcy was not so certain of his own fate. He had never been in love. Never desired a woman the way he desired Elizabeth Bennet. When he had described his ideal woman each word had been chosen to describe some aspect of her heart, her spirit, her form. She was a constant delight to him and he had let his opportunities to know her better slip away. Now she, herself, had slipped. When the news became common knowledge… he closed his eyes against the pain.
“What? What do you mean?” pressed Bingley.
“Bingley, my friend, consider what has happened today. How it will be perceived. Your own position in society is but recently won. Your father was in trade. You are the first of your family to graduate from university and begin the climb to gentry. You have achieved much, and yet, not enough. It is, you tell me, your father’s ambition that you should take a place in society. To do so you must hold yourself separate from scandal and marry well.”
“I would have thought that by taking the daughter of a gentleman I would have achieved that aim. Mr. Bennet is an established gentleman. The family has held Longbourne for two hundred years.”
“Granted, although their own connections are not the best, the Bennet’s are gentry and not too far above you that you could not aspire … until now.” Darcy’s voice faded away.
The dining bell echoed through the house. Bingley startled.
“Luncheon and we are still standing about in all our dirt,” said Bingley. “We must prepare to dine. If you would go me a favor, Darcy, please do not discuss today’s events with my sisters.”
Darcy said nothing.
“And I shall have an explanation out of you,” continued Bingley. “You shall not put that eloquence of yours away until you have satisfied my curiosity!”

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ruined Forever part 6

Everyone froze as Mr. Bennet stepped forward and roared: ”Lydia Bennet, be silent!”
“Oh, but papa, do you not agree?” Lydia let out a shrill high laugh. “He was a toad and much better company dead.”
“Lydia Bennet, to your room, girl and do not set a toe out until I give you leave!” Mr. Bennet charged through the jury and caught Lydia by the arm, dragging her away.
“But Papa, you didn’t like him either. You said so.”
There was a loud slam then Mr. Bennet returned at a run.
“My youngest daughter is a silly creature,” he said to the jury and Mr. Jeffers. “You all know she says nothing that is not complete nonsense.”
“Of course,” said Sir Lucas. “I have noticed that many times. I tell my Maria she may speak to Lydia but she is not to imitate her unguarded behavior.”
Mr. Bennet flushed, biting his lip then gave a sharp nod.
“She is a little young to be out,” added Darcy.
“You are correct,” said Mr. Bennet. “But Elizabeth is sensible and well behaved.”
“Indeed,” said Mr. Darcy. “And if she is holding onto the banister with her right hand, and the bruising is on her left arm. See the bruising. This is not the grip of a fight. See the hand size bruise on her upper arm. There a man has held her in a grip. Here, where the bruise stretches. That is where a hand has clutched and clutched again, to prevent a fall. See, it goes from her shoulder down to the elbow and the elbow already swells. With Mr. Collins several steps below I declare that Mr. Collins fell to his death, as an accident caused by his own foolish haste, and attempted to save his life at the risk of Miss Elizabeth’s.”
Mr. Jeffers considered his words. Mr. Bennet came to Lizzy’s side and lifted the blanket back over her shoulder and hugged her gently. It was at that point that Lizzy remembered that her cap sleeve was torn and her blush was bright and left her light headed. She swayed, then leaned on her father when he caught her to hold her up.
“Dearest girl, I could have lost you.”
“Be strong a moment longer, Miss Elizabeth,” urged Darcy, taking her other hand briefly and giving it a squeeze before releasing it.
“The jury will examine Mr. Collins,” declared Mr. Jeffers. “Gentlemen, your task is to confirm that the injuries gained are consistent with all Miss Elizabeth Bennet has declared in her statement.”
Mr. Honeywell was the first to the body. He held the head gently in one hand the neck in the other and moved the head from side to side to the accompaniment of faint crunches. Many men present winced.
“The neck is broken. I have seen this many times with falls from horses, trees and yes, sadly once many years ago with a fall down stairs.” Mr. Honeywell ran his hands rapidly down the rest of Mr. Collins’s body then rose and stood beside the Mr. Jeffers. Eventually all had examined the body. Not all found it necessary to touch Mr, Collins but stood staring down at the off-center head and disordered limbs.
“Gentlemen what is your determination?”
“I agree with Mr. Honeywell,” said Sir Lucas. “A fall leading to a broken neck. No doubt he should have invested in better fitting shoes and walked with better care.”
There were general nods. Mr. Jeffers dipped his pen into the inkwell and began inscribing the final form of his Attestation.
“Is there anything else to be noted?” he inquired of the jury. “Are you all in agreement with the determination?”
“Yes, sir,” was the chorus.
“And is there any action you would recommend to prevent similar accidents?”
“I do not see that Mrs. Bennet can be faulted for her housekeeping,” said one gentleman. “In my house a few years ago, there was a similar accident when the carpet rod came loose of its moorings. It looked much the same as the one here. I agree that a foot put wrong at the wrong time will result in a fall. An accident. An act of providence that cannot be predicted.”
“Very well. Unless there is an alternative theory?? Anyone? No? So, the verdict of this inquest is death by misadventure. An accidental fall downstairs with no further action required. My thanks to the jury. Miss Bennet? If I might have that deposition for my files? Thank you, my dear, very clear script. I do appreciate a well written deposition. My apologizes for the imposition, Mr. Bennet. We shall all take our leave now and you and your family might begin grieving for your departed cousin.”
Mr Bennet nodded while Mrs. Hill escorted the loiters out. The vicar stepped out of the flow of people, as he now had business with the family. Bingley walked slowly toward the door, looking toward the upper flooring the hope of seeing his angel. Jane did not emerge.
Finally the hall was almost clear. Darcy bowed to Elizabeth.
“Miss Elizabeth, I must state my admiration for the courage you have displayed. I must leave now, but I hope you will accept my prayers for your health and happiness.”
“Thank you for your assistance.” Elizabeth gave a small curtsey, hampered only by her father’s arm about her shoulders.
Darcy inclined his head to her and to Mr. Bennet before taking his friend in hand and departing.
Elizabeth sank into the hall bench, hugging herself. She could not understand her sadness at the sudden conviction that she would never see Darcy again.
***

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ruined Forever part 5

Inside the bookroom Elizabeth must have heard her name spoken as she was standing, blanket carefully draped to conceal the damage to her dress, straight and pale.
“You will do well, Miss Elizabeth,” said Darcy, taking her hand briefly and bowing over it. “Now, come and, please, trust me to guide you through this.”
She gave a sharp nod, followed him from the room and barely flinched when she came under the vision of so very many judging eyes.
“If you would be so kind,” said Mr. Jeffers. “State your name for my records!”
“I am Elizabeth Rose Bennet, spinster of this parish,” she said in a clear, firm voice.
“Thank you. And can the jury confirm this?”
Mr. Prescott stepped forward. “I performed the christening these one and twenty years ago, come June. I know this girl to be Elizabeth Bennet.”
“Thank you. Now, Miss Bennet if you will tell us what you know about this morning’s events.”
Still pale but with a chin held proudly high Elizabeth raised her declaration and read: “This morning after breakfast I was seated in the front parlor with my mother, sisters Jane, Catherine and Lydia, when the visitor to our house, Mr. William Collins, entered and solicited of my mother a private audience with me.” A flush of color appeared across her cheekbones but she did not falter.
“Is this the Mr. Collins to whom you refer?” inquired the Mr. Jeffers pointing down.
Elizabeth forced herself to look down at a face not improved by death then she nodded. “Yes.”
“Thank you. Continue.”
Elizabeth nodded and read her laboriously outlined record - of as much detail as she could remember of the preposterous and ridiculous proposal of Mr. Collins. She noted that the Mr. Prescott and her father nodded from time to time as if the words and attitude of the foolish young man surprised them not at all. Eventually Elizabeth reached the point where she was followed upstairs.
“Why did you take him upstairs?” inquired one of the jury, with an intonation in his voice that implied her destination was improper.
“Sir,” snapped Elizabeth. “I was seeking to escape him! I was not taking him anywhere. I was seeking to speak to my mother who, you do know from your wife’s visits to our house, has her private sitting room on the upper floor.”
The man blushed faced with her penetrating glare and firmly stated rebuttal.
“I was quite clear in my refusal,” continued Elizabeth. “Was my father in his usual place in the bookroom I should have sought his company on this floor and avoided the stairs entirely.”
Mr. Bennet hung his head.
“A proposal of marriage is not something that young ladies usually flee,” said the curate with some confidence.
“Forgive me, Mr. FitzWallace,” shot back Elizabeth, “but I thought you said you had spoken to Mr. Collins. Why should I chose to ally myself with that man?”
There was a round of faint chuckles and some nods.
“At what point did you push him?” asked Mr. Jeffers.
Darcy gasped but before he could speak Elizabeth said: “I did not. I had my back to Mr. Collins and did not see what happened to him.”
“I can provide the information,” interrupted Darcy.
“How can you tell?” demanded the magistrate. “You were hunting with us!”
“Yes, but the staircase itself can instruct us.” Darcy lead the way halfway up the stairs then stopped and ran his fingers along the banister. “I know from previous visits to the house that this banister is highly polished.” He ran his fingers along the bright wood. Several of the jurors imitated him and nodded to their colleagues. “And the carpet is generally in good condition, no darns, no rends or rips. As you can see today, the carpet is smooth until we reach the fifth step from the top where it begins to sag. Miss Bennet, would you say you had reached the top step? The landing?”
“No, Mr. Darcy, I was still on the staircase, but near to the top.”
There was a faint giggle and Elizabeth raised on her toes, trying to see who was above. The press of men around her blocked her view. Several had climbed the lower steps the better to see what Darcy was describing.
“Gentlemen,” came Darcy’s distant voice. “See the carpet on the fifth step. The carpet rod that had been holding the carpet in place on each other step has pulled fully out of the wood. See how clean the splinters of wood? See the tear, here, where the carpet has torn free? This is a very recent injury.”
There were murmurs and Mr. Bennet pushed his way up the stairs so he could see the damage for himself.
“It was not like this when I left the house this morning,” he declared and the Mr. Jeffers recorded that as well.
“See the smooth areas on the other steps,” continued Darcy. “Many feet have passed this way and the carpet, otherwise in good condition, has some wear. The carpet, I would judge is perhaps five years old.”
The mass boiled and shifted and suddenly Mr. Darcy was at Elizabeth’s side again.
“Gentleman,” he called up as most of the jury were now arranged on the staircase. “Consider how you are standing. Those of you who are facing up the stairs have your right hand on the banister. That is the logical way to walk up these stairs. Now consider the event. Miss Elizabeth was hurrying upstairs. She is an excellent walker and fleet of foot. She is pursued by a clumsy man, who we know and Mr Bennet can testify, finds the stairs difficult with his shoe stuffed with fabric and his missing toes. He tries to run after her and trips and falls.” Darcy turned to Elizabeth and gave a half bow. “Please excuse me, Miss Elizabeth.” Darcy lifted the covering from her shoulder. “See these marks on her arm. Mr. Collins, put his smaller foot on the step hastily and began to slip. His weight pulled on the carpet, the carpet rod came free, the carpet shifted under his feet and he reached out, catching hold of Miss Elizabeth’s arm, making these bruises as he falls and his hand is dragged down her arm.”
“Oh, my dear,” murmured Mr. Bennet.
“Lizzy is very clever to kill him before she had to kiss him,” came a shout from above.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Ruined Forever - part 4

In the hallway of Longborn men were standing shoulder to shoulder, eagerly looking about - in the case of those who had not previously admitted into this home, or staring at the shrouded body.
The magistrate and Mr. Jeffers located a delicate escritoire and chairs and placed them to the right of the stairs. Mr. Jeffers fiddled about with his pens and large ledger, recording the names of all men gathered, the date and other such minutiae that was considered vital to the legal mind.
Mrs. Bennet, were she to see the boots scuffing the polished floor, the mud deposited on her rugs and the use to which her grandmother’s imported escritoire had been put would have experienced a fit of the vapors as to put all pervikous flutterings of her heart to shame.
The men fell silent and Mr. Jeffers looked up curously as Darcy emerged from Mr. Bennet’s book room.
“Oh, excellent,” he said. “We are now twelve. Sir, if you are agreeable, you will serve on our jury.”
“I would otherwise be honored,” said Darcy, “but on this occasion I have been engaged in giving advice and guidance to Miss Elizabeth Bennet so must recuse myself.”
“Oh yes, that would be a conflict.” Petulantly the Mr. Jeffers turned to Mr. Bennet. “Have you another servant, a gardener or such, who can read? We need at least twelve men to hear the case.”
“They are all here,” said Mr. Bennet.
“May I suggest,” said Bingley. “The stableman who accompanied us from Netherfield can read and figure.”
“Then fetch him in, fetch him in,” directed the Mr. Jeffers.
Bingley nodded to Mr. Hill who went in search of the last needed juror. While they waited Mr. Bennet titled his head toward Mr. Darcy and the two retreated to the morning parlor.
“Well, sir,” said Mr. Bennet. “How are matters progressing with my daughter?”
“She is recovering apace, Mr. Bennet,” said Darcy. “Her resilience is remarkable. As is her intelligence and determination. I believe when the time comes she will acquit herself with dignity.”
That brought a smile to the older man’s pale face.
“Yes, indeed. My Lizzy is the delight of my life.” He glanced past to where the body of Mr. Collins lay. “I would not have given her to that fool. What a waste of a good woman! No. Even so, I did not wish the fool dead, above twice a day.”
“A jest the jury does not need to hear,” Darcy advised him.
“I am not that foolish,” snapped Mr. Bennet. “I do realize the balance of my family have not made the best impression on you, Mr. Darcy, where wit and intelligence are concerned. But I took honors when I read History at Cambridge and my Lizzy has read all the volumes I brought home from that institution. We have wit enough not to increase the trouble that faces us.”
“Indeed.”
“I have the names of the jurors recorded,” announced the Mr. Jeffers. “I am ready to begin.”
Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bennet rejoined the crowd as the muttering and fidgeting decreased.
“Very well, gentlemen. The first order of business is to ascertain the identity of the person here dead.” Mr. Jeffers squinted at the unmoving body. “Are we certain that all life is departed?”
Everyone turned to stare at the twisted body of the sad Mr. Collins. The curate, Mr. Fitzwallace, leaned forward, muttering under his breath. Those furtherest away assumed that he was whispering a prayer. Those closest realized with some shock, that it was a series of fervent curses.
The sheet was finally lifted. No one spoke as the Mr. Honeywell stepped forward and held a small mirror before Mr. Collin’s pale lips. The hall clock clicked on measuring a minute before the Mr. Honeywell came to his feet and nodded.
“I, Joshua Honeywell, member of the society of Apothecaries, affirm for the record, this man is dead!”
Mr. Jeffers recorded that fact and turned to Mr. Bennet.
“Who is this man? How is it you know him?”
Mr. Bennet stepped forward and spoke in a soft, but firm, voice.
“Seven weeks ago I received a letter directed from a Mr. William Collins, vicar of Hunsford, informing me that he was the son of my cousin, Harold Collins, deceased these three years. Mr. William Collins, requested permission to pay a visit to Longbourn. On the date arranged for this visit this man,” he pointed at the dead body, “arrived at my door. I assumed he was the William Collins who had written to me. Prior to the time of the visit I had not laid eyes upon him in this life.”
There were mutters at this from the jury, delighted to be first with fresh gossip.
“Then you do not know if this is the William Collins of the letter for absolute certainty?” pressed the Mr. Jeffers. “Is he your cousin? How do you know you are related if he is a stranger to you?”
Mr. Bennet moved to stand before the bent and inert body. “Sadly, I must lay claim to him. You see, gentlemen that his left shoe has fallen off. That ia a problem that plagued me often in my early life and is a trait of the men in my family line. You will see, when you examine him, that he is missing the toes on that foot. I, personally, have my shoes particularly fitted for me but Mr. Collins, as you see, has chosen to fill the toes of his shoes with fabric scraps and it makes the shoe loose and the lad, clumsy.”
The apothecary bent again and removed the shoe and sock. There was a general murmuring and swarming as all the men clustered around to confirm, yes, there were missing toes. A few gave Mr. Bennet narrow eyed looks but as he showed no interest in removing his shoes they eventually returned to their positions.
“Can anyone else speak to the identity of this man?” pressed Mr. Jeffers.
There was a silence then Mr Prescott and Mr. FitzWallace stepped forward.
“I have had some speech with this person since his arrival in Meryton,” said the vicar. “His understanding of doctrine is not excessive, but is above what is expected from the laity and sufficient to serve from the pulpit. He is no great scholar but I am satisfied he was a parson.”
“After meeting with him,” added Mr. FitzWallace, “and hearing that his appointment to the living at Hunsford was from the hand of Lady Catherine de Bourg, I wrote to the bishop who did confirm to me in a letter that arrived only a day past both his name and responsibilities. And the bishop commented, as has Mr. Prescott, that his understanding of doctrine was not excessive but his piety was not to be denied.”
Mr. Jeffers entered these facts in his record.
“Then, are we satisfied that the dead person is identified?” asked the Mr. Jeffers, looking from face to face of the jury.
There was a general affirmative muttering.
“Then next we must determine the cause of death,” Mr. Jeffers looked to Mr. Bennet and Mr. Darcy. “Is Miss Elizabeth ready to speak of those events?”
“I shall collect her,” said Darcy and slipped away.
***