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Authors: Shannon Winslow

B00BKPAH8O EBOK

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Return to Longbourn

 

The Next Chapter
in the Continuing Story of

Jane Austen’s
Pride & Prejudice

 

 

 

 

 

by
Shannon Winslow

 

 

A Heather Ridge Arts Publication

 

Copyright 2013 by Shannon Winslow

www.shannonwinslow.com

 

All Right Reserved

Except for brief quotations, no part of this book may
be reproduced or distributed in any manner whatsoever without the written
permission of the author.

 

The characters and events in this book are fictitious
or used fictitiously. Any similarity to real people, living or dead, is
coincidental and not intended by the author.

 

Cover design by Micah D. Hansen

Original cover artwork by Sharon M. Johnson

 

For My Sister

 

Ruth

 

 

…who, by her
unfailing support, humor, and enthusiasm, has added immeasurably to my life and
to my writing career.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

 

Preface

 

It is no secret
that I adore the work of Jane Austen. Her subtle stories of love triumphant and
her witty, elegant prose suit my taste exactly. They have influenced my own
writing more than anything else.

With Jane
Austen’s stories so deeply entrenched in my mind, I often find myself thinking
of and alluding to various passages from her books as I write. Instead of
fighting the temptation to borrow some of her expertly turned phrases, I went
with it. After all, I couldn’t hope to improve upon the master.

So, if you are
a Jane Austen aficionado, you will no doubt recognize a quoted line here and
there (a listing of which you will find in the appendix). I had a wonderful
time tucking these little jewels in between the pages. My hope is that you will
find just as much fun discovering them as you read. I trust you will accept
this as I intend it – as a tribute to Jane and to her fans. Enjoy!

 

Respectfully,

Shannon
Winslow

 

Let other
pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can,
impatient to restore every body, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable
comfort, and to have done with all the rest.
– Jane Austen (
Mansfield
Park
)

 

 

 

 

Mary had blossomed in the interval since her siblings left Longbourn…
Thus, well seasoned by time, practice, and renewed dedication, she made great
strides toward the standard of the truly accomplished young woman she had
always aspired to be…

 

 

…Kitty, meanwhile, continued to divide her time chiefly between
Heatheridge and Pemberley according to which house was hosting the more
interesting social events. She fretted over being already almost twenty with no
prospects for marriage immediately apparent…

 

 

– The Darcys of Pemberley

 

 

 

Prologue

 

The letter from
London was a true Godsend. He knew it the instant it arrived, and just as
quickly determined what he must do. Now the fertile Shenandoah Valley of
Virginia – which until so recently had encompassed all aspects of his life and
every hope for the future – lay half an ocean behind him, the distance widening
with each passing day.

As the creaking
timbers of the deck dipped and rolled beneath his feet, Mr. Tristan Collins
kept one gloved hand ready on the rail. He had long since overcome his initial
discomfort with being at sea, to the point where his legs had learnt to
compensate for the perpetual movement without any conscious effort.  

“Mr. Collins,
sir,” said the cabin boy, coming up behind him. “Capt’n says won’t you take
supper with him?”

The
distinguished young gentleman with sandy hair turned into the icy wind to
answer the lad. “Thank you, Patrick,” he said with a wan smile. “Tell the
captain I shall be along directly.”

Pulling his
great coat more tightly about his person, he turned his gaze aft once more, to
where the sun had recently sunk below the western horizon. He had no idea what
he expected to see. There was nothing there, other than a fading glimmer of
daylight and three thousand miles of cold, roiling brine – an impenetrable
barrier, seemingly. But would only half an ocean be enough to keep the ghosts
he left behind in America at bay… or to keep his own thoughts from forever
flying back, like pigeons returning to their roost?

No, he would
not feel truly secure until he once more set foot on the reassuring ground of
his native country. In England, he would start again.

 

 

 

1

Ingathering

 

It is a truth
universally acknowledged that every mortal being must at some point face the
certainty of death and the day of reckoning. Despite his every effort to avoid
it, this reality at last bore in upon Mr. Bennet, a gentleman who had long
resided near Meryton in Hertfordshire. He had managed to live in tolerable
comfort for nearly seven-and-sixty years, his contentment at least partially
owing to the fact that he was rarely incommoded by bouts of serious
introspection. Yet, in his final hours, he did at last pause to reflect upon
the questionable quality of his earthly pilgrimage.

The traits of
idleness and self-indulgence suggested themselves straightaway. Whereas these
are not generally touted as virtues, Mr. Bennet reasoned that it would be
outright hypocrisy to condemn in himself that which he freely forgave in so
many others of his acquaintance.

With his
conscience clear on that head, his two remaining sources of potential regret as
he prepared to meet his maker were these. First, he had married unwisely and in
haste. Yet he hardly thought it likely he would be chastised for that above,
having already paid more than thirty years’ penance for the folly below.
Likewise, he knew the consequences of his second regret – failing to produce a
male heir – would soon be meted out on the terrestrial rather than the
celestial plane.

Finally, the
dying man considered that perhaps he should have taken his domestic
responsibilities more seriously – disciplined his five daughters with some
diligence when they were young and made better provision for his widow. This
belated remorse, however, proved as transitory as it was ineffectual. Thus,
being serenely satisfied with his deportment in this life and, therefore,
confident of a favorable reception in the next, Mr. Bennet breathed his last.

 

~~ * ~~

 

“What is to
become of me?” wailed Mrs. Bennet for what could be no less than the hundredth
time.

Two days had
elapsed since her husband’s sudden demise, and Mrs. Bennet was really in a most
pitiable state. She had taken to her bed upon the event with pains and
paroxysms of every sort, according to her own exhaustive narrative on the
subject. Mary and Kitty, being the only two of her offspring immediately to
hand, had done what they could to quiet their mother’s gloomy effusions. Yet it
seemed the more they reassured her of future comfort and security, the more
Mrs. Bennet persisted in prophesying her own wretchedness.

“I daresay I
shall be left to starve in the hedgerows!” she continued. “Indeed, I most
certainly shall. Your father’s heir – whosoever he may prove to be – is sure to
turn me out of this house before Mr. Bennet is quite cold in his grave. And if
my family is not kind to me, I do not know what I shall do. Oh, why could we
not have had a son? Then I should not be at the mercy of this horrid entail.”
Her sorrow lapsed into consternation at the thought of that longstanding
grievance. “It is unaccountable that anybody should see fit to will his estate
away from his own female descendants for the sake of some distant relation. I
shall never understand it should I live to be ninety. And now your father has
gone off and left me to suffer for his ancestor’s madness on my own. How could
he do such a thing? Then again, he never did have any compassion for my poor
nerves!” Sobs again overtook her.

Kitty sat
mutely by, her limited supply of consolation already spent to no avail.

Mary, with
greater resources but perhaps less patience, took temporary refuge downstairs.
She thus received the first intelligence of an approaching carriage. Hearing
the unmistakable sound of gravel grating on the sweep, she hurried out to see
which of the expected parties had arrived.

Immediately
upon the apothecary’s pronouncement that Mr. Bennet’s illness was of a grave
nature, an express had been sent to each of his other three daughters, all of
whom lived at a considerable distance from Longbourn. The two eldest, Jane and
Elizabeth, were both married (some seven years past) and resided not far from
each other in the north of England. Lydia, the youngest, had been married,
widowed, and then married again. She would be traveling from Plymouth where she
was settled with her new husband’s family.

Mary waited on
the porch, clasping and unclasping her hands in an attempt to compose herself
for what was to come. She knew it fell to her to convey the news of their
father’s fate to the occupants of the elegant equipage now approaching. From
its size and grandeur, it belonged to one of her well-to-do sisters from the
north rather than the more modestly situated Lydia. For this, Mary was
profoundly grateful. Lydia’s wild nature rendered her entirely unfit to soothe
Mrs. Bennet’s fears. Either one of the others would be of more practical use,
both to their mother and to herself.

As the carriage
slowed to a stop before her, Mary distinguished Elizabeth’s anxious face at the
window, looking for some sign of encouragement. Mary could give her none.
Instead, she slowly shook her head, allowing her somber countenance and
conspicuous garb of mourning to answer Elizabeth’s unspoken question. Papa was
dead, yet to be spared the necessity of speaking the words aloud was some
little relief.

Elizabeth disappeared again into the depths of the carriage – and presumably into her
husband’s arms – not to emerge for several minutes. Mary did nothing to hurry
her. She preferred that the office of bearing with Elizabeth’s initial spasms
of sorrow should fall to her brother-in-law, Mr. Darcy, instead of to herself.

The tide of
grief had already threatened to overpower Mary more than once. Yet she dared
not give in to it. Outward expression of emotion was both foreign and
frightening to her, so long had she practiced the art of stoicism. That
philosophy had served her well in the past, enabling her to endure the
disappointment of every one of her sisters being favored, complimented,
courted, and three married ahead of her. Now, however, its strictures allowed
her neither vent for her own sorrows nor protection from the false presumption
of others that she had none.

By contrast,
no
one
thought it possible Mrs. Bennet would demonstrate herself mistress of
her feelings now, considering how little facility she had shown for it in the
past with far less provocation. Kitty could not or would not exert herself
either. Because of their weakness, Mary felt doubly obligated to play the
unassailable tower of strength, at least in their presence. She was certain her
relations could not even conceive of her crumbling, having never witnessed any
symptom of it before. As a point of personal pride, she intended to keep it
that way. So, when Elizabeth finally alighted from the carriage with the help
of Mr. Darcy, Mary embraced her but shed no tears with her.

“We are too
late, then,” surmised Elizabeth when at length she pulled away. “Papa is
already gone?”

Mary nodded.
“Sadly, yes. Two days past. It was very sudden.”

At once, Mr.
Darcy stepped forward to place an arm firmly about Elizabeth’s shoulders. She
leant back against him and, after a pause to collect herself, she asked, “And
Mama? How does she do?”

“Exactly as you
might expect,” said Mary with a significant look. “Kitty is with her now, and
Lady Lucas and our aunt Phillips have attended her every day since the crisis
began. Still…”

“Yes, yes, I
see. So Jane and Lydia are not yet come?”

“No, although
they are every moment expected.”

“Then the
weight of this has fallen primarily upon you, dear Mary. I am sorry for that.
You look pale. How much you must have gone through!”

“Come, Lizzy,
steady yourself,” urged Mary, seeing her sister on the verge of breaking down
again. “Mama will be eager for your company.”

“Yes, of
course,” said Elizabeth, drying her eyes. “Let me to her then, although I know
not what comfort I may be.”

 

~~ * ~~

 

By the end of
the day, the family was fully gathered to Longbourn: all five of Mr. Bennet’s
daughters as well as two sons-in-law – the third, Mr. Denny, Lydia’s second husband, being a military man away with his regiment. Mutual solace and the comfort
of their mother were their common goals. Yet, even during this time of family
unity, their natural pairings persisted – Jane with Elizabeth, Lydia and Kitty together, and Mr. Bingley with Mr. Darcy.

Once again,
Mary felt herself the odd one out, accepted by all and yet the particular
friend of none. It came as no surprise; it was always thus. Although she made
no doubt her sisters loved her even as she loved each of them, their true
commonality ran little further than their blood lines. None of the others
shared her thirst for intellectual and musical accomplishment, and neither
could she enter into their pursuits, her younger sisters’ so trivial and the
elders’ now so thoroughly domestic. As for the men, they were something of an
enigma to her, like another species altogether – vastly intriguing but far too
foreign to trust oneself to completely. Perhaps if she had had a brother, she
might have come to understand the sex better. As it was, Mary found little
companionship there either.

Her chief
consolation came from making herself useful. With her mother indisposed, Mary
rightly appropriated the role of acting mistress of the house, seeing to it
that the servants were supervised, the rooms orderly, family and visitors well
fed, and every other practical need met. For her efforts, she might hope to be
thanked but not truly esteemed. In that regard, she felt a special kinship with
Martha from the Bible, whose worth she always considered unfairly disparaged.
Although she counted it a very fine thing to sit reverently at the master’s
feet for a time, sooner or later somebody had to attend to the utilitarian as
well. She had taken that role upon herself, allowing others leisure to weep
alongside of their father’s casket. Her own sorrows she reserved for solitary hours.

“Sister Mary,”
said Mr. Darcy from the doorway of the library, wresting her attention away
from her private musings as she went about her business. “I was going to look
for you. Would you be so good as to step in here for a moment?”

“Of course.”
She followed him thither, her curiosity to know what he had to tell her
heightened by the supposition of its being in some manner connected with the
documents he held. Within, she found Mr. Bingley as well, seated to one side of
her father’s desk. The sight of the empty chair behind it, where she had been
used to seeing her father habitually situated, gave Mary fresh pangs.

Darcy moved as
if to take Mr. Bennet’s customary place before apparently thinking better of it
and remaining where he was. “I am afraid this concerns the legal matters
attending your father’s death. Mr. Bingley and I will gladly undertake the
duties involved if only you will set us off on the right course. I thought you
might have some knowledge of Mr. Bennet’s affairs – the whereabouts of his
business ledgers and legal correspondence, for example. We have located these
few items,” he said, indicating the papers in his hand. “There must be more,
however.”

“We are sorry
to disturb you at such a time, my dear,” added Mr. Bingley. “It is only that
there are a few importunate questions that will not wait. Your mother, you see,
is in no state to guide us.”

“No. No, indeed
not,” Mary agreed soberly. “Whatever I may do, I am at your service,
gentlemen.”

“Thank you,”
returned Mr. Darcy. “We will not keep you long. Please, do be seated, though,”
said he, pulling out her father’s chair for her.

Mary understood it as a gesture of
respect – a mark of confidence, an acknowledgment of her position of increased
responsibility within the family. And perhaps she felt the compliment more
deeply than she ought to have done. Nevertheless, with a dignified bearing she
took the seat presented, perceiving that by doing so she laid claim, however
temporarily, to a portion of her father’s authority as well. It was a mantle
she was prepared to shoulder by virtue of an orderly mind (one better suited to
business than usually thought befitting a female), a mind further schooled by
conscientious study.

“I believe I can be of some use.
Papa confided a great many things to me, especially toward the last. I flatter
myself that his trust was not misplaced.”

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