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Happier in Her Friends Than Relations

Chapter Text

 

Gracechurch Street, London

16 April

 
Dear Jane,

 
     Thank you for at last returning my letter. Let me again offer my deepest condolences for your terrible loss. Your father was a good man, and I know he was always proud of you.

     The rest of your family at Longbourn is bearing their grief as best they can. I dare say the presence of a certain sister would be a great comfort to them. Your uncle and I remained at Longbourn until about a fortnight ago, as your uncle was not at liberty to be away from his business any longer. I understand the claims of obligation and respect that Lady Catherine is due, and commend you and your husband for your loyalty during her state of mourning. However, your own family is now suffering the same affliction, and I am certain your friend and former patroness would understand your need to put family first, should you wish to return to Longbourn.

     Your mother keeps to her room still, and your Aunt Phillips occupies herself both in tending to your mother and in supervising your younger sisters, as morning calls from the local officers have been strictly forbidden. Your sister Lizzy is less agreeably engaged in the arduous task of running the household. She had some little familiarity with your father’s method of bookkeeping and other affairs of the estate, and has picked up the rest tolerably well, though I know it is taking a toll on her.

     Would that we could have spent more time with them, for I do worry so. Believe me when I tell you that any consolation you can offer them would be dearly cherished.

     There is another matter, dearest Jane, which I must mention to you. About a week after our return, Lady Rebecca paid us an unexpected visit. She communicated some very shocking information regarding an argument she had had with you, and though she would not go into specifics on the matter, she wished me to convey her sincerest apologies for her loss of temper, as well as a friendly reminder regarding repayment of Elizabeth’s ruined wardrobe. She seems to think you responsible for some damage to the gowns we purchased for Elizabeth in London. Whatever can she mean by this? The gowns seemed to be in perfectly serviceable condition when we were at Longbourn, though of course their being dyed black for mourning must conceal whatever damage had been done, so I suppose you needn’t worry about it. I do, however, hope that you will accept Lady Rebecca’s apologies for whatever it was that transpired, as she is a dear friend. 

     I look forward to receiving your next letter, and hope that it is sent from Longbourn.


 Yours ever,

 

Aunt Madeline

                         
      Jane frowned down at the letter. Had she been at liberty to act on her distemper, she might have torn it to bits, but she checked her impulses, as there was company present. It would not do to seem anything other than serene, the perfect demure wife. She ventured a glance across the room where, her husband sat by the fireplace, reviewing his next sermon with Mr. Fitzwilliam.

     Though Mr. Collins continued to defer to dear Lady Catherine for the final say in his weekly discourse, Jane had led him to see the merit in affording the same courtesy to the new master of Rosings. As Mr. Fitzwilliam had been ordained rather recently, there was a great opportunity for the two gentleman to form a common bond over their shared studies, and Jane believed that as much as her husband’s mind was being slowly improved by the gentleman, their guest was just as pleased to find his parson open and amiable, and willing to benefit from their mutual interest.

     It was very pleasing to Jane to see the two men getting along so cordially. Mr. Fitzwilliam had been hesitant, at first, to offer any input into the sermons being delivered in his parish, but the Collinses ensured him that they merely wished to perfect their own understanding of the Lord’s word through discourse with other pupils of the Good Book. Though Mr. Fitzwilliam’s conversation was vastly more intellectual in nature than her husband’s mean understanding, Jane found the conversations invigorating, and looked forward to their repetition. Not only was her husband impressed with her insight during these discussions, but the approval of Mr. Fitzwilliam became increasingly apparent, and Jane began to suspect that the man might be rather partial to her.

     He had said nothing of their altercation with his sister, and seemed unaware of what had happened in March. This ignorance allowed the beginnings of a friendship to take root between Rosings and the parsonage, and Jane meant to make the most of it. From their biblical studies, Jane went on to assist Mr. Fitzwilliam in the ongoing project of refurbishing the dower house for Lady Catherine, who was much gratified by Jane’s efforts.

     Jane’s thoughts turned sourly back to her letter. She took in a deep breath, remembering to smile. To her husband and their guest, she must appear satisfied with the contents of her letter. Inside, she was screaming.

     Elizabeth. While Jane secretly delighted that Elizabeth was faring poorly under the pressure at home, it chafed that her sister would presume to usurp the role of mistress in her home. If it is taxing, well then, so much the better! Serves her right. She always was our father’s favorite, who but she should have to clean up his mess, and take on his burdens. Perhaps she will get herself compromised by some vulgar farmer, and then I will not have to bother with her. And those stupid dresses! The nerve of Lady Rebecca, suggesting we pay for them. Well she has no authority over me. I wager Lydia and Kitty will pilfer them straight away, anyhow. Well, at least their petty thievery is Lizzy’s problem now. They will not be able to get away with their tricks on Mrs. Collins, when I do return.

     “And how does your family, Mrs. Collins?” Mr. Fitzwilliam smiled brightly.

     Jane schooled her countenance into an appropriate smile, soft and submissive. “As well as can be expected, sir.”

     How such an amiable, bashful man could be related to such a harpy as Lady Rebecca was unfathomable. Though not exactly handsome, he was well featured enough, short, but trim, soft spoken but thoughtful, and smelled far too pleasant. If only her husband were more like him.

     “I believe your dear sister paid a visit to my aunt and uncle in London,” Jane added, her face warm under Robert Fitzwilliam’s steady gaze. “That was very kind of her.”

     “Yes, she is vastly fond of your sister. I know it pained her to see Miss Bennet so distraught to leave the country. Your friends here shall miss you both as well, when you leave us to return to Rosings.”

     Mr. Collins simpered with pride at this allusion to his new home. “Yes, indeed, we shall be very sad indeed to leave friends, and our snug little home here. We had thought to consider it after Easter, and I daresay you are right about my young curate showing great improvement in recent weeks. Yes, soon we must turn our eyes to Hertfordshire. I believe we mean to travel before it gets too warm, for my dear Jane’s sake. She has been feeling rather under the weather of late, particularly in the mornings,” Mr. Collins added, the pride it his face rendering him uncommonly repellent. “I meant to consult Lady Catherine on the matter of how we might best go about the journey with my darling wife in such a delicate condition.”

     Jane blushed at her husband’s disclosure, which she had asked him to remain silent about for a little while longer. “Yes, in fact, I have spoken with Lady Catherine already, a little bit, and she suggested that my current complaints might subside in a month or so, and then I daresay I shall be quite fit to return home. Until then, I wish to remain here, in the comfort of my quiet little home. My younger sisters are very energetic, though they are good girls – I wish to enjoy the respite and peace of Kent for just a little while longer, as well as our dear friends here.”

     In fact, it had been easy for Jane to discard the news from home, when she was so happily occupied in Kent. Secure in the knowledge that she carried an heir for Longbourn, she preferred to put off returning home, in favor of enjoying her present comforts. She and her husband frequently dined at Rosings with Lady Catherine and her nephew, and the four of them all got along so merrily together each day, that Hertfordshire, Elizabeth, and the rest of the Fitzwilliam family were all easily pushed to the side in Jane’s mind. She was more agreeably engaged, in guiding her malleable husband, and relishing her elevated company and Mr. Fitzwilliam’s gratifying, if unrequited, admiration, as well as the valuable opportunity to display herself to best advantage as a hostess and leader of the community. Elizabeth had been right about one thing, the importance of making a good impression on the new occupant of Rosings Park.

 

***

 Longbourn, Hertfordshire

10 May

 
My Dear Jane,

     I should hardly wish you well at such a time. Though I know you must be loath to give up the company of your noble patroness and the splendor of Rosings Park, think of your family. We have all been in such low spirits since your poor father died, and I am quite at my wit's end. Your sister has forbade the officers from visiting us, and poor Lydia and Kitty are quite beside themselves and mad for company. I told Lizzy she has no say in the matter, but she is so very cruel to us. We are to have no money for ribbons or bonnets or new dresses, and she has cut your sisters' allowance in half. At least there, dear Lydia and Kitty were able to get the better of her, for I have commanded her to share all of her fine mourning clothes with her sisters, and I daresay her new clothes look better on your younger sisters than they do on stubborn Lizzy, who only soils them by traipsing about the countryside all day, every day.

     Though she denies us every manner of comfort, we do have some society, though only the families from Lucas Lodge and Netherfield are admitted to the house during visiting hours. There, at least, we may have some pleasure, for the family at Netherfield continue to cheer us and entertain us. What an elegant table Mrs. Ferrars keeps! I understand their former home of Norland was very grand, and they lend the neighborhood such distinction, despite there being no suitable bachelors in the family for your poor sisters. I do not think Lizzy has said one word about meeting any suitable kind of man in Kent, or London either. I swear she does not know what she is about, and if you do not come home to us I do not know what we shall do.

     Your sister is quite the tyrant, as you can see. I long for your return, and I am quite angry with you for keeping us waiting so very long. Surely Lady Catherine can spare you and your husband. This is your home, you must come at once and spare us from your obstinate, selfish sister, who does not think of us at all.

 

All my love,

 

  1. Bennet

 

     Jane crumpled the letter in her hands at the first mention of her wretched sister, but a minute later she smoothed it out to continue reading. She considered with amusement how badly things must be going for Elizabeth, and was delighted to see that her prediction had come to pass regarding Elizabeth’s London wardrobe being divided between her sisters. I daresay I might help myself to a few of the gowns as well, when I return home. Elizabeth is not so slender as I am, and I think her fine gowns would do well indeed, when I begin to increase, and they should certainly look better on the mistress of the house.  

     She was grateful for her present solitude, which allowed her to give her mother’s letter the consideration it was due, for Jane had been thinking of returning to Longbourn for a few weeks now, after her foolish husband had disregarded her wishes and made it public knowledge that they expected their first child before Christmas. Since then, the dynamic between the parsonage, Lady Catherine, and Mr. Fitzwilliam had subtly altered, and Jane could not like it. Lady Catherine’s authoritative advice on childbearing had grown tiresome, and worse yet, Mr. Fitzwilliam’s thinly veiled attraction to her had begun to wane. How humiliating it was, knowing how disgusted he must be by the idea of her laying with that toad she had married, though Jane knew that she had been thinking of another all the while.

     Her infatuation with Mr. Fitzwilliam had become an increasing source of temptation already, and though she had not yet worked up the courage to act upon it, she knew she would no longer be able to now, for she had be relegated from Beautiful Woman to Brood Mare, and she could not bear the idea of staying in Kent long enough to see her begin increasing.

     She knew they must return to Longbourn eventually, and before she was too big with child, or the weather had grown too warm, for her to make the journey comfortably. At least, if her mother’s letter was any indication, their return might be a better thing than she had once thought. Though she had enjoyed the idea of Elizabeth working herself to the bone in an effort to run the estate, as it seemed a well-deserved punishment for her upstart pretensions before, it chafed Jane to think of how her sister must be getting so much pleasure out of usurping her role as mistress.

     How well Jane looked forward to the prospect of swooping in, after months of Elizabeth’s toils, to put her in her place. Yes, Jane would enjoy returning as her mother and sisters’ savior, to knock Elizabeth down a peg. Though being her mother’s favorite was nothing to being the particular friend of Lady Catherine, it would do very nicely indeed, especially now that she was providing her mother with a grandchild. Her mother would be beside herself with gratitude.

     With her mother placated and firmly on her side, Jane would put an end to all of Elizabeth’s autonomy, and she would relish it. She had once threatened to put Elizabeth out of the house entirely when the time came, but Jane was now of another view on the matter. Her sister would be permitted to remain, but she would submit to Jane’s authority at last. She would give up all involvement in the estate, which, knowing Elizabeth, would likely be a severe blow to her. Her daily walks would be curtailed and her social activity would be limited to that which would directly result in her finding a husband as quickly as possible.

     Jane patted her stomach happily, and resolved to speak to her husband at once. Soon she would take on the role of mistress of Longbourn, and before the end of the year she would produce an heir, and her triumph would be complete.