Banished to PemberleyBy: Beth Norfolk
A Pride & Prejudice Variation
The unexpected arrival of a clergyman named Mr. Collins had caused rather a commotion at Longbourn House in Hertfordshire. That household was already in disarray since the master of the house was suspected of having been lost at sea. There was talk of it at every village and staging post between the village of Meryton and London, for Mr. Bennet had accompanied his infamous friend Sir. Emerson Travers on a voyage to Spain. The common belief was that the two men had perished along with their crew in the wild storm that had blown in from the Atlantic just two days after they set sail.
Not that Mrs. Bennet would believe it. She had been insisting to anyone who would listen—a rapidly shrinking cohort of neighbours and acquaintances—that her husband was perfectly fine and had probably just gotten lost somewhere on the journey back from Portsmouth. Her denial was becoming more awkward by the day with the result that the woman and her daughters had been rather left alone by all but their most inquisitive neighbours.
Mrs. Bennet’s hysteria could be explained by Mr. Collin’s lineage. The man was a distant cousin of Mr. Bennet. More importantly, however, he was Thomas Bennet’s closest male relation in the Bennet line and therefore the man on whom the estate of Longbourn was entailed. It was this detail that ensured Mr. Collins was first met with confusion and cordiality, and later alarm. As soon as Mrs. Bennet regained her composure, of course, she did her best to hide her horror and resolve that she must settle a marriage between Collins and one of her daughters at once. She did not think to tell her daughters of the entail and what it meant for them.
Mrs. Bennet soon congratulated herself on her great fortune. It did not matter that she believed her husband to be safe and well—in the eyes of the law, he would soon be declared lost at sea and his estate passed to his heirs (in this case, Mr. Collins). She had known about the entail for a long time, but she had never met the man who stood to benefit from her husband’s demise. Nor had she done enough to prevail on her husband to resolve the matter: she had always assumed one or more of her daughters might marry well and bear a son who would then become the heir of Longbourn. Alas, that had not happened.
Of course, Mrs. Bennet had not reckoned on the reaction of her daughters. One in particular had taken the news of her father’s disappearance very badly indeed and was rather disinclined to welcome their strange guest as enthusiastically as her mother requested…
“Oh come on, Lizzy. It is not the man’s fault that our father’s ship was lost.”
Elizabeth Bennet looked up at her sister’s sweet face and smiled. Hers was not a smile of hopefulness like that of dear Jane’s, but of barely concealed impatience. “It is not, but I find it odd that he chose this moment to come and visit. He is not a close relative of ours and I have never heard father speak of him before. I thought at first that he must be rich, given the way our mother’s reaction to him changed after they had spoken privately, but he told us he is a clergyman without fortune or estate. It is a mystery.”
“And you love mysteries, my dear sister! Oh please; do not allow him to ruin your spirits. They were beginning to improve. Pretend he is not here if you must.”
“How can I do that? He has been here for one day and already I can close my eyes and imagine him reciting one of his tedious homilies. And the manner in which he offered to read to us from Fordyce’s Sermons! As if we are all in need of saving!”
“I suppose it was a rather presumptuous thing to do.”
“You are too kind to say it, dear Jane! The man is an awkward buffoon! I cannot think why, but he seems to view himself as some kind of patron to us! I rather wish he would close his book of sermons and join the search for our father instead of lecturing us. After all, our uncle cannot stay away from his business for much longer.”
“Mr. Collins is not the type. He is rather more bookish,” Jane said.
“It is intolerable!” Elizabeth cried, no longer able to hold back her emotion. She had done her best to be calm and cheerful for the sake of her sisters and her mother, but her patience was wearing thin. She had been closest to her father out of all the Bennet girls. As the days passed, she had found herself less and less willing to accept the reality that he might not return.