…. So it is of course no surprise to you that, after that nonsense, I could not stand living with our sister, Elizabeth, for one moment longer. Neither am I able to return to Netherfield, (by the by is Mr Bingley keeping my furniture well?) nor am I able to stomach living under the same roof as Fanny, so you can quite understand my decision to quit Worthing for the charming little town of Upton Grey, well to be precise the delightful cottage I have rented is somewhere between Upton Grey and Tunworth. Though I am afraid to say I have been here three weeks and am heartily bored. Pray spare me one of your many daughters, to save me from going quite steadily mad…
Mr Bennet sighed. His situation was much to be lamented; a house full of females while he grew up and nothing but a house full of females after he married. And he supposed on reflection it had been much too much to hope that Clara would have found in Worthing a permanent home. .
In fact Mr Bennet had always been surprised that his youngest sister had ever married; he had always supposed that she would have been much too fastidious to ever like someone well enough. But like Mr Sutton she did, and as far as any one else was concerned the minute Miss Clara Bennet settled on Mr Sutton as her future husband, there was nothing anyone else could have done about it. She was not a woman to be gainsaid.
Thus after a very short couple of months Clara had become Mrs Clara Sutton, Mistress of Netherfield and very shortly after pulled her husband around the continent on a grand tour that was not even to be halted by such a paltry thing as the French Revolution. The onset of War however did put a slight cramp into the proceedings, but Clara persevered.
Thus it was that neither Longbourn nor Netherfield saw much of the Suttons and Netherfield was left standing idle. It was assumed rather than hoped by Mr Bennet that when a long illness carried Mr Sutton off in Bath some ten years ago, Clara would return to Netherfield. But having no children Clara preferred to let Netherfield and, after a decent period of mourning in solitude, live with their elder sister Elizabeth. This was not surprising as Clara detested her sister-in-law and the feeling was quite mutual.
The aforementioned sister-in-law – Mrs Bennet, interrupted these musings.
“Well my dear? You summoned me? I am quite put out for I was just about to make it entirely clear to Mr Collins that Jane is practically considered engaged – “
“I would not count your chickens before they are hatched...” Mr Bennet warned.
“Well I dare say you have not seen the way Mr Bingley looks at Jane! Mrs Long was telling me only the other day that she was constantly trying not to blush at those looks…”
“Well if Mrs Long blushes at looks not meant for her, then I am quite at a loss to see how she ever married…. Such over-sensibility…”
“Well Mr Long was never much to look at,” mused Mrs Bennet. “But that is not to the purpose! I mean to warn Mr Collins that Jane is quite already spoken for, because although Mr Collins is a very worthy young man, he can hardly compare to Mr Bingley!”
“Indeed. But I did not summon you, as you put it, to talk of something that has not occurred and is very unlikely to ever occur. I have had a letter from Clara.”
Mrs Bennet who had been occupied in fluttering her handkerchief around some of Mr Bennet books, for he would never allow the maid to dust as much as Mrs Bennet would have liked, gave a start.
“Well, why is that such a to-do? She is quite well I hope?”
“Very well, but an unfortunate occurrence has made her quit Worthing.”
“An unfortunate occurrence?” Mrs Bennet looked torn between not wanting to know anything about her detestable sister-in-law and her incurable need for gossip.
“Elizabeth did not take kindly to Clara’s warning off a suitor for Alice, though I daresay Clara will turn out to be right in the end.”
“She isn’t coming for a visit?!” Mrs Bennet could not think of anything worse. Clara would stick her bib in where it wasn’t wanted, probably take a dislike to Mr Collins and tell Lizzy to refuse him. After all she had not even written to tell them that Netherfield had been let at last, she had to hear that her own family’s house (Mrs Bennet had a very loose notion of family) had been let from Mrs Long! Mrs Bennet felt that was the height of incivility, especially when it was a single man of good fortune doing the letting!
“Oh no, she has found a little cottage in Hampshire and only wishes one our daughters to lend her company.”
“Oh,” replied Mrs Bennet much relieved. But then a thought struck her. She could hardly send Jane. Mrs Bennet had no reliance on men; Mr Bingley was as likely to forget all about Jane, as pine for her if she suddenly disappeared from his sight.
“Well the last time Clara was here, just after dear Frederick passed away, Lizzy seemed to – “
Mrs Bennet paused. She had seen the way Mr Collins had looked very torn between her two eldest and he had hardly paid any attention to the younger girls…
Perhaps Mary…then she remembered the unfortunate incident with an very young Mary ringing a homily over her Aunt Sutton. And while Mrs Bennet would like nothing more than to annoy her sister-in-law, it would in all probability end in Clara bringing Mary back to Longbourn in person, that is if Mary could be persuaded to go in the first place.
That left Kitty and Lydia. Clara had no objection to either, if Mrs Bennet remembered rightly, in fact both of them would have been far too young, to even remember their aunt.
“I mean, perhaps Kitty or Lydia would like to visit their aunt. Though I am sure I could not cope without my darling Lydia and it would be quite cruel to send her away while the regiment is encamped here. Indeed I know I cried for quite three days when Colonel Millar’s regiment went away…”
“So Kitty it must be,” replied Mr Bennet shortly, wanting very desperately to have his library back. He wondered at the wisdom of sending one of his younger daughters, for he doubted very much Clara would suffer a silly girl lightly. On the other hand she had changed much after her husband’s death and those who often commented that she had only married her husband for convenience were effectively silenced at the very real way Clara had grieved.
“Yes, and Kitty will be able to tell her news this evening at Sister Phillip’s party. I expect everyone will be quite jealous! When shall she go?”
“Well Clara writes that she would like her as soon as possible, which as far as Clara is concerned was yesterday…” Mr Bennet was growing bored by the conversation, he had been concerned he would be deprived of the company of his elder daughters but now this was not to the case, he didn’t much care how the business was done.
“Well there is hardly likely to be many balls or parties, and Kitty only recently got that new muslin made up…”
“Mrs Bennet no muslin I beg you!”
“Well I was only – I expect Kitty could leave tomorrow if that suited you after all, I am sure you have not noticed but Hill has predicted that this fine weather will not hold.
“She would have to leave early, it would be a long day. And a letter would not reach Clara before her…though it sounds as though she is quite prepared for her to arrive at any time.”
“Then it is settled. I shall go now and start organising.”
With that Mrs Bennet started to bustle out of the room.
“Mrs Bennet, do not forget the errand I so carelessly interrupted.”
“Oh yes, heavens! Mr Collins.”
Mr Bennet was not quite sure what inner devil prompted him to remind his wife, but some days later he was to regret that Mr Collins had been hinted off his eldest daughter only to fix his hopes on his favourite.
But as it was his wife left him to his musings. He folded up his sister’s letter and placed it with the rest of his correspondence. Mr Bennet was an infrequent and neglectful correspondent, however the re-emergence into his life of a regular correspondence with his sister had occurred some six weeks previously, via a letter requesting him to ensure Mr Bingley was a suitable tenant. This had sent Mr Bennet to Netherfield under the guise of appeasing his wife. He had not disclosed that his visit was anything more than a social call, having too much of lively sense of the ridiculous to want to reveal all his families secrets straight away and enough understanding to know that most young men would not take kindly to being inspected for suitability of character even after taking possession.
He had found in Mr Bingley an affable young man, but apart from that Mr Bennet felt he had discharged both the requirements of his wife and sister.