If you are reading this letter, my dearest Lizzy, it means you have not preceded me in death. Therefore, I must insist you do not mourn ever long for me. Things are just as they ought to be.
Indeed, this is one area in life in which I have succeeded. No parent wishes to outlive a most beloved child.
If only I might boast of such success in other endeavors—most notably begetting a son to inherit Longbourn. Do I do you a disservice, my child, in contenting myself with the notion that you are like the son I never had? I think not.
Please know that were it in my power to change the terms of the entail, I most assuredly would have done so. I would have bequeathed our family’s home and all my worldly possessions to you.
No one on Earth is more deserving.
Instead, I have left you with the unenviable task of caring for your mother, your sisters, and most importantly, yourself. Were the burden to fall to a lesser person, I might have great cause for concern. That is not to say I believe you will not be met with more than your share of challenges. When trying times come, as they inevitably will, I ask you to embrace your own sage philosophy.
Remember, your courage always rises with any attempts to intimidate you.
Yours in eternal life,
Hertfordshire, England ~ Spring 1812
The son her father never had, indeed. Miss Elizabeth Bennet bore this depiction of herself with pride. Being her late father’s favorite daughter, she had shouldered all his estate-related responsibilities, for all intents and purposes. Not that she had not met with more than her share of resistance over the past year, what with the estate’s solicitors being hesitant to work with a lowly female. Her uncle, Mr. Phillips, a local attorney who lived in the nearby town of Meryton, had thereby served as her proxy, but it was Elizabeth who made all the decisions.
On that particular day, she met her friend, Charlotte Lucas, from the neighboring estate, in the lane and decided to turn and walk with her. Despite having four sisters of her own, Elizabeth relished time spent with Charlotte. Though she was Charlotte’s junior by at least six years, theirs was the most intimate of friendships.
For the most part, Charlotte was a peaceful, easy-going person. She was also practical—too practical at times from Elizabeth’s viewpoint. Charlotte sought comfort even if it meant setting aside her own personal desires. Bent on avoiding conflict and discomfort, she could be accommodating and complacent in a relationship. Elizabeth always felt a particular calm and peacefulness in Charlotte’s presence—a much-needed respite of late what with the never-ending chaos at Longbourn.
“How is Jane fairing this morning?” Charlotte asked.
“She does very well,” replied Elizabeth. Jane was the eldest Bennet daughter. Owing to a debilitating illness at childhood, she seldom left Longbourn Village. To that day, it pained Elizabeth witnessing her dearest sister’s affliction, knowing the limitations inherent in such a state, but Jane bore it with grace and dignity.
“Do give her my best and tell her I look forward to seeing her soon.”
“I shall, indeed. And you must extend my felicitations to your family as well.”
The other young woman nodded, signaling she would. “Has there been any progress toward locating the heir of Longbourn?” Charlotte continued.
Elizabeth shrugged. “So far as I know, the gentleman’s identity and hence his whereabouts remain a mystery.”
“That is a shame. I know how heavily the uncertainty must be weighing on all of you.”
The situation of the entail on her father’s estate had long cast a pall on her family’s equanimity, especially that of Elizabeth’s mother, Mrs. Fanny Bennet, who fancied herself as being of a nervous constitution. Not a day had passed since Mr. Bennet’s death that his widow did not bemoan the helplessness, the injustice, and the cruelty of their fate.
The matter of the missing heir heightened everyone’s distress. The gentleman’s name was Mr. Robert Cotton. An exhaustive effort to let him know what had happened had been undertaken. He was said to be living on the continent in Spain. Indeed, he had lived there for years, but he had since removed himself to the Americas.
The search, therefore, continued. Some months later, evidence was uncovered that Mr. Cotton had lived in Canada, but he died, leaving no known children. Thus, the next male in line to inherit Longbourn needed to be notified, but first said person needed to be identified and located.
Elizabeth would have been perfectly satisfied if such a person’s identity was never uncovered. The nagging thought that a stranger might arrive on Longbourn’s doorstep any day, with a wife and children in tow, prepared to toss her own family into the hedgerows had been her constant companion for the past long months.
“It is such a shame to find oneself always at the mercy of the dictates of the opposite sex,” Elizabeth opined.
“Whoever said it is a man’s world knew exactly of what they spoke,” Charlotte said.
“I should like to think it will not always be this way.”
Charlotte shrugged a little. “Perhaps in generations to come, when our daughters’ daughters have daughters,” she waxed poetic. “But, then again, we must rely upon the opposite sex to have daughters. Must we not?”
Both ladies laughed at this conjecture.
“As much as I am loath to confess it,” Charlotte continued, “the odds are not exactly in our favor in that regard as we are both on the wrong side of twenty with nary a prospect in sight. I dare say, however, your chances are not nearly so dire as mine with my being seven and twenty.”
“I prefer to think all is not quite lost,” Elizabeth said. “Netherfield has remained unoccupied for far too long. Perhaps a wealthy gentleman from town will decide to purchase it, and when he takes possession he will be accompanied by enough wealthy gentlemen friends that we may have a surfeit of suitors from which to choose.”
“No doubt our mothers would be thrilled by such a prospect,” Charlotte cried.
“As would we all, I am sure,” said Elizabeth, her spirits rising to playfulness. “Who among us is not in want of a single man of a large fortune?”
§ Chapter 2 Preview: Where oh where can Longbourn’s missing heir be? Stay tuned for what happens next!