Pride and Prejudice, Volume III
August 19, 1812
Mrs. Bennet’s unique rap sounded at the study door just an hour after dinner.
Mr. Bennet leaned his head back into the soft wing back. Even if it was expected, he did not relish the call. She had only begun to come downstairs once again the day before yesterday. Could she not afford him just one more evening of peace?
She bustled in, a hen with feathers ruffled, looking for someone to peck. “I would speak with you, sir.”
“I assumed that is why you have come.” He folded his hands on the desk.
“Then you will listen?” Her eyebrows rose.
“It does not appear I have a multitude of alternatives.”
She blinked as though she did not understand.
“I am listening, Mrs. Bennet.”
“Oh, very good then.” She pulled her shoulders back and nodded. “I insist you permit our dear Lydia to visit.”
And so it began.
“I believe I have already made my position clear on that matter.”
“I recall you voicing your opinion.” Her voice rose half a note, definitely off key.
“My decision.” He rapped his knuckles on the desk.
“You have not heard my piece on the matter.”
“You made your wishes quite clear on the issue. Clear, punctuated with great wailing and gnashing of teeth.
“But you have not heard my reasons.”
Reasons! She wanted to argue reason?
“I do not see how that makes any difference.”
“You go on and on about how you are such a rational sensible creature whilst you declare I am not. No, no do not dismiss me with that look. You should then listen and hear me out, see if I cannot reason as well as you.”
He pinched the bridge of his nose. What kind of travesty of thought would she lay at his feet? His stomach lurched. How disquieting would this be to his sense?
But, how disquieting would his refusal be to his sensibilities?
Which was worse?
“Pray madam, tell me your reasons, but do be quick with it.” Not that she was likely to abide by such a request.
She settled her feathers and clasped her hands before her like a school girl ready to recite her histories. “As you know, our youngest daughter has been recently married, and they will be on their way soon to the North.”
He grunted. Why did she have to tempt him so?
“It is my firm belief that they should come, stay with us, rather they should be permitted to stay with us on journey north.”
He clenched his hand tightly.
“I beseech you, madam, make you point and do so with alacrity.”
Little creases lined the sides of her eyes. “Yes, as to that, sir, my reasons for my petitions are first, the servants surely heard your declarations that they should not be welcome at Longbourn. You know how the servants are apt to talk. No doubt the entire neighborhood will know, and what shall they think? More importantly, how will that reflect upon your other daughters? Surely you must see, we have more daughters who need husbands—”
“It seems our youngest had no difficulty in finding a worthless young man to marry her. I do not see why the others should have any further difficulties. I cannot admit your reason, nor your initial implication that servant gossip should be any concern of mine.”
She sniffed and straightened her shoulders. “I see, well then, my second reason—”
Actually it was her third reason—
“—is the impression you shall impart to your other daughters.”
“I have no notion of your meaning, Mrs. Bennet.”
“If the other girls see you rejecting your youngest daughter after her marriage, how will they think you will treat them after their own marriages? Consider Lizzy, your decided favorite. Why, if she fears the withdrawal of your affection, she might be reluctant to accept an otherwise acceptable offer of marriage.
He snorted into his hand. “An entirely ridiculous proposition on several counts. If my other daughters marry in such a way, they should very well expect paternal censure and well deserved at that. Lizzy is sensible enough to realize I would not shun her for marrying decently and in order. I will not listen to any more—” He braced his hands on the desk to rise.
“No, Mr. Bennet, you said you would hear me out, and I insist you do as you promised.”
He clutched his temples. Unfortunately it would take far longer to win that argument than to simply hear her out.
He waved her to continue. If only she would not don that smug expression.
“My third reason applies to your honor and sense of family. Recall, your cousin Collins came to us to mend the rift in your family. Should you now establish another?”
“I might remind you, he also wrote during our time of uncertainty to suggest that we should turn our backs on her entirely and never see her again.”
“I…I…was not privy to that missive. I am not entirely certain that was what he said as we only have the reports of the other girls to go by. He is not the kind of man who would contradict himself and I do not think well of you doing it either.”
He chewed his lower lip. In truth, admitting Lydia simply to vex Collins was the most tempting idea she had offered yet.
“Still, madam, you have not persuaded me. It seems no matter what course I take, I shall please Mr. Collins. If that is the case, then I do not see why I should not take the one most in accord with my own opinions.”
“Must you take such delight in vexing me?”She stomped and her fists pumped at her sides. Exactly the same expression Lydia used.
“Perhaps I should remind you; it was you who came to me Mrs. Bennet. If you have exhausted—”
“No, no, not so fast, sir. I have one further reason.”
“Then, pray, present it quickly that we may finish this conversation and peace may return to our abode.”
Her face softened and the steel left her voice. “Are you aware, sir, of what today is?”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“The date, sir. Have you taken notice of the date?”
“No, I have not.” He squinted and scratched his head. “Oh.”
“Perhaps now you recall.”
He removed his glasses. “Yes, Mrs. Bennet, I do.”
“You might also recall, not everyone in your family was in support of our marriage. As I recall, your mother favored a young lady with a larger dowry. She did not welcome us at first.”
“She never denied us entry to Longbourn.”
“No, she did not. And yet,” she bit her lip and turned her face aside.
A tear leaked from the corner of her eye.
She had been deeply wounded by his mother’s initial rejection. Had that ever really healed?
“In honor of our anniversary, sir. I ask that you might permit their visit.”
He threw back his head and dug his fingers into the back of his neck. What logic might he bring to bear to counter such a reason?
None but the most heartless.
And he was not a heartless man.
He polished his glasses and sighed. “Alas, Mrs. Bennet, you have indeed overcome me with your reason. I see little alternative but to accede to your request. You may write to Lydia and ask when they shall visit Longbourn.”
“Oh, Mr. Bennet.” She whispered, dabbing her eyes with the end of her fichu. “You are the best of men.”
She turned and looked at him with those same eyes that he fell in love with those many years ago. They were handsome in those days and had not changed that much in the ensuing decades.
Yes, she had become silly and nervous, but those feelings had not entirely faded.
“Perhaps we might go upstairs and continue to reminisce over our wedding?” He offered her his arm
She slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow. “A capital suggestion, sir.”
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