The Writer's Block
May 24, 2013, 07:38:10 PM
The Writer's Block
Teatime with Austen
Part 5: Wintertime Events all over England
Topic: Part 5: Wintertime Events all over England (Read 1002 times)
Happily ever after comes true
Part 5: Wintertime Events all over England
January 23, 2012, 05:34:45 PM »
Mr. Collins Proposes
by Susan Mason-Milks
After the ball, Mrs. Bennet lay awake delighting in thoughts of Jane’s wedding to Mr. Bingley. He had not yet proposed, but after making his preference for Jane so clear at the ball tonight, it was surely only a matter of time before he declared himself. What fun it would be to shop for new wedding clothes in London, and of course, her eldest daughter must have the very best! Although Netherfield was a grand house, the furniture and draperies were quite another story. They would definitely have to be replaced, and Jane would need her advice on the colors, the fabrics, and style. The prospect excited her more and more. It was all she could do to keep from clapping her hands together with joy. The idea of having a daughter settled so near was delightful. She would be able to visit nearly every day!
When Mrs. Bennet awoke late the next morning, her head throbbed from lack of sleep and possibly that final glass of punch at the ball last night. As she lay abed absently pondering her plans for Jane’s wedding, she noticed some enticing smells coming from downstairs, and following her nose, made her way to the breakfast room. Yes, a little coffee was just the thing she needed to clear her head this morning.
As she sipped, she did a mental inventory of the family. Mr. Bennet had already retreated to his library and would probably not emerge for the rest of the day. Jane and Lydia were still in bed, while Elizabeth and Kitty lingered in the breakfast room talking softly–thank goodness–about the ball. And Mary? Oh, no one cared where she was as long as she refrained from practicing the pianoforte today. The noise would simply be intolerable.
Having finished her first cup of coffee, Mrs. Bennet was just spreading butter and jam on a thick piece of bread when Mr. Collins appeared and addressed her, asking for a private interview with Miss Elizabeth. Suddenly, all her senses were alert! She had been hoping for this for the past several days but had not expected Mr. Collins to approach her this morning!
“Oh, dear!–yes–certainly. I am sure Lizzy will be very happy–I am sure she can have no objection. Come, Kitty, I want you upstairs.”
As surprised as Mrs. Bennet was at his application, she was even more surprised by her second daughter’s reaction. Lizzy, looking startled and confused, begged her mother and Kitty not to leave her. To Mrs. Bennet, this seemed like a strange reaction. Surely, after Mr. Collins’ attentions the last few days, her daughter must have been expecting his proposal. She should be happy to hear he had requested a “private interview.” When Lizzy’s eyes narrowed in one of her defiant looks, and she appeared ready to bolt from the room, Mrs. Bennet glared at her and firmly insisted she stay and listen to what Mr. Collins had to say. Taking Kitty by the arm, she pulled her toward the door.
“Mama, please,” Kitty whined. “You are hurting my arm!”
Mrs. Bennet silenced Kitty with a withering look, and then quickly directed her best reassuring smile at Mr. Collins. Exiting the room, daughter in tow, she was careful to leave the door slightly ajar. After shooing Kitty off to rouse her other sisters, she moved back to the breakfast room doorway. At first, all she could hear was the throbbing of her head.
Then she heard Mr. Collins nervously clear his throat several times and begin his speech. His proposal started off with promise. He generously complimented Elizabeth on her modesty and enumerated her other admirable traits. Thank goodness, he does not yet know what a trial the girl can be, Mrs. Bennet thought to herself. Then he went on for some time explaining how he had singled her out as the companion of his life almost from the first moment he entered the house. Mrs. Bennet frowned. She knew this was not exactly true. His first interest had been in Jane, but after a few hints about Jane’s anticipated engagement, he had quickly redirected his attentions to Lizzy.
As Mr. Collins began a rather long-winded recitation of his reasons for marrying, Mrs. Bennet nearly stamped her foot in irritation. She could not understand why he did not just get on with it? No one cared why he wanted to marry. It was only important that he did. But the self-absorbed parson was not to be hurried. Droning on, he complimented himself on his generosity in choosing his bride from among his cousins, as this would ensure the security of the rest of the family once he inherited Longbourn. The comfort of knowing that if Mr. Bennet died they would not be put out into the hedgerows made the pounding in Mrs. Bennet’s head begin to subside.
As Lizzy started to speak, her voice was so soft her mother had to strain to hear. What was she saying? Why was she disagreeing with him? It took all of Mrs. Bennet’s self-control not to push the door open and rush into the room so she could shake some sense into her foolish daughter. How could she do this to her family? Although Mrs. Bennet tried to calm herself, the pounding intensified in her head again. It began to feel as if it might explode. Of course, Lizzy would come to her senses and accept him. She simply must! The conversation went back and forth for several minutes with Lizzy remaining firm in her refusal, and Mr. Collins refusing to accept her protestations. She had to give Mr. Collins credit–he might not be a very exciting man, but he was persistent.
Feeling secure that Lizzy would see reason and do the right thing, Mrs. Bennet retreated into the vestibule, took a few deep breaths, and waited for the appropriate time to rush in and express her surprise and happiness at their engagement. After a few minutes, her daughter emerged, and without even a glance in her mother’s direction, retreated up the stairs in the direction of her bedchamber. “Lizzy, dear, where are you going?” Mrs. Bennet waved her hands wildly and called after her, “You must come back. Lizzy! Lizzy?”
Mrs. Bennet pressed a hand to her throbbing head. Then shrugging her shoulders, she sighed and rushed into the breakfast room to congratulate Mr. Collins in the warmest terms and express her joy that they would soon be more closely related. He happily received her felicitations.
“Her modest refusals of my proposal only show what a bashful, delicate creature she truly is. Certainly, her purpose is to increase my love by suspense, and that she most assuredly has accomplished. I am now more eager than ever to call her my wife,” he said, brushing back an oily lock of hair that was stuck to his forehead.
Although Mr. Collins did not seem disturbed by his ladylove’s reluctance, Mrs. Bennet quickly became concerned. Something was not right. “Depend upon it, Mr. Collins!” she assured him. “Lizzy shall be brought to reason. I will speak to her about it directly. She is a very headstrong, foolish girl and does not know her own interests, but I will make her see reason.”
At this, the smile on Mr. Collins’ face faded a bit. “Pardon me for interrupting you, madam, but if she is really headstrong and foolish, I wonder if she would be a very desirable wife for a man in my situation. I am one who naturally looks for happiness in the marital state. If she persists in rejecting my suit, perhaps it would be better not to force her into accepting me. Such defects of temper would not be conducive to marital felicity.”
Suddenly, Mrs. Bennet felt faint and wavered on her feet. Oh, no, he could not be allowed to change his mind! To keep from toppling over, she grabbed the back of a chair for support and began reassuring him that Lizzy was only headstrong in matters such as this–whatever that meant. She told him again of her daughter’s gentle nature even though she knew in her heart Lizzy could be just like her father–very stubborn indeed! Mr. Collins would find that out for himself once they were married, but by then, it would be too late, and Lizzy would be securely established at Hunsford.
“I will go directly to Mr. Bennet, and I am sure we shall have it all settled very soon,” she said. Without giving Mr. Collins a chance to reply, Mrs. Bennet left and flew directly to the library where she knew she would find Mr. Bennet ensconced among his books. Although she was certain the sound of her excited breathing should have alerted him to her arrival, he did not seem to notice her standing there for at least a minute. When her husband finally did look up, he appeared disinterested.
“Yes, what is it, Mrs. Bennet?”
While trying to keep her voice from becoming too shrill, she begged for his help in making Lizzy accept Mr. Collins. As sweat popped out on her forehead from the exertion, she began dabbing at it with her hankie. In spite of the urgency she tried to convey, Mr. Bennet continued to look at her blankly as if she were a fly buzzing around the room. Why did he not offer to help? After all, he was not doing anything important–only reading a book. Mrs. Bennet’s agitation rose in direct proportion to his refusal to understand her. How could he not support her in this? Certainly, he understood the importance of finding suitable husbands for their five daughters? She had discussed this with him repeatedly although she often suspected he was often only pretending to listen.
Finally, much to her relief, Mr. Bennet seemed to grasp the situation and agreed to speak with Lizzy. Confident her husband would take her side, she waited for him to take charge.
After asking Lizzy a few questions, Mr. Bennet cleared his throat. “Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accepting Mr. Collins. Is it not so, Mrs. Bennet?”
“Yes, or I will never see her again,” she declared firmly crossing her arms across her chest. Certain he was about to tell Lizzy she must comply, Mrs. Bennet stopped listening for a moment and began congratulating herself on her success. Then, suddenly, Lizzy was smiling. Mrs. Bennet looked at them both in confusion. Something had gone horribly wrong! What had she missed? Surely, he would never allow his daughter to refuse a perfectly good proposal? The pounding in her ears increased until it sounded like an entire drum corps marching through her head.
“What do you mean, Mr. Bennet, in talking this way? You promised to insist upon her marrying him.”
“Mrs. Bennet, I promised no such thing. I said I would speak with her about it, and that I have done. The matter is settled.” When she did not move, he added, “I would appreciate having my library to myself again–as soon as possible.” And with that, he returned to his book.
At first Mrs. Bennet was not certain she had heard him correctly, but as she watched her daughter leaving the room looking happy, she fully realized what had just happened. He had taken Lizzy’s side, and she was being thrown out of his library–in her own house! This was not to be tolerated! “Oh, Mr. Bennet!” she cried and ran from the room.
Since her husband had once again proved to be of no help, she knew it was entirely up to her to salvage the situation. With that in mind, Mrs. Bennet burst into Lizzy’s room and began trying to wear her down, urging her again and again to accept Mr. Collins before he changed his mind and would not have her. She coaxed, cajoled, pleaded, and tearfully called for Lizzy to have mercy on her poor nerves. Finally, she resorted to threats in a desperate effort to convince her disobedient daughter.
When she was exhausted and her head began to pound, Mrs. Bennet gave up and returned to the breakfast room, sitting down with a loud sigh. Just as she was pouring another cup of coffee and wondering if she should add a bit of Mr. Bennet’s brandy–medicinally, of course–she was startled by the appearance of Charlotte Lucas. Without considering that news of Lizzy’s refusal might become fodder for neighborhood gossip, she took up her case with Charlotte. As Mrs. Bennet continued to fan herself with her handkerchief, she bemoaned to her new audience that no one seemed to be taking her part in the dispute.
“I have only the best interests of my daughters at heart. Surely, you understand that, Charlotte. Perhaps you could explain it to Lizzy for me,” she said, directing a scowl in the direction of her second daughter who had just entered. Waving a handkerchief in front of her face, she moaned, “No one is concerned for me! Oh, the flutterings, the spasms of my poor nerves! What did I do to deserve such a disobedient daughter?”
“I am certain everything will work out for the best,” Charlotte said giving her a reassuring look. As Mrs. Bennet felt Charlotte put a comforting hand on her arm, she wondered why her Lizzy could not be more like her sweet friend.
Glancing up, Mrs. Bennet saw Lizzy looking unconcerned and very satisfied with herself. At times like this, Mrs. Bennet could see her daughter’s resemblance–both in temperament and in expression–to her father, and it was infuriating!
When Mr. Collins arrived and basically withdrew his offer, Mrs. Bennet completely lost heart. Unable to think of another strategy, she succumbed to her headache and retreated to her bedchamber. Jane, her good, kind daughter, who would never betray her the way Lizzy had, came and laid a cool compress on her mother’s head. “You must not worry, Mama. All will be well,” Jane said softly.
Mrs. Bennet took her eldest daughter’s hand in hers, “Oh, Jane, I was so certain today when Mr. Collins asked for a private interview that I would have at least one of my daughters engaged before the morning was over. I do not understand what went wrong! Now it is all up to you to secure Mr. Bingley, my dear.”
Georgiana Darcy Receives a Letter from her Brother
by Sharon Lathan
“Miss Darcy, the post was delivered and contains a letter from Mr. Darcy.”
Georgiana leapt from the piano bench sending two sheets of music flying off the rest to flutter to the carpet. They would lay unnoticed for over an hour, the young lady’s focus entirely upon the folded parchment pieces she snatched from the hand of her companion.
“Thank you, Mrs. Annesley. My, this makes four letters in two weeks!” She sang, her fingers already slipped under the edge prepared to break the wax seal with the scrolled FD imprinted. “My brother has ever been attentive to his correspondence with me but this is proving to exceed his previous efforts by a far margin.”
“Perhaps he is bored in Hertfordshire.”
Georgiana’s eyes scanned the first lines, her head shaking negative. “I would consider that highly unlikely even if not for the lengthy reports of his activities.” She glanced upward and noted the puzzled expression crossing Mrs. Annesley’s face. Smiling, she explained, “I know your association with Mr. Darcy has been brief, Mrs. Annesley, so naturally you would assume that he, as most gentlemen of his class, must prefer the busyness of London Society. Yet this is far from the truth. Oh, if only I was awarded a sovereign for every time William complained when business or social demands required him to quit Pemberley for Town! My dowry would be tripled by now, I daresay.”
A frown settled between her brows at the unbidden mention of her dowry. The dark cloud of remembrance for her recent near elopement with Mr. Wickham was still painful even after several months. That episode, as she now knew, was only the result of Mr. Wickham conspiring to access her dowry and harm her brother, but the awareness of his evil nature did not ease the heartache.
She shook her head and forced the smile to return. “You shall discover in due course that my brother vastly prefers the open countryside to the closed spaces and crowds of the city. No place compares to Pemberley, of course. However, his descriptions of Hertfordshire have been incredibly comprehensive. Far more than when he wrote of his visit with Mr. Sommerston in Berkshire or Lady Catherine in Kent. In fact….”
Georgiana absently sat onto the chair, unfolding the letter she had just received and resuming her reading while simultaneously pulling open a small drawer in the end table and retrieving a tied bundle of letters. She remained silent for a long span of time as she read through the newly delivered missive and then the previous ones written while he had been in Hertfordshire with Mr. Bingley. Altogether she had received eight letters, the frequency and length increasing as the weeks passed.
Mrs. Annesley called for tea and cakes before sitting across from her charge to wait patiently. Miss Darcy had read portions of the letters to Mrs. Annesley – those portions not personal – and a sense of the man who wrote them had formulated in Mrs. Annesley’s mind. Added to her prior impressions of the Master of Pemberley, she was beginning to piece together a sketch of his character. Mr. Darcy had severely questioned her ere accepting her application for employment and then thoroughly investigated her background before consenting to hire her on a conditional basis. Constant scrutiny by fierce eyes amid a face fixed into a permanent scowl had unnerved her during her first weeks as Miss Darcy’s companion, but gradually his suspicion and vigilance had ebbed. It had pained him to leave for London in October although she knew his distress was primarily a result of not wishing to separate from his sister rather than distrust of her. Mrs. Annesley had yet to decipher the cryptic references well enough to uncover what the “incident at Ramsgate” was (although she had her theories), but there was no doubt that Mr. Darcy felt a deep guilt over the situation and worried for his sister’s emotional state. Mrs. Annesley saw the numerous letters as an expression of his concern and remorse (and indeed they were), but in the most recent correspondences she sensed something else. Something of a more personal nature that had little or nothing to do with Miss Darcy.
Apparently Miss Darcy was beginning to suspect the same.
“A page and a half in this letter all about the hunt he and Mr. Bingley went on.” She waved the pages in the air. “Half a page in this one lists the paintings hanging on the walls of Netherfield and a section on the gardens. Today’s letter recounts with a poet’s clarity the incessant rain falling in Meryton which is to my brother’s chagrin displacing his ability to ride his horse. Then he embarks on three paragraphs describing the landscape enjoyed while riding, including two long sentences about the horse!” She shrugged one delicate shoulder and looked up at Mrs. Annesley. “The last I can understand due to our shared love of riding and horses. The details of rain and trees and grass? Now that is strange indeed.”
“Perhaps he is simply assuring you that while missing Pemberley he is surrounded by terrain and activities that please him and allay his homesickness,” Mrs. Annesley suggested, not for a moment believing that the reason.
Georgiana nodded slowly but did not seem convinced. “Perhaps. He has never done so in the past to such depth of descriptiveness but this time…” She clamped her lips to stop another spontaneous reference to unpleasant matters, inhaled, and resumed in a rush, “What is oddest is that usually his letters are filled with droll commentary on the antics of the people he interacts with. This will undoubtedly surprise you, Mrs. Annesley, and must remain our secret, but Mr. Darcy is quite witty and possesses a keen sense of humor. Only those dear to him ever see this side of his personality, however. His letters to me are replete with his witticisms and I see some of this in his comments about Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley, who are ridiculous and annoy….”
She stopped abruptly, one hand flying to cover her mouth and her eyes widening. “Oh! Please forgive me for speaking unkindly about another! I should be more tolerant and accepting. My brother would reprimand me harshly if he heard me speaking so!”
“Be still, child,” Mrs. Annesley calmed, her laughter ringing. “It is the duty of an older brother to impress proper manners upon his sister, but I am certain Mr. Darcy would not expect you to not have opinions of your own. Clearly he has opinions about those he meets, hence his ‘droll commentary’ that you so enjoy. Being polite is one thing. Liking everyone you meet is entirely different. The former maintains peace and is birthed from mature restraint, whereas the latter brands you a fool!”
“Oh, but I do like Mr. Bingley. He is kind and funny and warm. I cannot imagine a person alive not adoring him.”
“Yet not his sisters?”
Georgiana flushed and hid her face behind her teacup, taking several gulps before answering. “To be frank… I… well, I cannot abide them. Mrs. Hurst isn’t as horrid as Miss Bingley, and it isn’t easy to place my finger upon the precise reasons why Miss Bingley troubles me. She is beautiful, fashionable, properly conducting herself with excellent manners, yet,” – again that one shoulder shrug – “I only know I wish she would not accompany Mr. Bingley when he visits Pemberley and I pray daily that William will not choose her to be his wife.”
Mrs. Annesley’s brows rose. “Is that a possibility?”
“Miss Bingley wishes for it, I do know that.”
“But if he wanted to marry her he probably would have already. Fret not, Miss Darcy. Pray instead that he fall in love, perhaps with a lady in Hertfordshire.”
Mrs. Annesley’s subtle nod at the letters piled in Georgiana’s lap served as a reminder of where her thoughts had been heading. She picked up the topmost letter – the one delivered less than an hour ago and dispatched three days ago – and scanned through it again.
I cannot recall with certainty if I wrote in my previous letter of Bingley and I chancing upon Miss Bennet and her sister some two days after Miss Bennet’s restoration of health and departure from Netherfield. I feared you may be concerned, dearest, since I had written to you of Miss Bennet’s illness and her sister’s close attendance as nursemaid. Miss Bennet appeared hale enough when we met with no obvious lingering deficiency. Miss Elizabeth looked quite well indeed.
The rain is not constantly falling in torrents, yet the respites are brief and do not accord time to venture beyond the stout walls of the house. I confess to being overwhelmed with restlessness and frustration at the forced imprisonment and did succumb to my need for exercise earlier today. I and my horse ended soaked as a result, but it was worth the discomfort. I can only imagine how the Bennet sisters are enduring, most especially Miss Elizabeth who is a fine walker and appreciates the beauties of a picturesque countryside.
It is odd how empty Netherfield has seemed this past week. Conversation has been sorely lacking anything remotely intriguing. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst apparently know nothing besides gossip and fashion. I find myself longing for one of Miss Elizabeth’s challenges or lecturing discourses. She is altogether far too opinionated and argumentative for a proper lady to be, nevertheless I admit that her verbal liveliness did inject the air with a dose of welcomed animation and intelligence.
The ball Bingley was impressed upon to host is scheduled for tomorrow night. Again I must suffer through an interminable evening of engaging those unfamiliar to me in idle chatter. My displeasure aside, I have promised to behave and play the part of interested guest. Yes indeed, dear sister, I shall condescend to dance. I pray the idea does not shock you into a swoon! I assure you I will be selective and no rules of etiquette will induce me to ask the pleasure of any Bennet sister other than Miss Elizabeth and Miss Bennet. Miss Elizabeth, especially, is a fine dancer so I might enjoy myself to a degree, albeit using the word “enjoy” in as loose a manner as possible.
Georgiana lifted her eyes to her companion. “Miss Elizabeth. In all of his letters he writes of her. Oh, he mentions other people as well, but none with this frequency or positive remarks. And note the pattern.” She handed the entire missive to Mrs. Annesley. “Each time he writes her name he then launches into a long dissertation about the weather or landscape or the decorations for the ball. Decorations for the ball!” She shook her head and laughed. “I can swear on the Holy Word that William has never, not once in my years of knowing him, ever talked about how a place is decorated!”
The two women stared at each other. Mrs. Annesley’s wiser face was set in a knowing expression. Georgiana’s face was set in one of stunned amazement. Then a slow smile spread and her blue eyes began to glitter.
Charlotte Waits at Lucas Lodge
by Abigail Reynolds
Charlotte wrapped herself in a second shawl and returned to the window seat in upstairs sitting room. The windowpanes were still edged with early morning frost. It was too cold for sitting so far from the fire, but it served the purpose of keeping her family at a distance. Her younger sisters were sitting as close to the hearth as possible, and it was too much trouble for them to call over to her every time they wanted to include her in the conversation.
After spending three days listening to Mr. Collins’ excess verbiage, she was not in a mood to converse with anyone. She prayed that all her attentiveness had not been for naught. After dinner last night, she had thought him on the verge of making her an offer when he rambled on about his hopes for the companion of his life. At the last moment he had changed the subject, despite all the encouragement she had given him, telling him how fortunate he was in his position, how anyone would envy his proximity to Rosings Park, and even expressing a desire to hear one of his sermons some day. She could understand how the set-downs Lizzy had given him would give him pause, but he was due to leave Hertfordshire the following day, which meant she had only one more chance to bring him to the point of proposing. As soon as the hour was late enough, she would pay a visit to Longbourn for a final effort.
She did not know what she would do if she failed, despite all the sleepless hours she had spent trying to resolve the issue. Her courses should have begun last week, and while it was not unusual for the time to differ for her from month to month, she feared the worst. Mr. Collins’ arrival in search of a wife was providential. She could not like or respect him, but she could tolerate him, and he would take her away from Meryton and Willoughby’s mocking eyes. He did not seem to care much that she was plain-featured as long as she flattered him. And he was safe – he was not clever enough to pull the wool over her eyes the way Mr. Robinson had. He was also dull enough that she could most likely fool him into believing her a virgin if she was careful to make sure he drank a few glasses of wedding brandy first. She could cry out as if in pain at the appropriate moment, and a pin secreted in the bed would serve to help her produce a few drops of blood for the sheets. But first he had to be brought to propose.
Just then she spotted a dim figure coming down the lane. A moment of blowing on the windowpane to clear the frost revealed it to be Mr. Collins himself, despite the early hour. An overwhelming wave of relief surged through her. She would not be disgraced; her family would not cast her off, leaving her to a life on the streets. Instead, she would be respectably married to a man of good prospects, and when she returned to Meryton someday, her position as mistress of Longbourn would put her above worries about what Willoughby might say or do. It was the perfect solution to her dilemma.
She would make it as easy for him as possible. Snatching up her bonnet, she hurried out the door, and set out to meet him accidentally in the lane.
Mr. Collins and His Successful Love
by Diana Birchall
“Mr. Collins was not left long to the silent contemplation of his successful love.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Mrs. Bennet, on learning the result of the interview between Mr. Collins and her daughter, hurried to her husband’s library, to remonstrate with him, and to insist on his making Lizzy marry Mr. Collins. While the three were talking over the matter, Mr. Collins, left alone in the breakfast room, had some time to consider his suit. It was true, he thought, that if Elizabeth continued to refuse, the question being put to her a second, and perhaps even a third time, he would be obliged to concede that she was, indeed, a headstrong, obstinate girl, who did not know her own good fortune in being selected by him from so many other young ladies, including her own sisters. He could not, however, admit the possibility of her being so foolish, for more than a moment. In the first place, his observation, by no means very acute, was at least tolerable enough to collect that Elizabeth was by far the wittiest and the brightest of the sisters. He had some doubt if her cleverness was quite necessary, or would please Lady Catherine; but surely, once married, she would submit, as a good wife ought, to her husband’s will, and become quiet and obedient. Then, her mother had assured him that she was only foolish and headstrong in such matters as these, and he was perfectly willing to attribute her reluctance to maiden modesty and to take her real good-nature on faith.
Mr. Collins had studied Logic at Oxford, and by such like reasonings and deducings, he came, as quickly as the slow workings of his mind would permit, to the logical conclusion: Elizabeth would not persist in refusing him. At this very moment, her respected father must be having the word with her that would bring her to reason and compliance. Assured of a happy ending and a pretty and vivacious bride, Mr. Collins called for the servant to bring him writing-materials, and there, in the breakfast room, he happily composed a letter to his Patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Signing with a flourish and sealing it, he handed it to the servant with instructions to carry it to the post at once, and gave him, in the overflowing pride of his heart, an extra sixpence to speed it along.
This important letter was written, and sent, on the morning of Wednesday, the twenty-seventh of November; and as the servant put it into the morning post, the letter was received at Rosings, no later than Friday, and placed into Lady Catherine’s hands. In the parson’s absence, that lady had considered it highly praiseworthy and sensible to spend the morning looking into cottages, to make sure that everything inside them was going rightly. Her daughter was not strong enough for such an expedition, and Mrs. Jenkinson remained with her, but Lady Catherine sallied out in a party that included her great friend Lady Metcalfe, her two daughters, Annabella and Isabella, and their governess, Miss Pope.
Word had spread in the village that the ladies were abroad and on the prowl, and the people were in a panic. Some shut the doors tightly and pretended not to be home. Some housewives had the thought of jumping back into bed, pulling the covers up over their heads, and pretending to be sick. Others collected their children and fled to the market in haste. Lady Catherine and Lady Metcalfe, therefore, were quite shocked to find one cottage abandoned, with the fire still blazing merrily in the hearth; another with overturned footstools, children playing, and no housewife in sight; and in a third cottage, a woman apparently expiring of a chest complaint, for she could hardly breathe.
Lady Catherine flung open the door. “My good woman! Lady Metcalfe, have you ever heard such sterterous gasps? She must surely be dying. Fling water upon her, Annabella, will you?”
“Who can she be?” asked Lady Metcalfe, who was very short-sighted. “Poor woman! This is very dreadful.”
“It is the Swansons’ cottage, is not it, Harrison?” Lady Catherine addressed the governess. “Yes, I believe it is; Swanson is the carpenter, and will be in his shop, or out on some job of work. My good woman, are you able to speak? Where is your husband?”
“He has gone,” came the faint whisper. “He has left me – and all my babies.”
“Left you; has he? He had no business to do that. I will have a word with him, and he will behave better in future, if he ever wishes to be employed at Rosings again. But why, in his absence, have you kept this cottage so untidy? That floor has not been swept in a week.” Lady Catherine ran a silken-gloved finger along the rough wooden mantelpiece. “Pah! I thought so. Soot, as black as night. A disgrace! No wonder you are having trouble breathing. Illness is no excuse for slovenliness. You must get up and dress immediately, Mrs. Swanson, upon my orders, and set about your tasks at once.”
“She already is dressed, Lady Catherine,” pointed out Isabella laconically.
“Bless me, so she is! What can be the meaning of this? Is the wretched creature shamming?” Lady Catherine moved close to the bed and peered into the heap of blankets. With a swift movement, she pulled them away, revealing a fully clad countrywoman, apron, boots, and all. Leaping out of bed, the woman fell to her knees before her.
“Begging your pardon ma’am,” she pleaded, “I was only a-lying down because – because I was took so bad. Jem – that is my husband – left before first light saying as he had a job over three miles past Hunsford, and I have a terrible suspicion he is taken with a woman over there.”
“He has, has he,” said Lady Catherine grimly. “I will settle that, quickly enough. Harrison, when we get back to Rosings, you will send a man after this recalcitrant workman. Mrs. Swanson, this is no time to be malingering. Your children are hungry, and I see here some potatoes. You ought to boil them, but don’t serve them plain; the infants require some more nourishing food. Have you some meat handy?”
“No ma’am, nothing, my man hasn’t left me with any money this last ten days you see,” she protested sullenly.
“Never mind. Send your oldest boy – you there, run to the butcher’s, at once, and tell him to bring your mother a pound of beef, with Lady Catherine’s compliments.” She turned swiftly to the lamenting woman. “You can pay for it by sewing for me later. Now, come along, Lady Metcalfe, I want to get to the bottom of the strange appearance of some of these other cottages.”
Scarcely were they three feet from Mrs. Swanson’s door, when a servant from Rosings came running up, a letter in his hand.
“What is that, Morton? What is the matter?”
“A letter come express, ma’am, from the minister, it is, and housekeeper said I was to run and find you,” he panted.
“A letter? From Mr. Collins?” She turned it over, frowning. “Surely that might have waited. What can Mr. Collins have to say? He is expected back here tomorrow. I hope he has not written to put off his return.”
“Open it and see,” pursued Lady Metcalfe. “I confess myself to be curious.”
“Very well.” Lady Catherine opened the fine seal, and after perusing the letter for a moment, exclaimed. “Gracious Heaven! He has found a wife already.”
“Mr. Collins, married?” Lady Metcalfe exclaimed.
“No, no. I will read it to you.”
“Longbourn House, near Meryton.
“To the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh,
Your Ladyship will forgive me for addressing you in so unexpected and forward a manner, as may not entirely become one of my station, but that it seems to me the office of clergyman in the Church of England is equal to the highest in the land, always supposing his duties are carried out in the spirit of humble self-effacement that I am always wont to practice. I believe I do not presume too highly, in supposing that you will evince all the gracious kindness I have already met with from you, in receiving the news which I am about to relate. I have found the young woman whom I have nominated to be my wife; and when I return into Kent on Saturday, I expect to be in the happy profession of an affianced man. The young lady has not quite accepted my overtures as yet, which is natural, in her modesty and timidity; but she is with her father at this moment, and I have no doubt that she will emerge from his sanctum carrying the orders that will make her consent to be my wife.
This young lady, who is to be united with me as soon as may be, is the second daughter of my cousin Mr. Bennet, whose heir by entail you know I have the honour to be; and although her fortune is negligible, yet it is a highly estimable connection. And Miss Elizabeth makes up for her lack of wealth, by all the qualities that make a true lady and worthy helpmeet. She has wit, and
vivacity, to charm me and to brighten our fireside circle at Rosings if I may presume so far; but she also possesses the virtues of economy, prudence, and obedience, as well as youth, good health, and a capacity for hard work that will perfectly suit the situation of a clergyman’s wife. I therefore apply for your approval for my seeking her hand, and hope for a speedy acquiescence from the young lady, on which you may depend I shall bring you the happy tidings on Saturday. I remain, your devoted, honored, and obedient servant.
“Well! That is remarkable,” finished Lady Catherine dryly.
“Hm! Very suitable, I suppose,” said Lady Metcalfe, with some indifference, as it was beginning to rain.
Lady Catherine noticed the same, and putting the letter into her reticule, she climbed into the carriage and directed the coachman to take them home forthwith. They talked of the remarkable letter all the rest of the wet afternoon.
Mr. Collins returned to Hunsford late on Saturday, and the ladies did not see him until church on Sunday morning. There was no opportunity to speak to him, therefore, until they shook his hand after the service, which might not have seemed the best moment to speak of secular matters, but Lady Catherine thought marriage a sacrament, and therefore a subject perfectly suitable for Sunday. As he bowed low over her hand, she condescended to allow a sly smile to linger on her strong features.
“I believe,” she said in a lowered tone, “if I am not mistaken, that we may have occasion, to-day, to congratulate you, Mr. Collins?”
He looked up, turned violently red, and stammered as he nodded. “Oh! Yes, yes. That is true. I am indeed the happiest of men, in securing to myself the hand and heart of my most beloved Charlotte.”
Lady Catherine looked puzzled. “Charlotte? Excuse me, but – I thought your affianced was called Elizabeth. Miss Bennet, is not she?”
“No, no, she is Miss Charlotte Lucas, of Lucas Lodge. The daughter of Sir William Lucas, the neighbor of – of my cousin, Mr. Bennet.”
“Here is some mistake. You wrote to me that you were engaged to Mr. Bennet’s daughter. I am sure of it. I have the letter here.” She lifted her heavily marked eyebrows in some surprise, and indicated her reticule.
“Yes, yes I know I did, but – I must explain – confidentially, that is - Miss Bennet did not accept – and Miss Lucas was – ”
He stopped, in confusion, as a hearty man of fifty came up with his wife and train of children, extending his hand.
“A fine sermon, Collins, ‘pon my word! My compliments, Lady Catherine,” with a bow.
“Good morning, Sir Basil,” said Lady Catherine distractedly. “Mr. Collins, we will speak of this later. Come to tea this afternoon, if you will,” she nodded at him with firm finality, gathered her skirts, her daughter and her companion, and moved toward her carriage.
“Yes – certainly, Lady Catherine,” he called after her forlornly. For Mr. Collins yet dreaded making known to her the circumstances of his engagement, undoubtedly happy though he was in his successful love.
Swaying Bingley's Opinion of Jane
by Kara Louise
Darcy paced back and forth in the sitting room awaiting his guests. He knew this meeting was not going to be easy, but it must be done. Promptly at two o’clock, the Bingley party was announced. Charles Bingley walked in jubilantly ahead of the others and greeted Darcy with a firm handshake and a broad smile upon his face.
“Goodness, Darcy! I can understand my sisters following me into town, but your arrival has certainly taken me by surprise! But do not take me wrong, I am pleased to see you!”
“Thank you, Bingley. It was unfortunate you had already left when I received word from my steward that the issue at Pemberley had been resolved and there was no need for me to make the trip there.”
Darcy greeted the others, and Miss Bingley swept into the room. “Good afternoon, Mr. Darcy. It is so good to see you again! Is your sister here? How we would so enjoy seeing her!”
“No, I regret she is not.”
Miss Bingley looked to her brother. “Oh, is that not a shame, Charles? She is such a sweet girl. We must make plans to see her soon!” She turned back to Darcy with an enthusiastic smile.
Darcy simply gave a nod of his head and extended his hand toward the chairs and sofa. “Please, come in and sit down.”
Bingley settled himself into a chair, sitting on the edge and leaning forward. “So how did you decide to come to town?”
“We began talking about how envious we were of you, Charles, in such superior society and…” Miss Bingley looked over to Darcy for confirmation, “…the next thing we knew, it was decided that we would all quit Netherfield the following day and set out for London.”
Bingley gave his sister and friend a brief smile. “But Netherfield… I had hoped to return in a day or two.”
“There is no need to rush back, Charles,” Miss Bingley began. “We all concurred how much we missed the excellent society here that was so lacking in Hertfordshire. It has been far too long.”
“When do you think we might return to Netherfield?” Bingley asked, turning from his sister to Mr. Darcy.
“I see no reason to hurry back at all.” Darcy took in a deep breath. “Bingley, in all honesty, Netherfield was a decent house in the country, but I fear it would not prove to be a wise purchase. I must agree with Miss Bingley that the neighbourhood lacked any sort of excellent society.”
“Just what are you saying, Darcy? I found everyone to be most friendly!” Bingley looked squarely at his friend, his brows lowering over his eyes.
“Perhaps that is true, but unfortunately, I found them to be simple country folk. No one of any great esteem lived in the vicinity. You must begin to think about those with whom you associate, mere amiability cannot be your only standard.”
A flicker of concern crossed Bingley’s face. “They were all good people,” he protested.
“They were, Charles,” added Miss Bingley. “But therein lies the problem. They were merely good. They lacked the connections, the breeding, the status to which we are accustomed… to which we are entitled.”
Bingley turned back to Darcy. “Are you of the opinion, then, that I should not make an offer to purchase Netherfield?”
“I do not believe that you should.”
Bingley suddenly stood up and shook his head violently.”But what of Miss Bennet? I must go back so I can further our acquaintance!”
Darcy walked over to him. He normally stood a few inches taller than his friend, but the distance seemed greater now, as Bingley’s posture was slightly slumped and Darcy’s very erect.
“For what purpose, man?” Darcy asked, his mouth suddenly dry.
“What purpose? She is an angel! She is everything I have longed for! I intend to offer her…”
“Bingley.” Darcy subdued him by placing both hands firmly on his shoulders and looked him squarely in the eye. “Certainly you viewed Miss Bennet as nothing more than a delightful distraction.”
“Delightful distraction! Good Lord, Darcy! She was much more to me than that!”
“Of course! Could you not see how taken I was by her?”
“But was she as taken with you?”
Bingley’s eyes narrowed as he looked from his friend to his sister and then back to his friend. “Yes, I believe she was.”
Miss Bingley stepped forward and with a cunning, condescending smile said, “Indeed, she is a very sweet, amiable girl, Charles, the most delightful person in all of Hertfordshire… but…” She looked beseechingly at Darcy for assistance.
“But what?” Bingley demanded.
Darcy spoke softly, but forcefully, to his friend. “Bingley, it pains me to say this, but she exhibited no outward regard for you. She received your attentions very politely…”
“Politely?” Bingley interrupted, his countenance reddening and his whole demeanour shaking. “You are all quite mistaken!”
“Bingley, consider this. You came to Hertfordshire and singled her out. Without taking into consideration her family connections, you deemed her worthy of your undivided esteem. With the pressure from her mother to secure a husband of at least moderate fortune as their home is entailed away, she had no choice but to accept your attentions.”
“No! It is much more than that!” Bingley directed his attention to Louisa and her husband, who had been sitting quietly, observing the machinations of Darcy and Miss Bingley. “Certainly you beheld her admiration for me!”
Louisa raised her eyebrow and shook her head. “No, my dear brother, I honestly cannot say I did.”
In a fit of frustration, Bingley pounded his fist against the wall. “You did not make her acquaintance as deeply as I, nor did you apprehend the admiration in her eyes as she spoke, the tenderness of her voice, or the warmth in her smile. She loves me! I am convinced of it! She loves me! And I love her!”
“Bingley, I am willing to allow that she has a most serene nature, but there is more to consider than merely that and her angelic beauty.” Darcy fortified himself with a deep breath and continued. “She is continually pressured by her mother to marry a man of fortune, her family connections are nothing, their behaviour time and again points toward their ill-breeding, and she challenges every word you say!” His eyes flashed with anger.
Every eye turned in astonishment to Darcy, who closed his own as he realized his blunder.
“Challenges my every word?” gasped Bingley. “How could you accuse her of such a thing?” He sat down, completely spent. Shaking his head, he softly uttered, “You just do not know her. None of you. You do not know her!”
Miss Bingley interjected while Darcy made an attempt to gain back his composure. “Charles, Miss Bennet may have appeared to be everything you have ever wished for in a woman, but is it worth taking the risk of going into a marriage where love is not returned?”
Bingley’s face lost all expression, paled, and he looked down at the ground. “I… I…” He shook his head and raked his fingers through his hair. “I really thought she returned my affection. How could I have been so mistaken?”
Miss Bingley threw a triumphant smile at Darcy and then drew near to her brother, placing a hand lightly upon his shoulder. “Love can sometimes blind us, Charles, and we need those who love and care for us to point these things out when we cannot see them ourselves.”
Darcy stepped back and leaned against the wall for support. The fire in his eyes was suddenly displaced by a searing pain and anguish. Despite the apparent victory, a sense of defeat and resignation swept over him as he realized he felt as much grief in losing Miss Elizabeth as his friend felt in losing Miss Bennet.
Caroline's Letter to Jane
by Monica Fairview
Caroline was in the parlor instructing her housekeeper on household matters when the front doorbell rang.
The time for morning calls was over. Who could this be?
The unmistakable voice of Mr. Darcy reached her. She dismissed the housekeeper and looked to the doorway in anticipation.
“Mr. Darcy,” announced the Butler.
“Mr. Darcy?” said Caroline with a tinge of concern as he entered, for he looked pale, and slightly dishevelled. His cravat was askew and his perfectly combed hair was ruffled.
“Nothing has happened to Charles?” she said in alarm.
“No,” said Mr. Darcy. “Charles was well when I last saw him.”
She searched in her mind for a reason for his perturbance, but could find none.
“And dear Miss Darcy?”
“Georgiana is well.”
“Won’t you sit down, Mr. Darcy? I will ring for some tea.”
Mr. Darcy sat down, but scarcely had she time to tug at the bell-pull when he was up again. He began to pace the room.
A sudden glimmer of hope rose up in Miss Bingley’s heart. Her pulse quickened. She could only account for his strange behavior with one thing. Surely not? Could it be? Did he intend to—?
“Miss Bingley,” he said.
Caroline pressed trembling hands together. This was it, the moment she had been aspiring to for so long.
“Miss Bingley,” he said again.
Say it, willed Caroline. Say it.
“I have determined that you must write them a letter.”
“A letter?” she gawked at him, though she never gawked, trying to make sense of his words. Her heart plummeted. She controlled her sense of disappointment with difficulty. Foolish, foolish girl, she told herself.
“Write a letter to whom, sir?” she asked. “You mock me surely? It is you who are the more experienced correspondent. You write such charming letters.”
She was beginning to have an inkling what this was about. Bitter disappointment rose up in her.
“I cannot write to them with any propriety,” said Mr. Darcy. “It would be unseemly.”
She schooled herself to show no expression, but inside her heart was like lead.
“I’m afraid you’ve lost me, Mr. Darcy. I do not understand you.”
He put a hand to his brow and approached the armchair.
“You must write Miss Bennet a letter,” he said urgently. “She will surely be expecting your brother to return to Netherfield. You must make matters entirely clear. You must remove from her mind any expectancy or desire for such a possibility.”
Surely such a letter did not call for such turmoil. Was that the way of it, then? A woman’s instinct does not fail her and she knew then that the message was not for Miss Jane Bennet at all but for Elizabeth Bennet.
Even as pain lanced through her, she felt a kind of fierce joy. He was denying himself then. He was bidding Elizabeth Bennet farewell.
“I will write the letter, Mr. Darcy,” she said. “You are perfectly correct, as always. We cannot give Miss Bennet false hope regarding my brother. It will not do at all. Tell me what I must say and I will be happy to do so. I am always at your service, as you know, Mr. Darcy.”
Last Edit: January 23, 2012, 07:04:33 PM by Sharon Lathan
Happily ever after comes true
Re: Part 5: Wintertime Events all over England
Reply #1 on:
January 23, 2012, 05:52:54 PM »
Darcy Suffers on Christmas Eve
by Sharon Lathan
This portion of P&P200 is taken from Sharon's novella “A Darcy Christmas” that was one of the three short stories in
A Darcy Christmas
released last year. The novella was a series of vignettes spanning 20+ years of the Darcys’ lives. This vignette takes place on the Christmas Eve after Mr. Darcy met Elizabeth Bennet but before he proposed to her at Rosings in the spring.
* ~ * ~ *
The snowflakes drifted slowly downward. They were enormous flakes and floating so delicately on the air that, even in the inky darkness behind the thick glass with only the faint glow of lamplight reflecting, Fitzwilliam Darcy could visualize the minute crystals and unique geometry of each flake. It was mesmerizing and oddly calming to his tumultuous thoughts. He sipped the cocoa that was now lukewarm, watched the snow fall and gather into piles on the panes, and struggled to stir up the Christmas cheer one was supposed to enjoy on Christmas Eve.
It was not working.
He couldn’t readily recall the last Christmas that was truly joyous. Surely it was before his mother died, but the memories were faded and supplanted by so many years of forced gaiety. Oh, they exchanged presents and decorated the house and went to church and delighted in a lavish feast. Often they visited Rivallain for the day, the estate of his uncle and aunt, the Earl and Countess of Matlock, and once or twice they had dwelt at Darcy House in London for the holiday activities there. But like all festivities since his mother’s passing, and now his father’s, the celebratory atmosphere was muted.
Of course he strived to celebrate the day for his sister Georgiana’s sake, understanding that a child needed the merrymaking. And lauding the birth of their Savior was indeed a commemoration he took very seriously. Yet personally, he often felt that the entire season could easily pass by without him noticing or caring.
Darcy had grown so accustomed to the attitude that it hardly registered any longer. Even while plotting and planning for Georgiana and purchasing gifts—that a delight he truly did enjoy—his internal zeal for Christmas was dim. He did not dread the holiday nor was he particularly gloomy over it; he just did not care all that much.
So why was this year so different? Why did he feel a melancholy blanketing his soul? And why did the dreams continue to invade his sleep? Why was she persistent in burrowing into his mind and hea…? No! He refused to even think it! This Christmas was no different than the previous twenty-seven.
He sighed unconsciously and continued with his rapt contemplation of the falling snow and abstracted sipping of the cooling cocoa.
Georgiana Darcy sat on the sofa near the fire. She had been reading aloud but halted several minutes ago when it became clear that her brother was not listening to her. Now she studied him in perplexity. Georgiana was well aware that Christmas was not exactly a period of crazed jubilation for her brother, but he usually showed some enthusiasm. He never failed to create a special atmosphere for her and showered her with expensive gifts. Since she knew no different, it honestly never occurred to her to yearn for more. Georgiana was a girl quite complacent and content in her life. Her only desire was to please her family, that being primarily her adored older brother. Thus, she was disturbed by his current distraction and somberness.
None would refer to Fitzwilliam Darcy as gregarious or buoyant, but the private man was one of tender humor and affection. That he was overwhelmingly devoted to his sister could be denied by no one, especially Georgiana. She held him in tremendous awe and respect, but also took his love and playful teasing for granted. Yet ever since his return from Town and the sojourn in Hertfordshire with Mr. Bingley, he had been… odd.
She shook her head. It made no sense whatsoever. Naturally it distressed her. Not for her sake but because she loved him too much to think of him as being in pain. Yet, with the overconfidence of youth and the towering admiration of a worshipful younger sister, she shrugged it off. In her mind, her brother was fearless and capable of solving any dilemma.
So she smiled and rose to bid him goodnight. He smiled genuinely in return and held her close for several minutes, wished her sweet dreams and gave a teasing reminder not to wake him at the crack of dawn, and after a tender kiss to her cheek, she retired to her room no longer fretting over her complicated sibling but losing herself in dreams of presents.
Darcy watched her gracefully exit the parlor, his heart surging with happiness as it always did when considering his sister. But as soon as she left, seemingly taking the light and music and laughter with her, the pensiveness drenched him once again. It was late and he felt simultaneously weary and jittery. He stared at the faint light beyond the doorway, imagined the shadowy corridors between this chamber and his suite of cold and empty rooms—
Where did that thought come from?
—and actually shuddered.
Then, just as abruptly as the sadness, he was jolted by a flare of anger. He muttered a harsh curse, strode briskly to the low table where the tea and snacks sat, and placed the drained mug onto the silver tray with a plunk. He squared his shoulders, straightening to his full and considerable height, and marched purposefully from the room.
His thoughts were darker than the illuminated hallways. What was it about Elizabeth Bennet that had bewitched him so? He truly felt as if under a spell that consumed him and made no sense whatsoever. She was so completely unsuitable! She was infatuated by George Wickham, for goodness sake. That spoke volumes. And her family? He shuddered anew.
Oh, but she was beautiful. Indeed, so very beautiful.
He paused outside his dressing room door, one hand on the knob as his throat constricted and heart lurched with longing. He cursed again, a habit that was quite unlike him normally but lately seemed to be occurring frequently, and reached to loosen the cravat that was strangely now choking off his air supply. He pivoted and entered his bedchamber. For tonight, he would manage to undress himself. Facing the calmly professional presence of his valet while he was in what could only be termed “a mood” was intolerable!
Yet as he resisted slamming the door violently behind him with tremendous restraint, he discovered his steps slowing. He halted in the middle of his room. He gazed at the comforting surroundings, savored the warmth of the crackling fire as it seeped into his chilled skin, and awaited the peaceful relaxation that inevitably washed over him when alone in his sanctuary.
It did not come.
Rather he recalled the dreams that had, in one shape or another, been haunting him nearly from the moment he encountered a vivid pair of brown eyes within the crowd at an obscure dance assembly in Meryton.
He wanted to be angry.
He wanted to be disgusted with himself.
And he wanted to forget her.
At least that is what he told himself. But even now, as he remembered his dreams and remembered their conversations in Hertfordshire, he knew a smile was spreading over his face and heat was flushing through his body.
Some of that, he knew, was due to the nature of many of his dreams. It annoyed him to a degree, and he was embarrassed to a degree. But he logically deduced that it had nothing to do with Miss Elizabeth personally. No, indeed not! It was simply that he had reached the point where needing a woman, a wife, was a physical necessity. Surely that was the primary reason why increasingly erotic musings were causing him to bolt awake in a sweat of unfulfilled desire.
If it was always Elizabeth Darcy—
—who brought him to such a state, well that could be logically explained as well. Right?
Of course! It was because she had enchanted him in some way that he could not comprehend. Her passionate personality, her fire as she argued with him, her intelligence as she countered every last one of his held beliefs, her teasing smile and sparkling eyes as she laughed at him—
At him! Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley!
—drove him virtually insane until he no longer controlled his faculties. Until his dreams, both day and night, were invaded by her.
Yes, that was it.
And if he was beginning to dream of her as the mother to his children?
Well, that was more troubling.
He again scanned the room, only now he was seeing it as in the recent dreams. Elizabeth curled up in his chair, wearing a soft gown of blue with a baby at her breast. He and Elizabeth reclining on the bed with several children jumping on the mattress as they all laughed. The door to the unused dressing room once belonging to his mother ajar with Elizabeth brushing her incredible hair and smiling at him via the mirror while he held a child in his arms. Elizabeth pregnant and standing before him while he caressed the swell of her belly with his hands. Elizabeth…
He shook his head to clear the strange and disturbing visions that had started in earnest these past two weeks.
Since returning to Pemberley.
Since preparing for Christmas.
He passed a hand over his face.
You are lonely, Darcy,
Admit it. You want a wife and a family.
Of course this was not a huge revelation. He had longed for a family of his own for most of his adult life. He had envisioned the silent halls of Pemberley echoing with the noise of childish laughter and running feet. He had desired a relationship as his parents possessed. He had searched endlessly for a woman to love.
Did he love Elizabeth Bennet?
He crawled under the counterpane, the cold linen upon his flesh a sharp contrast to the imaginary fever he felt flowing over his skin while dreaming of her. The flames of passion and tranquil warmth of affection were so incredibly real. Yet, he did not know the answer to his question. Did he love Elizabeth Bennet? Or did he merely desperately crave a connection that presently eluded him? Was he simply weary of searching and being alone?
He no longer knew. But as the tendrils of sleep claimed him, he recognized that his anger and disgust were a sham. The edges of his unconscious mind accepted the love he refused to acknowledge in broad daylight. He reached for the dreams, however they would come to him on this night, Christmas Eve, as an intoxicant that he wanted and required.
“Elizabeth,” he whispered as sleep overtook him, not even aware that he had done so.
And eventually the dream came.
This one was different, as they all were, although the essence was the same.
He walked down the main floor corridor toward the parlor with a spring in his step that was utterly inconceivable in his real world but completely normal in this imaginary world. Happy voices, laughter, and singing reverberated down the hall, growing in volume as he neared the gaping portal. He distinguished each one of them, placing names to the individual tones with warm, deep emotion attached. Many of the names would escape him when he woke—this he knew on some level—but in his dream they were dear and intimate.
There was Richard and Georgiana, his Aunt Madeline and Uncle Malcolm, even Jonathan and Priscilla. These were not a surprise. But as he turned the corner and crossed the threshold, his eyes instantly scanned the room and alit upon the one voice dearest of all.
He always knew she would be there, somewhere in the midst of those he loved most in the world, belonging there as surely as he did.
She stood next to Richard laughing at some joke his cousin had made. Her ringing laugh, the one he insisted annoyed him while in Hertfordshire but he knew never had, was now the sweetest music. It filled him to bursting with a joy unlike anything he had ever experienced. Even not directed at him, her happiness was a profound balm to his soul, and the smile that had been forming before entering the room grew wider.
Then she noted his presence and turned in his direction, her glorious eyes engaging his. And there quite simply were no words in the English language to describe what passed between or to relate how he felt. Yes indeed, it was magical, and the enchantment feared in his waking moments was wholly understood in this visionary place as the purest form of bonded love.
He accepted it. He relished it. He claimed it. And he returned it wholeheartedly.
He took a step toward her, intending to enfold her into his arms and press her against his heart, but his legs were abruptly engulfed.
Dreaming-Darcy was not the slightest bit surprised by the chaotic assault of several tiny arms and piping voices. In fact, his spirit soared higher, the missing pieces of his puzzled real life snapping together instantly, into a masterpiece depicting earthly paradise. A booming laugh launched from his mouth and he knelt to administer hugs and kisses to the surging mass of children clamoring to accept his love.
Then Elizabeth was there. His wife. He stood, gazing at her with his entire soul visible in his eyes. She smiled simply, raising one hand to lightly touch his cheek, and said, “Happy Christmas, William.”
On some level his rational mind knew it was fantastical, as the number of offspring defied what was physically possible unless Elizabeth had birthed triplets once a year! But of course, dreams have a way of melding reality and allegory. Besides, it was the emotions attached to the fabricating dream that counted. The power of hearing her utter his name, the shortened name only those dear to him used, was so strong. Add to that the intensity of affection from a multitude of quarters and his sleeping mind was soothed as it never was in his waking life.
The dream proceeded as all dreams do. It flipped incoherently from scene to scene, some bizarre in their content and hazy while others were crystalline. The strange mingling of credible specifics—such as Georgiana a grown woman and the heirloom Christmas decorations adorning the Manor—with points impossible—like his parents conversing with Elizabeth—seemed normal within the boundaries of the dream.
It wasn’t the details that resonated but the themes of family and love. And as happened every night, he jerked awake before the final consummation of expressing his love to his wife. The ache of need with heart pounding and perspiration rapidly chilling his skin brought on tremors and groans.
He lurched to his feet, crossing the room to stir the smoldering logs. He stared into the flames, his body warming as he tried to make sense of it. The questions flashed through his brain as they did every night. Why her? Was it possible to love in such a way? Was it fated for him as he hoped? Had he childishly imagined his parents possessing such a love? Would he ever have a family of his own? Was he a romantic fool destined to be disappointed?
Did he love Elizabeth Bennet?
And then it dissolved, as it inevitably did. The cold air restored his clarity, the fuzzy sentiments dissipated, his rational intellect reinstated, and logic took over. It was only because he was lonely. It was due to the nature of the Christmas holiday focusing on love and felicity leading to nonsensical musings.
He could not be in love with the lowborn, argumentative, fiery Elizabeth Bennet!
The dreams were nice, pleasant, and passionate, but harmless.
Just enjoy them while they last,
he thought to himself. Why not? They will pass. You will never see Miss Bennet again. God will bring a suitable mate to you. The years will unfold sensibly and composedly. Indeed, serenity will prevail, as it should.
So with that comforting thought conquering the turmoil, his mind calmed and heart beat a regular rhythm. He returned to his bed, his slumber, and his dreams.
Charlotte Lucas at Year's End
by Abigail Reynolds
Charlotte had managed to avoid making any appearance in public since her ill-fated dance with Mr. Willoughby at the Netherfield Ball. No one doubted her when she made the excuse that she was too busy preparing for her wedding to attend this party or that dinner. After all, why should they doubt practical, dependable Charlotte? She would never let them know the truth – that she stayed at home to avoid a possible encounter with Willoughby. Her sole excursion each week was church services. Willoughby belonged to a different parish, so it was a safe haven for her.
She counted down each week as it went by. This would be the penultimate Sunday service she would attend in Meryton – just one more Sunday, then a few days until she was free. That it would be her wedding as well did not signify much to her compared to that it would be the day she would leave Hertfordshire behind, along with her terror of discovery and the possibility of any contact with Willoughby. Twelve days and she would no longer need to fear the consequences of her rash actions.
After the service, she stepped outside for some fresh air, knowing that her gregarious father would spend the next half hour or more chatting with his friends and neighbors. Afterwards he would exclaim, as he did every week, that he had no idea where the time had gone. Next week would be the last time she would hear that as well.
She jumped when a voice that had haunted her dreams came from behind her. She turned to see the face she had done her utmost to avoid remembering, but it had done no good. “Charlotte, I must speak to you,” Mr. Robinson said urgently.
If only she could run from him – but no, she was practical, dependable Charlotte. Instead, she inclined her head and said coolly, “It is
a surprise to see you here once again. Beyond that, I have nothing whatsoever to say to you.” Clutching her shawl tightly around her, she started to walk away.
Her effort to escape was stymied as his hand firmly grasped her elbow. “Please, Charlotte. I just want a few minutes of your time.”
Her lips tightened. There were too many people nearby. She could ill afford to draw their attention – it could ruin everything. “You have precisely three minutes, then. What is it you are so eager to say, then?”
He had the audacity to look injured. “Who is he?”
“Who are you talking about?” She saw no reason to make this easy for him.
“That man – the one you plan to marry.” His face twisted as if the words tasted sour in his mouth.
“I can’t see that it is any of your business.”
it is my business! I thought we had an understanding.”
She laughed incredulously. “The only understanding was the one you had with your friend Willoughby. Tell me, was it worth it?
effort of suffering through my company. Was it worth two hundred pounds, or do you think you deserve more?”
He paled. “What are you saying?”
“Did he not tell you? Mr. Willoughby was
enough to explain your wager to me when you did not return as you promised. You played your little game, you won your money
, and I am the one who paid for it all – and am likely to keep paying for it if I were to stay within Mr. Willoughby’s reach. Now leave me alone and find some other poor woman who has never done you any harm to torment.”
“That is not what happened! You must believe me. That may have been how it started, but I cared for you, Charlotte, or I would not be here.”
She snorted. “You said you would return within a fortnight. You are over a month late, and I am not a fool.”
He made a helpless gesture. “When I went home, I discovered my father was gravely ill. I could not leave until he was out of danger, and then it was almost Christmas. It never occurred to me that you would not wait for me. How could you agree to marry someone else so quickly?”
I? How could I do anything
, under the circumstances?”
His eyes widened. He was a fine actor, she would have to give him credit for that. “Charlotte…”
Suddenly her father stood between them, for once lacking his jovial smile. “Mr. Robinson, did I not make myself clear in my letter?”
Mr. Robinson bowed. “Sir William.”
Her father tucked her hand in his arm and escorted her away. “I hope he was not annoying you too much, my dear. I told him in no uncertain terms that he was not to trouble you again.”
Charlotte’s chest felt tight. Did her father know what had happened? Had Willoughby
him? “How did you come to be corresponding with him?” she asked suspiciously.
Sir William patted her hand. “Oh, he sent me a letter asking my permission to make you an offer. I took care of it.”
Her free hand stole to her neck. “How did you take
“I told him you were already engaged to a fine gentleman. I thought that would be the end of it. But he wrote again, saying there must have been some kind of mistake because you and he had an understanding, so then I had to be firm. You have certainly had your share of admirers lately, my dear!”
did he write you?”
“Oh, I do not recall precisely. A few days after you wisely accepted Mr. Collins’ offer, I believe. You made the right choice there, my dear; he has a fine living now and will inherit Longbourn someday, whereas Mr. Robinson’s prospects are more limited. All’s well that ends well, as they say!”
They had reached the carriage where the rest of the family waited for them. There could be no further conversation on the topic, but Charlotte could not stop her thoughts so easily. She no longer knew what to believe. Had Mr. Robinson been serious after all? Had Willoughby been lying to her? But no, Mr. Robinson had not denied the wager, and that should be enough of an answer. But why then would he write to her father?
It did not matter. In the end, she would be married to Mr. Collins in less than a fortnight, and she would never know the truth of the matter.
Charlotte Lucas - New Year's Day
by Abigail Reynolds
Lady Lucas was all aflutter at their first visitor in the year of Our Lord 1812. “A happy new year to you, Judge Braxton! This is an unexpected pleasure. I cannot recall the last time our home was honored with your presence. Please sit down and allow me to order some refreshments.”
Charlotte was paralyzed for a moment until she realized the judge was alone. Even then, after a polite greeting, she attended to her work with more than her usual diligence. She had no reason to suspect this was anything more than a social call, but it seemed odd that Willoughby’s uncle would make a rare appearance just at this moment.
The judge was slightly more stooped than she recalled, but his pride of bearing was still evident. “The pleasure is mine, and please accept my good wishes for the new year. I spend most of my time in London these days, but even I can wish to see my own home at Christmas, and if it affords an opportunity to renew my acquaintance with my neighbors, so much the better. I am hoping to persuade you to attend a Twelfth Night dinner at Ixton Place. Not a ball, just a friendly gathering.”
Lady Lucas clasped her hands together as if this were the most delightful news she had ever heard. “We would be honored to attend. Would we not, Charlotte?”
Charlotte forced a smile. “It would be a pleasure.” She would run away from home before she would go willingly to Willoughby’s home.
“Splendid!” He nodded at Charlotte. “And I hear there is to be a wedding soon. I hope you will forgive me if I still half expect you to be a young girl rather than a lady on the brink of matrimony.”
After a visit of perhaps half an hour, the judge announced that he must be going. When Lady Lucas, all attentiveness, would have seen him out, he instead requested the company of the bride-to-be.
Charlotte, her stomach clenched in knots, walked beside him until he stopped just short of his carriage.
“Miss Lucas, as much as I respect your parents, the main purpose of my visit was to speak to you.”
“To me, sir?” said Charlotte faintly.
“Yes. A rather disturbing report regarding my nephew has come to my attention, and I hope you can assist me in determining whether it is true.” His keen eyes drilled into her.
“I do not know him well.” How had he learned of the wager? Had Willoughby bragged about it so freely?
“Still, perhaps you have heard of this business. Apparently he made a wager that required another young buck to seduce and abandon a certain young woman of his acquaintance, a young lady against whom he held some past grudge. Do you know anything of this?”
“Your nephew mentioned as much to me when we met last,” Charlotte said tightly.
“Are you aware of the nature of the grudge?” His tone demanded a response.
She hesitated, feeling sympathy for barristers forced to plead their cases before him. “I can only surmise that it may have related to a time years ago when he approached the lady without any intentions which could be called honorable. The lady reported it to her brothers, who took some sort of action against him, but I cannot say what it was.” It was the truth. They had taken great pleasure in refusing to tell her what they had done.
“I see.” The judge nodded. “Is it your impression that his intention was to injure the lady in question?”
“To injure and humiliate her, and perhaps to blackmail her,” she said bitterly. “He made that much clear.”
He frowned. “I am very sorry to hear it. However, I will make certain that he does not trouble you again.”
“I would appreciate that.” Charlotte was horrified to hear her voice trembling.
“I would also be particularly grateful if you would attend my Twelfth Night gathering rather than indulging in a headache or whatever else it is that young ladies do these days. I can promise you that my nephew will
be in attendance.”
“In that case, I will do my best.”
“Nor will he escape unscathed from this sordid affair. My apologies, Miss Lucas, that you were affected by it.” He inclined his head in what was obviously a farewell.
“Judge Braxton?” She spoke to his retreating back.
“May I ask how this matter came to your attention?”
He gave her a long, thoughtful look. “I received a visit from the man – I cannot call him a gentleman – who had accepted the wager. To his credit, he apparently now regrets it, and was concerned that you might come to further harm from my nephew. Under the circumstances, I did not consider his word to be reliable, hence my visit today.”
“I understand. Thank you.”
“Please accept my best wishes for your marriage, and my sincere hope that your husband will be more worthy of your faith than these men who are best forgotten.”
“I hope so as well.” She curtsied as he stepped into the carriage.
“I will look forward to seeing you on Twelfth Night, Miss Lucas,” he called through the window as the carriage began to move.
Charlotte bit her lip as she waved with a smile that belied her feelings of humiliation.
Her mother was waiting for her just inside Lucas Lodge. “What did the judge say to you, Charlotte? He sounded very serious.”
“Nothing of great import,” said Charlotte, practical and calm as ever. “He wanted to be sure I would be able to attend Twelfth Night with my wedding so soon.”
“What condescension!” Lady Lucas said admiringly. “Then again, he did seem particularly fond of you when you were a child. Mr. Collins will be delighted!”
Charlotte Lucas at Twelfth Night
by Abigail Reynolds
Charlotte was relieved to find Judge Braxton was as good as his word. There was no sign of Willoughby at his Twelfth Night dinner. Her relief did not last long, though, when she discovered that his guest list included Mr. Robinson. Of course, the judge had never promised her he would not be there, but she had assumed there would be no reason for Mr. Robinson to attend a dinner consisting of six or seven families from the neighborhood. Was this why the judge was so insistent that she attend? And why?
She felt horribly exposed whenever she caught Mr. Robinson looking her way. Was he thinking of that night in the woods? Her body remembered both the pleasure and the pain of it, as well as the humiliation that had come afterward.
She still did not know what to make of his letter to her father asking for her hand. Had it been only guilt speaking? Despite what he had said outside the church, she refused to allow herself to believe that he actually cared for her. That would be asking for heartbreak, and she refused to start down that road.
She managed to avoid him for the early part of the evening. At dinner, he was seated across from her, which meant she would not converse with him, but she had to look at him each time she turned her head to speak to one or the other of the men sitting beside her. She did not need to work at emulating a fashionable lack of appetite; she felt her food would choke her.
At the end of the long meal, the judge called for their attention. After the usual expressions of pleasure in seeing his neighbors, he said, “I have something more today to celebrate than the final day of the Christmas season, and I am particularly glad you could all be here tonight, since it also has bearing on the future of the neighborhood.” He paused, allowing the interest to build.
“Since my late wife and I never had the good fortune to have children of our own, it has always been my intent to leave my property to one of my sisters’ sons. You have all met my eldest nephew, Willoughby, who made his home here since he left school. Today I would like to introduce you to my youngest sister’s son, Henry Briggs. Henry has just finished his first year at Oxford, and his reputation as a sober and industrious scholar is already established. He hopes to follow me into the legal profession someday.”
He held his hand out to a young man whose spots showed he had not left boyhood behind yet. “I have decided that he will follow me as the master of Ixton Place as well, and I have rewritten my will to that effect. Henceforth Henry will spend whatever time he can spare from his studies here, learning about the estate and hopefully becoming better acquainted with all of you. His cousin Willoughby has already relocated to London.” The judge looked directly at Charlotte and gave her a slight nod.
There were exclamations of surprise and pleasure all around, but Charlotte was silent. For the first time in her life, she felt faint. This must be why he wanted her to be present today, so that she would know of his decision to disinherit Willoughby – and that it was, at least in part, because of what he had done to her. It had always been a given that Willoughby would inherit Ixton Place and his uncle’s fortune, and now he had lost all his prospects.
She could not stop herself from looking across the table at Mr. Robinson, the only other person present who might guess at the true reason for this unexpected change. He was watching her steadily. She could tell this news was not a surprise to him. But what did he think of it? If the judge was to be believed, Mr. Robinson had come to him with the story of the wager in an attempt to protect her, and his action had resulted in his friend being disinherited. She would have expected him to be horrified, yet here he was, sitting at the judge’s table while Willoughby was exiled to London. He had chosen his side in the battle. Willoughby would never forgive him, and no one knew better than Charlotte what it meant to be the victim of Willoughby’s anger. It had changed her entire life.
Charlotte was in a daze as the cake was eaten and the King and Queen of Misrule crowned. The conversation around her buzzed with speculation about why Willoughby being disinherited, and at least one gentleman made a derogatory reference to rakehells. It made her less vigilant, so she did not notice Mr. Robinson approaching her until it was too late. The best she could manage was to arrange her features into a semblance of disinterest.
“Miss Lucas,” he said with a bow, “Would you do me the honor of sparing me a few minutes of your time? There is a quiet alcove over yonder where we could speak in private – and the judge is watching us, so you are perfectly safe.” His brief smile reminded her of the good times they had shared.
She glanced automatically at the judge who immediately gave her a benign wave. He was in conversation with none other than her father. Charlotte felt her cheeks grow hot.
She gave Mr. Robinson a social smile in return, knowing instinctively that he would know the difference between that and a true smile. “It would be my pleasure. I would not wish to interfere with such a carefully planned maneuver.”
He hesitated, as if uncertain whether to offer her his arm, then apparently decided against it, inviting her instead to walk with him. “Sometimes planning is necessary to achieve a goal.”
“And precisely what is your goal?” She did not intend to allow him to take control of the conversation.
He drew a breath. “Since you ask so directly, I will answer as directly. I am hoping to convince you to break off your engagement and to marry me instead.”
Her stomach gave a lurch as a treacherous rush of pleasure went through her. So he did care… or he wanted her to believe he did. “Why would I want to marry a man who took on the wager you did?”
His smile faded and died. “You deserve an explanation for that. I wish I could exculpate myself from it, but it would be untrue. I accepted the wager out of a combination of desperation, cynicism, and too much brandy.”
She raised an eyebrow. “The brandy and the cynicism I can believe, but desperation seems a bit extreme.”
“I owed money to Willoughby, and he threatened to call in my debt. It is a long story as to why my financial straits were so dire, but at that point I had the choice of fleeing the country, debtor’s prison, going to my ill father for money he could not afford to give me, or accepting the wager. I was foxed and angry with women in general, so I took the wager. Once accepted, I could not refuse to follow through.”
“Ah, yes. It would be dishonorable to back down on a bet, so you did the honorable thing and chose to dishonor an innocent woman instead.”
He paled. “Yes, that is exactly what I did, but then you were an unknown, faceless woman who had, by Willoughby’s report, treated him badly. It was not until after I came to know you that I began to think there might be another side to the story. I realized you were different from the woman who had angered me so much – different in a wonderful way – and I began to look forward to seeing you for myself, not because of the bet.”
“But you made certain to win the bet anyway.”
“After I told you I wished to marry you, which is something completely different from the bet. But yes, I did take advantage of it to redeem my IOUs from Willoughby so that I could go home and face my father. He was depending on me to marry an heiress. I could not tell him that not only was I choosing to marry a woman without a dowry, but that I was also in debt. I thought I would be able to return soon and that we would be formally engaged before Willoughby ever knew the difference, and it never even crossed my mind that even he would sink so low as to tell you about it. Please, Charlotte, give me another chance.”
“You seem to have an answer for everything, but your father is a barrister, not a penniless gentleman who could be bankrupted by two hundred pounds.”
“That would have been true a year ago, before we discovered the extent of my elder brother’s gambling debts, a shock which caused my father’s health to fail.”
“You led me to believe you were the eldest son. I have heard enough lies.”
“I said I was my father’s heir. My brother fled to America to avoid his creditors, and my father disinherited him in favor of me, just like Willoughby. Not that there is much to inherit – just the country estate and the townhouse, and barely enough rents to cover the expenses for them. We will be selling the townhouse now since I am not marrying an heiress. I cannot offer you riches, only my affection.”
She wanted to believe him, but how could she after all he had hidden from her? “How am I to know that you are not lying now, and that Willoughby is not paying you to convince me to break my engagement and then to disappear yourself, leaving me abandoned and shamed?”
He fell silent, then finally said quietly, “I suppose I deserve that, though it is not true. I could try to convince you of it, but it would make no difference, would it? It is too late.” He gazed searchingly at her for a minute, then added, “I should not have opportuned you tonight. Your Mr. Collins can provide for you well, and he has never betrayed you as I did, so I cannot blame you for choosing him. I am sorry, Charlotte, to have caused you so much pain. Please accept my wishes for your future health and happiness.”
He turned away, but not before she saw a suspicious sheen in his eyes. She dug her fingernails into her hands, hard, until it hurt. Was he such a good actor as that? Or was she the one being unfair? She knew the true reason of her doubts.
“Mr. Robinson, why would you want to marry me? You could easily find a younger, prettier girl, and as you say, I have no dowry to speak of. Why should I believe you?”
He turned to look at her in surprise. “Because you actually listen to me when I have something to say, and when you say something, it is worth hearing, not merely to fill empty air. Because you are good and honest – I have told you things tonight that my closest friends do not know, and I can trust you with them. Because you give affection and respect as a matter of course, not because you hope to get a gift out of me. Because I know you will never lie to me or try to trick me.”
That was not what she had expected to hear. Flattery, blandishments, and avowals, yes, but not this. “You must have encountered some particularly unpleasant ladies if you find those things so remarkable,” she said, her voice just barely unsteady.
“You do not know how remarkable you are,” he countered. “And I neglected to mention that it is also because of what we have shared.”
She did not want to recall that night in the woods and the intimacies they had shared, not here, not now. She needed to keep her strength.
He apparently sensed her weakening. “If you are convinced that I will not leave you at the altar, will you reconsider?”
Her hands were bunched in her skirts. “How can you possibly convince me?”
His smile of relief convinced her more than anything else. “I will not convince you, but the judge will.”
The judge took the high-backed leather chair by the fire and gestured to an upholstered chair for Charlotte. “Forgive me, but my old bones require a warm hearth after a long day such as this. Now, what is this matter of great importance?”
Mr. Robinson leaned his elbow against the mantel. “Miss Lucas is concerned that I might be misleading her in suggesting marriage and that I would abandon her at the altar. She understandably has some doubts as to my motives, but she will believe you if you tell her I will not fail her.”
The judge studied him closely, one finger tapping on the arm of his chair. “Do you give me your word you will marry her as promised, if she agrees? And that I may take any action I chose if you fail?”
Mr. Robinson nodded fervently. “Yes, sir, I do.”
The judge turned to Charlotte. “He is telling the truth.”
“May I ask how you can be so certain of it?” Charlotte said coolly.
“An excellent question. His father is a well-respected barrister, and he hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps. I could make that impossible for him with just a word, and his father would agree with me when I told him why.”
Charlotte considered. “So you believe him?”
“Yes, but whether he will go through with the marriage may not be the only factor to consider. You have a decision before you, Miss Lucas, and I recommend that you weigh every aspect. Your current intended – what is his name?”
“I understand that he is considered to be a good match, a man with excellent prospects.”
“He will inherit Longbourn one day.”
The judge steepled his fingers. “Have you considered what Mr. Robinson can offer you in terms of material comfort? He is not a gentleman of means but must work for his living as his father did. You would not be poor if you married him, but neither would you be wealthy. You would likely have only a maid or two in the early years of your marriage, leaving some of the household work to you.”
Charlotte cocked her head. “I am not afraid of work.”
“Good for you, my dear. Does your Mr. Collins have any vices? Is he prone to gambling beyond his means? Does he drink to excess?”
“I cannot say for certain, but he is rather straight-laced. He was reluctant to play cards with the ladies for very small stakes.”
“Robinson has a history of both, and of accepting a wager that was immoral at best. He appears to have learned a lesson, but if he were to return to those habits, it could make your life quite difficult.”
Mr. Robinson interrupted, his face pale. “You may be certain I would do nothing of the sort!”
The judge turned a shrewd look on him. “As you know, I make my decisions based on evidence, not on promises. I would note, Miss Lucas, that when Robinson first came to me with his concern, he properly refused to name you as the lady involved, but when I pressed him hard, he did so. Would your Mr. Collins give in to pressure?”
Charlotte laughed. “It would not be needed. He would have told you the first time you asked, and thanked you for condescending to interest yourself in his affairs.”
“A point to Robinson, then, for at least making the effort to resist. You seem to have doubts of Robinson’s honesty – quite understandable under the circumstances. Do you have concerns over Mr. Collins’ honesty?”
Charlotte considered this. “Only to the extent that he offers flattery to an almost embarrassing degree. He does not have a talent for dissembling.”
“Is he a responsible man? Will he treat your children well?”
“He takes his responsibilities very seriously, and I believe he would be reliable, if easily swayed on occasion.”
“Can you say the same of Robinson?”
Mr. Robinson opened his mouth to protest, but the judge waved him to silence.
It was a much harder question. Mr. Robinson had deceived her, had admitted to gambling debts and to seeking a bride for purely mercenary reasons, and had been a friend of Willoughby’s. On the other hand, he seemed truly devoted to his father and to care greatly for his good opinion. “I do not know.”
“Fair enough. Marriage is also for companionship. You are an intelligent young woman and no doubt would like to be able to discuss matters with your husband. Who would be the better companion for you?”
“Mr. Collins is not a particularly sensible man,” she admitted.
“Another point to Mr. Robinson, then, since you seem to have enjoyed his company in the past. Do you have any doubt that Mr. Collins will follow through on his promise to marry you?”
Finally an easy question! “None at all, sir.”
The judge leaned back in his chair. “You have a difficult decision before you, Miss Lucas. You can marry Mr. Collins, who is responsible, reliable and honest but dull and obsequious, and you would need have no fears for your future or whether he will be able to provide for your children. Or you can choose Robinson whose company you prefer, but with the risk that he may prove unreliable as he has in the past, gambling away the money needed to run your household, leading you and your children into poverty. Do be quiet, Robinson, and allow the lady to think.”
“You seem to take a great interest in this matter, sir,” Charlotte said.
“My wife, God rest her soul, was a lady of great intelligence who could reason an argument as well as any man. She would have made a fine judge herself if we allowed women such opportunities. She was never Missish and always answered questions directly. You remind me of her, Miss Lucas. If my nephew Henry were ten years older, I would be trying to marry you off to him.”
“I am honored,” Charlotte said, and meant it. She had never heard such words of praise from a man she could respect so highly.
He raised himself stiffly to his feet. “I am going back to my guests now. I believe you may be forgiven a few minutes of private conversation, but please have mercy on me and keep it brief. Sir William is not precisely pleased with me at the moment. I gather I am overruling his parental authority.” He gave Charlotte a conspiratorial look as he left the room.
Charlotte looked down at her hands to give herself a moment to think, then raised her eyes to meet Mr. Robinson’s. “I will give you an answer before I depart tonight.”
He smiled ruefully and took her hands in his. “The judge has already ruled against me, and there is no fairer or more honest judge in all of England. That was why I dared approach him regarding Willoughby. I knew he would weigh the merits of my argument without regard to his own wishes. He is kind-hearted, though, so he gave me this time to say goodbye.”
“I have not refused you,” Charlotte said sharply, conscious of the warm comfort of his hands and her physical response to his body so near his own. “But perhaps you have changed your mind in light of the judge’s power to punish you.”
He shook his head. “My wishes and desires are unchanged, and if you choose in my favor, you will make me the happiest of men. But my father has told me too many times that he has learned that if he is on the opposing side of an argument from Judge Ixton, it is a sign that he should rethink his own opinion since it inevitably meant there was something he had not considered. I saw tonight how little time it took him to determine the sort of woman you are, and to be able to explain it more succinctly than I can after knowing you since October.” He shook his head dismissively. “At least he cannot fault my taste in women. That was a very high compliment he paid you. He adored his wife.”
“I am still trying to take that in,” Charlotte said. It was true. She had always believed that her plain face and lack of dowry meant that she had little to offer to a man, and even now she doubted Mr. Robinson in large part because she could not believe that he would truly care about her, about practical, dependable Charlotte Lucas. How she had grown to hate those words over the years!
At the moment, though, she was anything but practical and dependable. He had raised one hand to cup her cheek, looking down at her tenderly, and all she wanted was for him to kiss her.
“I wish I had could prove to you that I am not an irresponsible cad, but the only way to do that would be to demonstrate it over time, and time is the one thing I do not have, not with your wedding in three days.” Then he did kiss her.
It was sweet and it was tender. Charlotte longed to be in his arms, but the pain of the last month was still fresh enough to hold her back. Still, her lips clung to his until the awareness of time passing made her pull away. “We should return to the others,” she said.
The corner of his mouth quirked up, but he did not move. “So we should.”
It was then that she knew her answer. She crossed to the door, and he had to hurry to open it for her. She stopped halfway through the open door and turned to him. It was respectable enough; plenty of people could see them, yet no one would overhear soft conversation.
She took a deep breath, conscious of a stabbing pain deep inside. That was another factor to consider; he had the power to hurt her badly with his words and actions, something Mr. Collins did not. She would never face heartbreak at Mr. Collins’ hand, because he did not possess her heart. “You tempt me, Mr. Robinson. You truly do. But I am someone who values certainty and dependability. I can tolerate adversity when I must, but I am not one to seek it out. I would be making a gamble by choosing you, and I am not by nature a gambler.”
He took it stoically. She had to give him credit for that. “So the judge was right again?” he asked.
She nodded, closer to tears than she wished to admit. Who would have thought it of practical, dependable Charlotte? Her father was approaching them, and she must be calm.
He must have seen Sir William as well, because he said quickly, “May I see you one last time? I will not try to change your mind, I promise; but there are things I have not had the chance to tell you.”
And go through this pain of separation again? But she already knew she would find some way to grant his request. “I will consider it,” she said just as her father reached them. Her perfect social smile, the pride of practical, dependable Charlotte, was already in place.
Mr. Collins at Lucas Lodge
by Nina Benneton
“Lady Lucas, it is an honor.” Bowing, Mr. Collins’s lips scraped over Lady Lucas’s gloved hand.
“Welcome, Mr. Collins.” Lady Lucas smiled, reminding herself that burnt bone powder mixed with crumbs of toasted bread could easily remove oily spots.
Happiness in a marriage is a matter of chance.
How many times had she advised her daughter of that?
Sir William smiled affably. “It’s not Longbourn, but you will find no better welcome for your particular company now than at Lucas Lodge, sir. We have been waiting anxiously for your arrival.”
“I was afraid you might have changed your mind and not come,” Lady Lucas’s young son William piped.
Lady Lucas watched her eldest daughter’s cheeks redden at her brother’s teasing words.
Eyes blinking in the manner of a deformed mooncalf, Mr. Collins smiled at Charlotte. “I assure you, there is no heart more constant than mine once I have requested a lady’s hand in marriage.”
Charlotte’s returning smile was forced. “Your travel from Kent was uneventful, sir?”
“The jolts and jounces of the coach through fifty miles of bad roads are nothing when the heart anticipates such a reward at the destination, Miss Lucas,” Mr. Collins replied.
Lady Lucas decided to save her daughter from this unseemly public display of lovemaking. “Charlotte, Mr. Collins must be famished after his travel. Please go and see if cook’s ready with dinner.”
After casting a grateful glance toward Lady Lucas, Charlotte quitted the drawing room with alacrity.
“Charlotte made the pies for dinner, sir,” young William said after Lady Lucas invited their guest to sit.
Mr. Collins sat. “Lady Catherine will be most pleased to hear the future Mrs. Collins is capable of managing in the kitchen when the need arises. Though, I assure you, Hunsford Parsonage has a very competent maid-of-all-work to aid your daughter.”
About to hand him a cup of tea, Lady Lucas paused. Not prudent for her to scald the young man before he married Charlotte. She gave him a smile she usually reserved for the witless Mrs. Bennet. “How lovely.” She turned to her husband. “It would not do, Sir Williams, for the daughter of a man who’s been presented at St. James to only have one competent maid-of-all-work to aid her in her new household. Is it not fortuitous we were discoursing this morning about gifting the young couple with the service of one or two additional servants?”
“Eh? What’s that?” Sir William gave her a puzzled look, to which she returned with a significant glance toward their young son. Charlotte being safely married would mean less strain on young William in the future, as he would be relieved of his care for a spinster sister. Surely a mere five or ten pounds a year now to ensure Charlotte’s domestic comfort was worth it? Lady Lucas’s husband hesitated for a moment longer before he gave her a reluctant nod.
Happiness in a marriage is a matter of chance,
Lady Lucas silently repeated.
Was that not what her own mother had said when she pressed her to accept the penny-pinching Sir William’s hand in marriage? Lady Lucas faced Mr. Collins and smiled again. She was confident she’d prepared her Charlotte well to deal with a fatuous, parsimonious spouse.
Last Edit: January 23, 2012, 07:11:47 PM by Sharon Lathan
Happily ever after comes true
Re: Part 5: Wintertime Events all over England
Reply #2 on:
January 23, 2012, 05:58:51 PM »
Jane Calls on Caroline and Louisa
by Susan Mason-Milks
Jane found herself sitting in the parlor at the Hurst’s home on Grosvenor Street waiting for Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst to appear. Perched on a velvet covered chair, she felt a little uncomfortable and out of place. The house was not large, but almost everything about it was pretentious, as if designed to impress visitors with the financial standing of its owner. Jane deemed the decoration of this particular room much too formal and stuffy for her taste. The only personal touch was a small grouping of miniatures on a nearby table.
Examining the tiny portraits more closely, Jane recognized Caroline and Louisa. Both appeared to have been painted when they were about fifteen or sixteen years of age. The artist had generously rounded out some of the sharp angles of Caroline’s features making her appearance softer than it was in person. Jane smiled to herself noting how he had also considerably reduced the size of her nose.
The miniature that interested Jane the most, however, was of Charles Bingley. As she picked up the tiny portrait to examine it more closely, she involuntarily took a quick deep breath, exhaling it slowly with a quiet sigh. She had spent many weeks denying how much she felt for this man, but seeing his likeness brought it all back in full force causing that now familiar empty feeling to return. Jane lightly touched her finger to the painting as if she could actually stroke his face. All the pain of loss she had been holding inside now threatened to rush out. She would not allow herself to cry. It would not do to let anyone, especially his sisters, see how much she was hurt.
Mr. Bingley was everything she had ever hoped for in a suitor, and that made his loss all the more difficult to bear. It was not his fault his friendliness and charm had caused her to misinterpret his attentions. He was, after all, known for his good manners and friendly mien. Jane had been so certain he was developing an attachment to her and that his affection equaled hers. When he did not return to Netherfield, she had been forced to awaken from the delightful dream of becoming his wife that she had created for herself. She knew in the future any man who sought her attentions would be compared with him—her first love. The sad truth was Charles would marry someone like Georgiana Darcy and forget he had ever known Jane Bennet of Longbourn. She had just been an amusing diversion during his stay in the country. Jane thought she had no one to blame but herself for thinking it was more than just a flirtation. If his heart had been truly engaged, he would never have left without a word. In spite of what happened, Jane still hoped she would be able to continue her friendship with his sisters that had begun so promisingly in Hertfordshire.
Before Jane left for London, she had written to Caroline and Louisa informing them of her arrival in town, and also giving her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner’s address so they could write in return or come to call. More than a week had passed, but she had heard nothing from her friends. Jane was certain if Caroline had received her most recent message, she would have replied. The silence could only mean the letter had somehow been lost. That thought was what had prompted Jane to take the initiative of calling on them first.
“I cannot believe she has actually called upon us!” moaned Caroline. She and Louisa were still in her dressing room freshening up to meet their guest. “I thought my letter made it clear she should not hope for more from Charles.” Caroline was very unhappy she would be forced to be pleasant to Jane Bennet. Whatever would she say to that country bumpkin? Caroline intentionally had not answered Jane’s last letter with the hope of avoiding just this very situation, but she had come to call on them rather than taking the hint. Caroline was certain she had done everything she could to imply that Charles’s affections were otherwise engaged.
“Should I send word I am indisposed with a headache?” Caroline asked her sister.
“Do not be silly. We cannot both claim a headache, and I am not meeting with her alone,” Louisa replied. “Caroline, she is a sweet girl. I believe we must see her.”
Caroline let out a snort of disgust.
“You know it would be unforgivably rude not to at least spend a few minutes with her,” Louisa counseled.
“Then we must have a plan for cutting her visit short. What should we say?”
“I have no idea. You are the one who excels at making up excuses,” said Louisa absently as she checked her hair once more in the mirror.
“I shall instruct Graves if we have not emerged in ten minutes, he should come to the door to remind us we must leave almost immediately for our appointment.” Caroline frowned as she smoothed imaginary wrinkles from her dress.
“Oh, stop fussing,” said Louisa slapping at her sister’s hand.
Caroline jumped back and threw Louisa a nasty look. “Do not do that! You are not Mama!”
Louisa rolled her eyes, and then focused her attention on their problem again. “You could also inform her Miss Darcy is dining with us this evening,” she said slyly.
“Perhaps that will provide sufficient discouragement,” Caroline replied.
Just as they were ready to exit the dressing room, Caroline put a hand on her sister’s arm. “Oh, dear! Louisa,” she said with a look of horror on her face. “Courtesy will require us to make a return call. I am not sure I can bear the thought of going to…to…”
“Cheapside!” they moaned simultaneously as if the very word was disgusting to pronounce.
“If you recall, I warned you this might happen! Next time Charles gets an idea in his head to pay attention to someone as unsuitable as she is, we must put a stop to it much sooner,” said Caroline as she linked arms with her sister.
Just before they entered the room where Jane waited, Caroline took a deep breath and set bright smile on her face.
“Oh, Jane, dear! How very lovely to see you!” she cooed in her sweetest voice as she floated into the parlor. “Why did you not let us know you were coming to town?”
“I sent a letter a few weeks ago just before leaving Hertfordshire. Perhaps it was lost,” Jane offered.
Caroline thought it was so very like Jane to conveniently offer her own explanation. It saved Caroline the trouble of making something up on the spot.
“And is your family all in health?” Louisa inquired politely settling into a nearby chair.
“Oh, yes, thank you. Everyone is very well. And your family?”
“Yes, they are all well,” Louisa responded.
Jane looked down at her hands. “Is your brother also in health?” she asked tentatively.
Louisa and Caroline exchanged looks. “Oh, yes, of course, but we rarely see him these days. He has been spending so much time at the Darcys’ we are beginning to think he lives there,” Caroline responded with a forced laugh.
“And how are the Darcys?” Jane asked more out of politeness than actual interest.
“Mr. Darcy was somewhat out of sorts upon his return from Hertfordshire, but I believe he is feeling well enough by now,” said Caroline. After all, it was perfectly understandable. Being forced to endure the company of so many unpleasant people in Hertfordshire had made her feel ill, too.
“Miss Darcy is also in excellent health,” Louisa added. “She is such a lovely young lady. Who would not be taken with her beauty and accomplishments?”
Caroline brightened. Louisa had created the perfect opening. “Yes, we are looking forward to Miss Darcy dining with us this evening!” She did not add that Charles would be out with Mr. Darcy at the home of an old school friend. It would not hurt if Jane assumed the gentlemen would be joining them as it would further the idea there might possibly be more than one union between the two families. Caroline still seethed with hatred for Eliza Bennet because of Darcy’s marked preference for her. She thought it would not hurt a bit if Jane wrote to that impertinent sister of hers that two of the Bingleys were on very intimate terms with the Darcys. Fine eyes, indeed! Let her be the one who was jealous!
An uncomfortable silence fell in the room. They really had so little in common other than their brief acquaintance in Hertfordshire.
“Have you been to any assemblies or balls since we left?” asked Caroline, stifling a smirk behind her hand.
Jane looked confused for a moment. “Oh, yes, we attended a wonderful ball on New Year’s Eve, and during December there were many parties and dinners in the neighborhood.”
“How lovely for you,” said Caroline.Louisa launched into a lengthy discourse about all the balls and dinners they had attended since returning to London. By describing in great detail some of the fabulous gowns and jewels they had seen at these events, she hoped to impress Jane and further emphasize the gap between the Bingleys and the Bennets.
As Louisa rambled on, Caroline frantically tried to think of another topic. Since nothing came to mind, it seemed as good a time as any to mention they must be leaving soon. A sudden inspiration hit, and she jumped into the conversation interrupting her sister.
“Mr. Darcy has been gracious enough to send his carriage for us so we may call on Miss Darcy this afternoon. I am afraid we only have a few minutes before it will arrive to whisk us away,” Caroline said with an artful swish of her hand. She thought it was especially clever of her to invent this little tale, as it was yet another example of the close relationship between the two families.
Just at that moment, Graves appeared in the doorway. Caroline rose immediately from her chair indicating the call was over, and Jane followed her lead.
“It is so unfortunate we will not return to Netherfield and will be robbed of the pleasure of seeing your dear family again. You must send them our regards,” said Caroline sweetly as they ushered Jane to the front door.
Even though she had already given her card to the butler when she arrived, Jane reached into her reticule and pulled out another card with the Gardiner’s address. “I would love to have you call at my aunt and uncle’s home while I am in town. Please come any time.”
Both Caroline and Louisa assured their guest that she would see them very soon. Once the door closed behind Jane, the Bingley sisters looked at each other and fell into fits of laughter right there in the hallway.
When Jane reached the sidewalk, she turned to look back at the house. Something did not seem quite right, but she just could not put her finger on what it was. Their promise of a return call sounded hollow and forced. They had not even offered her the courtesy of refreshments. Suddenly, it hit her. Why were the Bingley sisters going to call on Miss Darcy this afternoon if she was coming to their house for dinner that very evening? It did not make sense.
Although Jane puzzled over this all the way back to Cheapside and debated about seeking her aunt’s opinion, in the end she decided she must have misunderstood. Caroline and Louisa were her friends. Assuring herself that they would return her call very soon, just as they promised, she began to arrange her schedule so she would be at home to receive them when they came.
Charlotte's Final Day as a Single Woman
by Abigail Reynolds
Charlotte’s farewell visit to the Bennet ladies was not one she would remember with pleasure. Mrs. Bennet, who had always been kind to her until she became engaged, was ungracious throughout it. Lizzy had the courtesy to walk her downstairs afterwards, which Charlotte particularly appreciated since she wanted to invite her to visit in Kent. She had not forgotten the judge’s words about finding her companionship elsewhere than her husband, and Lizzy had been her closest friend for years.
Lizzy at first tried to dodge the invitation – hardly surprising given her dislike of Mr. Collins – but finally agreed, to Charlotte’s great relief. It meant a great deal to know that she would have a friend still, even if Lizzy still couldn’t hide her disapproval of Charlotte’s marriage. Sometimes she forgot just how young Lizzy was, and the difference between the ages of twenty and eight-and-twenty. Lizzy’s world was so simple; she lived in the present and did not think of the future. People had few shades of grey in her mind. Charlotte wondered what Lizzy would think if she knew the truth of her situation.
Apparently feeling some guilt over her reluctance to visit, Lizzy offered to walk back to Lucas Lodge with her, but Charlotte declined graciously. “I need a little time alone to think. Once I am home, I will be inundated with wedding preparations.”
Lizzy, who loved solitary walks, apparently saw nothing odd in this, and waved to Charlotte as she set off down the drive. But Charlotte had no intention of taking the usual road back to Lucas Lodge, and soon veered off on a narrow path into the woods. Her pulse raced, but not from the exercise, and anxiety gnawed away at her insides. Would he be there, or had he already left Hertfordshire?
She hitched up her skirts for the final climb to the ruined chapel on the hilltop. Overgrown by trees, no one ever visited it, but it had been a favorite childhood retreat of hers. Now it was something else entirely. Still, to be safe, she circled the ruins to make certain there were no other visitors, and then she walked past the chapel to the old hermitage.
He was standing in the doorway waiting for her. She hurried into his arms, turning her face up for his kiss. There was no point in denying what was to happen; he would have realized her intent as soon as he received her note specifying this location. This was where they had gone on Guy Fawkes Night.
He was already unbuttoning her spencer as he kissed her.
They were better prepared today than they had been on Guy Fawkes Night. Mr. Robinson had somehow managed to bring a blanket with him, and his greatcoat served as their bed, but still on this chilly January day, they wore most of their clothes. Most, but not all, which was enough to make Charlotte happy. Then again, she was in the habit of finding contentment where she could, but she had never thought it would be in the arms of her lover on the day before her wedding to another man. How shocked all her friends and family would be at practical, dependable Charlotte right now! The thought made her even happier.
Mr. Robinson – Edward – ran his forefinger down the valley between her breasts. “Thank you for today. You cannot imagine what it means to me that, even if we have no future together, that we part with happier memories. And I will do my best to wish you happy in your future.”
Charlotte did not want to think about that future, or the man she was to marry who was waiting for her at Lucas Lodge. She wanted to treasure this moment and the sensation of being held by the man she cared for. She did not question her decision to marry Mr. Collins, at least not seriously. She was happy to be with her Edward, happy to feel his touch and hear his words of love, but she also recognized that fundamentally he was a weak man who was too easily swayed by what he desired at any given moment. If they married, that trait would eventually kill her affection for him. She would rather have the memories of today to carry with her through the years ahead.
She could not think of the future now, though. “You said before that there were things you still wanted to tell me.”
“And you expect me to remember them when you are with me like this?” He kissed her lingeringly, his hand sculpting the curves of her body, coming to rest on her stomach. “Some of it is not important now, such as the story of why I was so angry with women, which had to do with an heiress who first led me on and then humiliated me with a public refusal. It does not signify now, because all I want to think about is you. But there is one thing I would ask.”
He kissed her again before speaking, as if he were fearful that she would not wish to kiss him afterwards. “Were there any consequences of that night in November?”
She did not pretend to misunderstand him. “I cannot say. I have had no proof that I am not in that condition, but it is not unusual for me not to have proof on a regular basis.”
The pressure of his hand on her stomach increased slightly, as if he were trying to discover what lay within. “I do not know whether I wish for it or not, but it will be hard never to know.”
“If you wish, I can try to send a message through Judge Braxton, although it might be some time before I have the opportunity to do so. I do not know how often I will return here, and he is often in London.”
“I would appreciate some word, and it will be… good to know I will hear from you again, at least that once.” His voice was melancholy.
Charlotte did not want this moment clouded with grief,. She distracted him with kisses and roving touches until she was sure his interest lay in a distinctly different direction.
“My delightfully passionate Charlotte! No one would know to look at you what is hidden inside.” A shadow crossed his face, and she knew he was thinking the same thing she was, that tomorrow night she would be doing this with another man. “Where does he live, your Mr. Collins?” he said with an edge to his voice, spreading her legs once more with his knee and shifting himself to lie between them, preparing to take possession of her once more.
She closed her eyes in anticipation. “In the village of Hunsford in Kent, not far from Tunbridge Wells.” Her words turned into a sigh of pleasure as he plunged within her with an unexpected vigor.
Then, to her surprise, he stopped moving. She opened her eyes to discover he had propped himself up on his elbows and was staring at her with an odd expression, even as he filled her body. “I know where it is. It is just over ten miles from my father’s house. I visit there frequently and it someday will be mine.”
Her eyes widened. She slid her hand behind his head and pulled him down until she could kiss him. “And?”
“Tell me that you will allow me to see you again, at least from time to time. I will find a way to make it work. Please, Charlotte.”
Her smile this time came from a special place deep within her. “We will have to be discreet, but I would be very sorry if you did not.”
His face was full of a heartfelt delight, which almost immediately transmuted into a more physical expression of his feelings. Charlotte was content to allow herself to become lost in his lovemaking.
Afterwards, she had little time to spare. She had already been gone from Lucas Lodge too long, and would have to think of a good excuse for why she had lingered at her farewell call to the Bennets, but she did not care. This was not a final goodbye, and that made all the difference.
He sat watching her as she restored order to her clothing and smoothed her hair with the comb and extra hairpins she had secreted in her reticule for this very purpose. Then he pulled her to him for a final kiss. “To tide me over until we are together again.”
Charlotte tied her bonnet strings. “And until then, it is back to practical, dependable Charlotte Lucas.”
He caught her hand once more. “You are practical and dependable – but there is much more to you than that. Remember that when you remember me.”
She looked into his eyes and nodded slowly. “I will remember.”
by Abigail Reynolds
Charlotte had never been one to have romantic dreams about a perfect wedding. She knew she would never be a beautiful bride that women would cry over, and there was not even to be a wedding breakfast, since she and Mr. Collins were to leave for Kent from the church door. Lady Catherine apparently felt he had been absent from his post a bit too often in these last months, so naturally Mr. Collins was determined to return at the earliest possible moment. It was going to be a very long day, especially with a wedding night at the end where she would need to have all of her acting skills at their best.
The ceremony went smoothly, which was all Charlotte had hoped for. The only shock came when she walked back down the aisle with her new husband and saw some unexpected faces in the pews. Judge Braxton sat between his young nephew and Mr. Robinson.
She allowed her eyes to rest on Mr. Robinson for just a moment. He gave her a slight smile – not a happy one, but neither was it completely false – and then she was past his pew. She wondered at his presence, but he could not be planning to cause difficulties if he was with the judge.
The newlyweds were surrounded by well-wishers at the church door. Charlotte could hear Mr. Collins droning on to someone or other in his usual manner with frequent references to Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Rosings Park while she was bidding her final farewells to her family and friends. She could not keep herself from glancing around every few minutes in search of Mr. Robinson, oddly embarrassed at what he would think of her new husband.
When she saw him, it was a worse shock. He was actually being introduced to Mr. Collins. Her social smile firmly plastered in place, she hurried to Mr. Collins’ side, hoping that her interest looked like nothing more than the eagerness of a devoted bride to be with her new husband.
“Yes, of course, near Rosings Park,” said Mr. Robinson smoothly. “I remember it well. My father was a great friend of Sir Lewis deBourgh, and during that gentleman’s lifetime, we often called at Rosings. He and my father were both devotees of chess and whiled away many an afternoon with one match after another.”
“If you have met the family, then you comprehend the great honor I feel in having the opportunity to be Lady Catherine’s most humble servant.” Mr. Collins showed the same eagerness to impress that he had when meeting Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield Ball.
“Indeed I do. I recall standing quite in awe of Lady Catherine. Rosings Park is, of course, among the finest houses in the county. I am sure there are many who are envious of your position.” His eyes momentarily slid toward Charlotte with a very different message about his envy.
As Mr. Collins thanked him at length for his great condescension, Charlotte wondered what on earth he was about. It certainly had not taken him long to take the measure of Mr. Collins’ nature, and he was playing to it beautifully.
“I was delighted to hear that Miss Lucas – Mrs. Collins – would be taking up residence in Hunsford. She is just the sort of practical, dependable lady to be a perfect clergyman’s wife. In fact, I was hoping you would not object if I introduced my younger sister to her acquaintance. This was to have been Mary’s first Season until my father became ill, and she is disappointed to be spending it in the country instead. I believe Mrs. Collins would be an excellent steadying influence on her, with your permission, of course.”
Mr. Collins turned to Charlotte, rubbing his hands together with every evidence of pleasure. “We would be delighted, would we not, Mrs. Collins?”
Charlotte curtsied slightly. “I would be very happy to meet a new friend in Kent.” She was not certain whether she was more amused or horrified at his initiative in asking her husband for permission to call on her.
He bowed. “In that case, I will look forward to seeing you again very soon, Mrs. Collins, but I will not keep you from your other guests any longer.”
She offered him her hand, and he bowed over it deeply, giving her fingers a little squeeze as he did so. It was as if a little spark passed from him to her, but she felt no urge for anything more. Today was not the day to be thinking of him.
She was relieved when the hired carriage pulled away from the church and she was alone with Mr. Collins. She listened absently as he talked on at length about what a success the day had been and how pleased Lady Catherine would be that Judge Braxton himself had condescended to attend the ceremony. “She will be glad to hear that you are already acquainted with one of our neighbors, but I must admit I did not quite catch his name – was it Rogers, my dear?”
“You refer to Mr. Robinson?”
“Ah, yes, Robinson, that was it. And to think his father had the honor of knowing Sir Lewis deBourgh! I will have to tell Lady Catherine about him. How did you come to meet him?”
“Judge Braxton is a friend of Mr. Robinson’s father, and is acting as a mentor of sorts to the son. Mr. Robinson attended many of the social occasions in Meryton during his visit to the judge.” She was pleased by the apparent detachment in her voice. “But I hope you will tell me more about what I should expect to find in Hunsford and at Rosings Park. One can never be too prepared, after all.”
As she hoped, that sent him off into a long monologue of praise, waxing eloquent about every detail of Rosings. It was rather soothing, actually, since he required so little from her apart from the appearance of attention. She was used to this sort of effusive behavior from her father, so it did not trouble her greatly.
She folded her hands in her lap and made herself as comfortable as one could be in a coach with fewer springs that might be wished for. She had no complaints, though. Today was evidence enough for her that she had made the correct decision. She might feel an attraction to Mr. Robinson that she did not for Mr. Collins, and she would certainly enjoy his company more, but her pleasure in their time together did not prevent her from noticing that today he had shown himself once again to be a skilled liar with a talent for manipulation. His willingness to involve his sister in the situation did not speak well for him, either. If she were married to him, she would always have doubts about his motives and his veracity, and if he could lie so easily and disguise what must be serious dislike for his rival, it was quite possible he could fool her about other things.
No, Mr. Robinson would not have made the kind of husband she could depend on. She remembered him with pleasure, and looked forward more than she might like to admit to their next meeting, but she knew where she stood with Mr. Collins. If his effusiveness bordered on embarrassing, she could learn to ignore it. She would finally have an establishment of her own, a comfortable income, and hopefully children to raise. She could visit Hertfordshire without worries about Willoughby, though….
“Is something the matter, my dearest Charlotte? Is the motion of the carriage too much for you?”
“I am a little tired, perhaps, but quite well,” she said, patting his hand. “I do hope Lady Catherine will approve of me.”
That was enough to distract him, and he was off again on his monologue, leaving her with the quite satisfactory thought that Mr. Willoughby would be most distressed if he knew how much she had benefited from his attempt at revenge. Without him she would not have made the desperate attempt to attract Mr. Collins’ attention when he hoped to marry one of the Bennet sisters, and she would still be an aging spinster destined to be dependent on her brothers forever. Instead, thanks to Willoughby, she had a new home, the prospect of someday being mistress of Longbourn, a husband to provide for her, and a lover to remind her that there was more to her than the practical, dependable Charlotte everyone else knew. Yes, she had a great deal for which to be thankful.
In Which Charlotte Collins Faces the Inquisition
by Diana Birchall
Charlotte had now been married a month, and was quite as satisfied with her situation as she had ever dared hope to be. If her husband was not the pleasantest of companions, there was only one of him, and any man, not vicious, might easily be managed by a clever woman. In the case of Mr. Collins, it was only needful for Charlotte to be willing to adapt her expressions to the flattering sort he plainly needed for his contentment. This was but a small sacrifice, for Charlotte, though ordinarily a plain spoken woman, felt it a gratifying improvement to have only him to please, by such simple and expedient means. At Lucas Lodge, she had been required all through her young womanhood to assist her mother with the care of her many younger brothers and sisters, a slavery that had reduced her to little more than a bonne or nursemaid. How much, therefore, she now delighted in having her own house, may be imagined; and with her intelligence and tact she was quite equal to the business of keeping Mr. Collins happy, occupied, and not too much in her own way. In the intervals when Mr. Collins was silent, or away from the house, as did happen for several hours of each day, she could enjoy her own peaceful occupations, to her heart’s content.
February was too early a month for gardening, but Charlotte discerned that Mr. Collins was all eagerness to be planning and planting, and she encouraged him to draw up handsome schemes for laying out the vegetable and flower gardens, and set him to pore over seed catalogues. Then he must spend a good deal of time surveying his parish, and visiting those parishioners who were in difficulties. In this he was frequently joined by his patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who had the greatest delight in cottage visiting, and considered Mr. Collins to be her adjunct, rather than the other way round, as might have been supposed. They were often busy for several hours together, in the happy occupation of looking into their villagers’ affairs, and no one would disturb Charlotte, although on her husband’s return she must pay the tax of listening to the whole story of what Lady Catherine had done, and said, and decreed, to every person in and around Hunsford. Charlotte generally took out her sewing then, and while Mr. Collins talked, need not give more than half an ear to him, with an occasional interjection of, “That was very well done, my dear, upon my word.”
Fortunately, he was as a man about the house not unamiable, nor difficult to please for one who was such an efficient housekeeper and judicious manager as Charlotte, and she had only to accept his compliments on her contrivances, which was no severe hardship. From the start, he violently approved of her disposition of cupboards and cabinets, and of her pleasant but firm manner with their domestics. And as the cooking in the establishment improved immeasurably, under Charlotte’s direction, from the bachelor meals he had ordered, he really did not know how to be grateful enough, or more pleased with his own acuity and genius for selecting such a paragon of a wife. In moments, he shuddered at the narrow escape he had from his cousin Elizabeth, whom he was now certain would never have suited him at all.
As for more intimate matters between husband and wife, Charlotte had always known she must accept them as a matter of course, and there was nothing about the person of her young and healthy husband to disgust; especially after she had given him a little tactful and delicate instruction. Mr. Collins often rewarded her with expressions of assurance that she pleased him, more than any other woman in the world could have done; and in being very conscious of his blessings, he did much to reconcile Charlotte to hers.
So the marriage prospered from its earliest days; but Charlotte was also fully aware that that there was a second person, not in her household, whom she must conciliate. This was Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Charlotte had come to Hunsford prepared to endure much interference in her business, and she resolved ahead of time to meet every attack with patience. That Lady Catherine should approve of Mr. Collins’s wife, was of the most extreme importance. Charlotte could scarcely be more cognizant of this than Mr. Collins himself. Lady Catherine had nothing less than the power to make or to ruin her happiness; and so she deliberately set out to please, and to promote the most harmonious intercourse possible between Hunsford and Rosings. Charlotte well knew that the benefit of Lady Catherine’s patronage was inestimable; she might help her brothers find places, her sisters husbands. Elizabeth might have found it disagreeable to dance attendance upon a Lady Catherine, but Charlotte sensibly accepted it as part of the price of her happiness, and she welcomed the most outrageous impositions willingly, or at least quietly. This was greatly, be it noted, to the relief of her husband, who had been anxious that nothing like conflict should arise between the two women most important to him.
Lady Catherine allowed one week to elapse, from the arrival of Mrs. Collins in Hunsford, until she set about making an inspection of her methods. There had been one dinner already, and her Ladyship declared herself perfectly pleased by the quiet, neat appearance of the parson’s new wife, and of the deference with which she addressed her superiors. She seemed a modest, proper, sensible sort of young woman – not too young, but all the better for that. A sennight was enough to allow for Mrs. Collins to put herself in order. Lady Catherine was impatient, but at last the seven days were passed, and she sallied forth, curious to see with what economy the new broom managed her household.
Lady Catherine came therefore when least expected, resolved to give Mrs. Collins no warning, no chance to clear up any disorder or to give her house a better appearance than it might have in the ordinary way. At eleven o’clock on the Tuesday forenoon, as soon as she knew that Mr. Collins had gone out in his gig, to make his regular circuit of the parish, Lady Catherine ordered one of her own carriages, and presented herself at Charlotte’s door.
Charlotte, discerning her from the window, came out to welcome and invite her into the house.
“I came,” announced Lady Catherine, “to satisfy myself as to the state of your arrangements.”
“I hope you will be pleased,” Charlotte answered calmly, “will your Ladyship have some tea?”
“Tea! I am not one of those ladies who require tea at this hour. But stay – what sort of tea do you purchase, Mrs. Collins?” she asked suspiciously. “Fine India tea is a luxury that does not become a clergyman’s household, you must know. Where do you order yours, say?”
“It is some I have brought from home,” replied Charlotte. “I mean to keep it only for company, indeed, for distinguished guests; and as we expect to have few visitors, my supply will last for some years.”
“Is that so? That is well thought of. Well, now, let me penetrate into your kitchen quarters.”
“Certainly,” said Charlotte. “If your ladyship will step this way. I have had the maids hard at work scrubbing the cook-stove, which I am sorry to say was quite black with crocks and smuts; Mr. Collins as a single man seldom ventured himself into these quarters, and the cooking regions have had to be thoroughly cleaned from top to bottom.”
Lady Catherine nodded approvingly, at two kitchen maids deedily down on their knees, and the sparkling stove. “That is satisfactory, most. And here is the pantry, I declare. Let me look inside.”
“Dry goods are here, you see, and I am using this little room for a creamery, for it is quite cool, and we can use it as an ice-house in summer.”
“Cleverly thought of, upon my word. And I see you have used these canisters for – what? Flour?”
“Yes; and barley is here – and nuts – and cream of tartar…”
“I have no fault to find,” Lady Catherine said, in a tone of mild surprise. “But tell me now – what did you and Mr. Collins eat last night, pray?”
“Why, the Sunday joint of beef, we had warmed over yesterday; and today we shall have hash.”
“Most economical,” nodded her Ladyship. “Well: let us go down the corridor, and look into this room – and this – “ she ran her finger along a mantelpiece, and looked out window to judge of its cleanliness and clarity. “But what is this? Why are your writing-things and books in this dark little back drawing room? Surely the lady of the house ought to use the handsomer apartment in the front? Would that not be more proper?”
For the first time Charlotte blushed. “I thought it best,” she said, “for Mr. Collins to retain his own book room – he is happy in it, and that way, I can have my own privacy, that is,” she floundered, lost for words, “a room of my own…”
“Hum! I should have thought it inconvenient, but you know your own interest, Mrs. Collins, I see,” said Lady Catherine shrewdly.
“I hope I am putting my husband’s interests first, as is my duty,” she hastened to answer, with modesty.
“It was not thought necessary in Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s family. But then as a bride I had a fortune of my own, which you are unhappily without.”
“I hope to be a useful helpmate to Mr. Collins, and by economy ensure that he makes the most of his money,” Charlotte said earnestly.
“Aye, no doubt; and I begin to suspect you will succeed, Mrs. Collins,” said Lady Catherine with a small and grudging smile of approval. “Now. Show me your bed-chamber. It this where you keep your under garments?”
by Susan Mason-Milks
Jane moved slowly back and forth in the rocking chair in an attempt to sooth herself as she might an unhappy child. Four weeks in town had passed, and she had neither seen nor heard from Mr. Bingley. Jane was persuaded by something Caroline had let slip that her brother knew she was in town, but still he did not come. Even as sanguine as she usually was about such things, she finally knew she had to accept he was gone forever from her life.
Her call at Grosvenor Street earlier in the month to see Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst had been awkward and uncomfortable, but it was nothing compared to what had transpired when Caroline finally called on her here at Gracechurch Street. From the moment she arrived, Caroline had looked bored and indifferent. Although Aunt Gardiner tried to be helpful, attempting to smooth over the awkward pauses, the conversation lagged as Jane had no heart to try and Caroline no interest. Mercifully, the call was short.
Jane never liked to think ill of people, but at last, she knew she must. Miss Bingley had been wrong, very wrong to be so duplicitous in pretending to be her friend. In the beginning, Jane was certain Miss Bingley’s efforts to form a friendship had been sincere, but now she even doubted that. Had Caroline’s attentions been just a way to pass the time while in the country? Or had she only wanted to know Jane better because her brother had taken an interest in her? If that were true, then it made sense Miss Bingley’s interest had faded just as her brother’s had.
In spite of the hurt she felt, Jane did not regret having known Charles Bingley for those wonderful weeks. They were some of the happiest of her life. If only she could let go of the vision she had created of Mr. Bingley as her gentle and attentive husband, their comfortable home, and most importantly, the children they would have together. She had been so certain he was forming an attachment to her, but then he had just disappeared.
In her darkest moments, she despaired of ever again meeting someone as amiable as Mr. Bingley. What would happen to her now? As the eldest of five girls, Jane felt a responsibility to marry well in order to provide for her mother and sisters in the event of her father’s death. Several gentlemen in the neighborhood had shown an interest in her recently including Mr. Wyatt, a very nice widower with two small children. Jane did not mind the idea of becoming mother to his children. Caring for and nurturing children came naturally to her. Mr. Wyatt had a small estate about the size of Longbourn, but he was a much more attentive landlord than her father. As a result, the estate prospered, and she knew her life would be a pleasant and easy one. Surely, it would not be such a terrible thing to be married to a man like that. At least she respected him and knew he would treat her respectfully as well. Maybe love would even grow between them. Perhaps, when she returned to Longbourn in the spring, if he were still unattached, she would make more of an effort to talk with him.
Jane continued to rock to sooth herself. Several times, she cried silently, salty tears rolling down her cheeks. She would allow herself this moment of self-pity, and then she would go on with her life and not look back. At least that was what she told herself. In truth, she knew she would never forget Charles Bingley who had been so perfectly suited to her. How she had loved it when his eyes came alive and sparkled when he saw her. She had felt as if it made her come to life, too. Her mother always told her how beautiful she was, but Jane did not believe it until she saw herself reflected in his eyes. He had called her his angel.
Jane dreaded writing to Lizzy about recent events because she would have to acknowledge how wrong she had been about Caroline. It would be difficult to admit to Lizzy that she had been right all along, but Jane knew if circumstances repeated themselves, she would most likely be deceived again. She had nothing to reproach herself for. Her behavior had been sincere and true. Caroline Bingley would have to live with the unkind way she had acted. In her heart, she felt pity for Caroline whose happiness seemed to depend so much on things outside herself – her social connections, her clothes, her money. Jane knew that she herself was rich in the things that really mattered.
So, Jane rocked. First, she began to feel calmer and finally, she grew sleepy. Abandoning the rocking chair, she crawled into the bed she shared with her eldest niece who was her namesake. Sensing her aunt’s presence in the bed, Janie moved to cuddle up against her. In turn, Jane was comforted by the little girl’s warmth. Kissing her niece, Jane smoothed her tangled curls on the pillow and soon fell into a deep sleep.
Last Edit: January 23, 2012, 07:17:11 PM by Sharon Lathan
Happily ever after comes true
Re: Part 5: Wintertime Events all over England
Reply #3 on:
January 23, 2012, 08:04:15 PM »
A Surprise Visit from Lady Catherine
by C. Allyn Pierson
Charlotte sat down at the little table in her parlour with just a hint of a sigh. For the first time since her marriage she had no ready task at hand to occupy her. Her correspondence was all up to date and another letter would merely imply that she was bored with her new life...which was really not true. Not true at all.
Her house and her domestic concerns kept her quite busy, but yet she had enough time to rest for a few minutes, as she was doing now. Perhaps a cup of tea would refresh her.
She rang the bell and ordered the tea from the housemaid who answered; a country girl of little polish herself, but who did an excellent job of polishing the brasses. Perhaps a few minutes reading would occupy her.
She searched the small bookcase by her chair for the book she had been reading, a novel by Mrs. Radcliffe. As she flipped the pages, trying to find her place, lost in her move to Hunsford, her mind wandered unchecked. Life with Mr. Collins had been very much as she expected, and she had no complaints of her husband's character or amiability. The worst moments, undoubtedly, were during their wedding night.
She could feel herself flushing at the memory. They spent the night in this very house after a long drive from Hertfordshire. Mr. Collins spent the drive holding her hand with his damp fingers and talking about Hunsford. When they finally arrived, it was just after dark, and Charlotte was weary from the sound of his voice, but very impressed at his ability to talk for hours without drawing breath.
The housekeeper had put a small, cold supper in front of them and then discreetly disappeared into the kitchen. Charlotte examined the dining-room while she ate and commented favourably on its decor to her husband, when he paused to take a bite.
"Oh yes, my dear, Lady Catherine made all the decisions on paper and carpet to ready the house for you."
"Indeed! Her ladyship is most kind to offer her opinion."
"Indeed she is...she could not be more condescending when it comes to offering advice which will make you comfortable!"
Charlotte subsided into silence as he meandered through a story illustrating Lady Catherine's manifold kindnesses, and Charlotte found her mind wandering, as it had often before the wedding. She imagined Mr. Collins replaced by Mr. Robinson. What would he have done with a new bride? She pictured him finishing his wine and drawing her up from the table and into a kiss.
"Mrs. Robinson...shall we go upstairs?" would be whispered in her ear, and she would smile at him and take his hand as they left the dining-room. Perhaps they would stop at the landing and he would crush her to him for another kiss, and lightly run his tongue over her lips before picking her up and carrying her to the bedroom...their bedroom, where they could, for the first time, abandon themselves without fear of discovery and hold each other all the night long.
Her fantasy had been jerked back to reality by Mr. Collins that night. She thanked God that she had enough experience to guide the process, or their wedding night would have been an exquisite embarrassment. As it was, she sent him off to ready himself for bed and let the maid undo all the tiny buttons of her dress and help her into her nightgown.
When her husband returned, she was waiting for him, reading her Bible verse for the night. He sidled into the room with a nervous smirk on his face and she quickly doused the candle for both their sakes. Yes, the darkness would help them both, giving him the courage to fumble with the ties of her nightgown, and allowing her to gaze up into the darkness and picture Mr. Robinson in her arms.
Suddenly, the housemaid came into the parlour, followed closely by Lady Catherine. Charlotte felt her face flush as she jerked her thoughts back to the present and offered their patroness a chair.
"Please, my lady, have a chair. Molly, another cup and more hot water, please."
Lady Catherine's eye fell upon the novel Charlotte was holding in her lap.
"I certainly hope that you are not making a habit of reading novels, Mrs. Collins!"
"Oh, no, Lady Catherine! I was just beginning to take the books out of this shelf to see what was there. I would like to give away many of these so that I can fit my books on the shelf. I believe that most of these belonged to the previous family who had the living. Is there, perhaps, a lending library in Hunsford which might appreciate some novels?"
"Give it to me and I will send it down the next time my maid goes to change my books."
"How very kind of you, my lady." Charlotte handed her the book, hoping that the slip of paper she had used for a marker did not have any identifying marks on it.
"And what have you been doing with yourself, Mrs. Collins? I know your husband is out visiting the sick. Did you not attend him?"
"No...no, my lady. I–I had some chores to finish and he wished to leave early." She paused for a moment, desperate to change the course of Lady Catherine's interrogation. "Actually, my lady, I have been most perplexed over what to do with the closet in the guest bedroom...I wish to have it be comfortable when my father and sister visit in the Spring, but it is most inconvenient. There are several hooks to hang clothes, but it is very small and tucked into a tiny corner. Surely there is some way to make it more useful!"
Lady Catherine's eye's brightened. "Let us go up and look at it. I am sure I can suggest something, Mrs. Collins. Perhaps more hooks...or even shelves would make that corner more useful."
Charlotte smiled and led Lady Catherine up the perfectly proportioned and sized front stairs to the guest bedroom.
The Impressions of Anne de Bourgh
by Diana Birchall
“My dear Anne,” Lady Catherine de Bourgh said to her daughter, “I do hope you will be taking your drive today. You need an airing.”
“Is is so cold,” Anne replied fretfully, “I do not see how a constitutional drive can be expected to do any one good in the month of January.”
“You know what Dr. Shaw said,” Lady Catherine put down her eggshell-thin teacup deliberately. “Your health requires a great deal of fresh air, and today it is sunny.”
“A pale sunshine, and I do not believe it is going to last. There are several black clouds. And it is so dreary sitting up in the pony phaeton alone.”
“Take Mrs. Jenkinson,” urged Lady Catherine, “Upon my word, I would go with you myself, only I have an immense deal of correspondence. There are important matters occurring in the nation, and I, as a magistrate, must inform the Prime Minister of my views. And then I must do some sick-visiting. There is a laborer in the village who is refusing to labour, and I am certain he is just shamming.”
“I could come with you there,” said Anne, brightening up a little.
“No; if he is ill, we could not run the risk. You are not strong, Anne, and would be liable to catch cold, in those chilly cottages. Besides, I wish that you would call at the parsonage.”
“The parsonage?” Anne frowned. “Oh, Mama, have we not paid sufficient attentions – and more – to those odious people?”
“My dear! Mr. Collins is our clergyman, and a very good sort of young man, I think. Certainly he has shown himself properly deferential to me, as is very right, and treats me as he ought, considering that I am his patroness, squiress, and superior, in every way. Besides, it is to Mrs. Collins that I wish you to speak.”
“Me!” Anne drew back with horror. “What have I done that you must inflict her upon me?”
“Why Anne! She is a harmless creature enough. Where is your objection?” Lady Catherine poured some more tea, and urged it upon her.
“No, I won’t have more tea, Mama. I am too upset. The whole trouble with that Mrs. Collins, is that she is common. And you know it.”
Lady Catherine’s heavily marked black brows drew together. “I cannot say that you are not right – but then, I myself urged Mr. Collins not to marry any one high born, or with pretensions. Mrs. Collins appears to me to be a very good sort of housekeeping body.”
“She is not a lady. And her husband is a clown.”
Seldom, very seldom, had Lady Catherine been so at a loss for a reply. After a moment’s consideration she said, “So, this is why you never speak to them at dinner, and are so silent. I had observed that.”
“You are correct. And if I may dare to say so, Mama, it is my opinion that you have been inviting them here to Rosings far too often. I know precisely what sort of pushing, presuming people they are, and if you give them an inch they will take an ell! They have been here seven times in their month of married life, and will soon begin to believe twice weekly visits to Rosings are theirs by right. You are altogether too soft hearted and susceptible to inferiors, Mama.”
“I have ever been celebrated for my kindness of heart, it is true,” Lady Catherine agreed complacently, “but if I may contradict you, my dear, I do believe them to be quite harmless, and agreeable enough. And you know how little company we can have here in these dark winter nights. It is well that a tame clergyman and his wife can be called over at any time for a game of cassino or quadrille.”
“Pah! I would much rather sit with a book, than listen to the pratings of Mr. Collins, or the flatteries of his wife.”
“So that is why you never open your lips from one end of a card game to another, either,” her mother mused. “I see.”
“Exactly so. And may I remind you, Mama, that we need not be so desperately craven for society, as that. When I am married to Darcy, the society at Pemberley will be quite another thing. And you shall spend the whole of every winter with us, I am determined on that.”
“Ah, Anne, your sweetness is fabled. I know Darcy will never be able to resist it, when he sees you. He must be quite ready to settle down by now, and I do hope that another season will see you the happy mistress of Pemberley, as your dear aunt and I always planned. Surely this will be the year.”
“Of course it will,” murmured Anne, who had always seen this fate before her, and in her pride and self-satisfaction, it had never occurred to her to doubt it. “When I am Mrs. Darcy, you know, I will never have converse with such common women as that Mrs. Collins. Did you see her at dinner the other night? Her gown so very drab and plain, and she could not even eat her soup delicately. That shows her to be so very ill bred.”
“Her father, Sir William Lucas, is a knight,” Lady Catherine pointed out doubtfully. “A recent creation, it is true, but they say he was presented at court.”
“Well, it did nothing for his daughter’s manners,” said Anne tartly. “You know she was nothing but a baby nurse to that dreadful brood of brothers and sisters she talks about, and she has no elegance, no refinement, no air about her at all. And is that the sort of person you want me to associate with, so soon before my elevation to be Darcy’s wife, and chatelaine of Pemberley?”
“I only wanted you to give her the receipt for beef tea, that old Nanny wrote out for me,” said Lady Catherine, in a tone of unwonted meekness. “Mrs. Collins believes her husband’s voice is strained, owing to the rigors of his last sermon, and a chill upon his throat. It would be a kindness, my dear.”
“Oh, very well,” said Anne crossly. “I’ll call for the phaeton.” She pulled irritably at the bell-rope, and Mrs. Jenkinson came hastily into the room.
“I am sorry, my dear Anne,” she said breathlessly, “but I was only talking to Nanny about that receipt your mother wanted, at her request. Shall you drive over to the parsonage now?”
“Apparently so,” Anne replied ungraciously. “I must be a ministering angel to the lowly. Pretty preferment, upon my word, is it not?”
“May I come and keep you company?” asked Mrs. Jenkinson humbly. “I could carry your cashmere shawl, so you will not catch a chill when you get out of the carriage.”
“No; to be sure not. If I am alone, I will say that it is not a regular call, and then I need not get out of the carriage at all. They can come to the gate. I will not give them even one quarter of an hour.” And she swept out of the room, her small, thin figure upright, to put on her driving costume.
Lady Catherine and Mrs. Jenkinson, left alone, met each other’s eyes.
“It is true that the Collinses are common, very common,” said Lady Catherine, “but I do wish Anne could try to be a little more engaging. She thinks she will have nobody to do with at Pemberley but the high born, but managing a great house like that, makes many demands.”
“Oh, but she was born to the task,” said Mrs. Jenkinson, rolling up her eyes and looking at the heavens earnestly. “Was it not Mr. Collins who said that she would be an ornament to the rank of duchess? He never spoke more truly.”
“To be sure,” said Lady Catherine, pleased. “Her grace and condescension are such as are not often seen. Oh, I know Darcy will be very taken with her, when he comes. This must and shall be the year.”
Mr. Bingley Regrets
by Susan Mason-Milks
Charles Bingley lingered at the breakfast table over a cup of coffee that had grown cold long ago. Although the newspaper from London was open in front of him, he had not read a word. His heart and mind were engaged elsewhere. Closing his eyes, he could see Jane Bennet’s face looking up at him serenely as they danced. Just one glance from her was enough to leave him completely speechless. Charles Bingley, speechless? That was something new! Her eyes were so bright and completely without pretense; her gloved hand in his, light as a feather. She had no idea how alluringly beautiful she was. Jane truly was an angel.
He knew he had a tendency to be too impetuous, to speak before thinking, and her sweet, gentle nature was the perfect counterbalance. Once when she was sitting beside him, he had started to open his mouth to make some rash pronouncement, but she had placed her hand ever so gently on his arm for just a second. Although her touch had been so light, as if a small bird had perched there briefly and then flown away, it was still enough to slow him down, to make him think before he spoke.In all the time they had spent together, he had never heard her say a derogatory word about anyone or pass on gossip, an activity his sisters seemed to delight in. His Jane always believed the best of everyone. His Jane. He liked the sound of that. Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly. She could have been his Jane, but he had thrown away all away.
Bingley had been so certain Jane returned his affections that it had come as a complete shock when Caroline and Darcy told him they believed she was indifferent and just paying attention to him to please her mother. How could he have read the signs so incorrectly? At first he listened only to his heart, which told him they must be wrong. Jane was not a coy, sophisticated woman like so many he had met. There was no artifice about her. The Jane he knew had more true sweetness than any other woman of his acquaintance. Although Caroline had insisted the Bennets had no connections, no status in society, and had implied Jane was not good enough for him, Bingley felt exactly the opposite – he was not good enough for her.
But what if it were true she did not care for him? Perhaps, she had already begun to favor some other gentleman as soon as he had departed. Bingley did not know what to trust – the pull of his own heart or the warnings from his sister and Darcy. His friend had never steered him wrong before, but then Darcy did not know Jane the way he did. No, he had not been wrong. She did care for him just as he cared for her.
Jane Bennet was a treasure, but he had given her up. He knew there was a distinct possibility he would regret her forever. Why did I listen to them instead of my heart? Perhaps, he should defy them all, return to Netherfield, and pay court to his angel again. He shook his head. No, he could never return. If he was right and Jane had harbored true feelings for him, she must hate him by now for abandoning her with no word. Caroline had said she would write to Jane and break it to her that they would not be returning. If his sister believed Jane did not care for him, then why had she told him she would try to let her friend down gently? Then it occurred to him Caroline’s reasons for not wanting him to return to Netherfield could be more in her own self interest than out of concern for him.
After a few minutes of contemplation, Bingley’s head began to hurt. Putting his fingers to his temples, he closed his eyes and rubbed in a circular motion hoping to relieve the pain.
Just then, he heard a rustling of silk and detected the scent of Caroline’s perfume as she crossed the room. Bingley knew it was rude of him not to acknowledge her or stand as she entered, but he was too irritated with her to be polite. Instead, he pretended he was studying the paper so intently that he had not heard her approach.
“Louisa and I are going shopping this afternoon. You did not have other plans for the carriage, did you?” Caroline said as if daring him to deny her request. As her fingers drummed on the table, each tap felt like a blow to his already sensitive head.
Bingley remained silent. He was not sure with whom he was more angry – Caroline for trying to influence him or himself for believing her. Why do I still put up with her antics? In the past when he had tried to rein her in, she always pouted or did something else to make his life miserable.
“Charles, dear, are you listening to me?” Her voice had that sharp edge to it he always took as a warning not to cross her, but this time, he ignored it.
“Caroline, have you had a letter from Miss Bennet recently?” he asked suddenly. As he waited for her answer, Bingley noticed that the only sound in the room was the ticking of the mantle clock.
“I believe I received a letter in December,” she responded slowly, examining her perfectly manicured hands.
“I remember she mentioned the possibility of visiting her aunt and uncle in town during the winter. Did she say she was coming to London?”
Caroline looked off and to the left as if searching for an answer. “Let me see now. Hmm… No, I do not believe she mentioned any visits to town.” She followed this with a smile that stopped short of her eyes.
When he did not respond, she continued, “Then you have no objection to our taking the carriage for the afternoon? And one of the footmen to carry our parcels.” He noticed how smoothly she had changed the subject.
Bingley was about to protest as he had planned to meet Darcy at the fencing club for a little sparring. They had both been engaging in that vigorous activity with some frequency of late. It would be inconvenient, but he could make other arrangements. Perhaps that would be easier than telling Caroline “no.” Denying her would only result in much unpleasantness. He knew at some point he would have to begin standing up to Caroline, but this was a relatively small matter. He thought it wiser to pick his battles carefully.
Caroline took his silence as assent. She nodded and stood to leave. Looking down at her dress as she smoothed out the tiny wrinkles, she said distractedly, “You must go with us to the Chadwick’s dinner party on Tuesday. We cannot have you at home moping about.”
From the doorway, she added, “I understand their eldest daughter is very accomplished.”
“Mmm…accomplished,” he replied, but his thoughts were already back in Hertfordshire.
Darcy Comes to a Decision
by Sharon Lathan
Darcy closed the door behind him and did something he rarely did: He collapsed against it and released a loud moan of relief.
“What a horrendous afternoon,” he muttered. He ran a hand through his hair before grasping the knot of his cravat and tugging. Futilely as it turned out. “Damn! He would choose today to bind me with some new fangled tying technique.”
As if my cravat is the deciding factor in whether a woman will find me appealing. Stupidity!
He pushed away from the door with a grunt and crossed directly to the sidebar. Something strong was needed to scorch the taste of tea and repugnance from the back of his throat.
“What a horrendous afternoon,” he repeated, this time with a growl. “What was I thinking?”
The question was rhetorical so he felt no need to answer himself. Thankfully.
Have I so unraveled that I have now resorted to talking aloud?
He clamped his lips shut before the answer slipped out audibly.
He finished the glass, finally feeling a measure of calm even though his neckcloth was still choking him. He had tried. At least he could say he had given the matter considerable thought and explored all reasonable options.
After the hell that had been Christmas with Elizabeth Bennet invading his every waking moment and creeping into his dreams, Darcy had been so desperate for anything to divert his attention that he had agreed to accompany his aunt and uncle to Sir Cole’s annual Twelfth Night Masque. Normally an agony of socializing that he avoided like the plague, this year he had practically leapt across the room to pen his acceptance to the invitation. Furthering his surprise he had enjoyed the evening more than typical and largely that was due to Amy Griffin.
He had not seen the youngest daughter of Sir Griffin of Alveston Hall in Derby for four years or more. She had grown, as young ladies are wont to do, and he had felt an instant interest. Attraction, to be honest. Immediately he recognized why she appealed to him: She bore similarities of temperament and physique to Elizabeth Bennet. Yet rather than annoying or discomfiting him, it was a thrilling prospect.
, he had wondered with an inner voice that hinted of a prayer,
my infatuation with Miss Elizabeth was merely to prepare me for finding Miss Amy.
The latter woman, after all, was utterly more acceptable than the first. With relief he figuratively girded his loins and for a month waged an internal war he was determined to win decisively as it should be. Logic and rational facts engaged the enemy that was emotion and wild impulse. The intelligent, cultured, beautiful daughter of a wealthy landowner with an impeccable pedigree had the battle advantage, so the victory was assured. Right?
Apparently practical tactics were no good when it came to matters of the heart. Today had cinched it. Sitting in the parlor of Alveston Hall sipping tea and nibbling on sweet cakes while struggling to keep up his end of the conversation, halt the infernal comparisons to Elizabeth, and not bolt from his chair to run for the nearest exit when she casually commented about it being Valentine’s Day –
How could I have forgotten that?!
– while batting her lashes at him, Darcy had finally admitted defeat. It defied everything he knew to be sensible but at the end of a handful of social encounters Miss Amy had lost the battle to the woman who continued to brutally ram into his head.
A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts and since they had already started to veer into areas he wasn’t quite prepared to embrace in the light of day, he answered it gladly. It was a servant of the inn in Derby delivering the day’s post. Darcy lifted a brow in surprise, having not anticipated receiving any mail since he only planned to be here for a week, maybe two tops (although after today that was unlikely), when he left Town six days ago. There were only three letters and as soon as he saw his Aunt Catherine’s familiar scrawl it made sense. Mrs. Smyth, his housekeeper at Darcy House in London, would automatically assume that any correspondence from the great Lady Catherine de Bourgh of the utmost, critical importance! Darcy hardly agreed but considering the timeliness of preventing him from dwelling on the memory of Elizabeth Bennet’s fine eyes, superb figure, lush hair especially as it fell in a tousled cascade down her back, flushed cheeks, warm hands, intoxicating scent….
He shook his head violently, inhaled deeply, and ripped open the letter.
God! Please be a long letter droning on about the boring activities of your corgis or how your tenants fawned over you when you last condescended to visit them!
He started reading while still standing in the middle of the room.
Ah! Excellent! Mr. Collins! Yes, talk of him will do!
How wrong could a man be?
It started off well enough. Several sentences about the horrible substitute reverend she had endured while Mr. Collins was away –
Could he truly be worse than the sniveling Collins must be as a preacher?
– followed by a whole paragraph detailing the report she had written to the archbishop –
I’m sure he loved that
Then she turned to the subject of Mr. Collins recent marriage, beginning with claiming responsibility for his matrimonial state. She went on to write that it was she who encouraged him to seek a wife and listed all the various reasons –
Terrific, just what I need to be reminded of now
– one of which was the logic in picking from one of the five Bennet daughters.
All the blood drained from his face and he threw the parchment pieces onto the floor. He couldn’t breathe and the pain slamming through his chest was excruciating. He had been there, at the Netherfield Ball, his eyes following Elizabeth Bennet everywhere she went no matter how hard he had tried to stop himself. Anger born from a jealousy he had refused to acknowledge had noted every one of the men who danced with or even talked to her. He had wanted to strangle every last damn one of them! So of course he had noticed how the pathetic Mr. Collins had dogged her steps and danced too close to her. Although somewhat amusing at the time, only a fool would not have seen that he was paying special attention to her. Darcy was not a fool – Well, maybe a little – and although not as irritated at Collins as he had been some of the other, slightly handsomer gentlemen who occupied Elizabeth at the ball, now it was all too clear.
Suddenly it wasn’t himself he was envisioning in loving, passionate moments with Elizabeth. He felt truly ill and stumbled to the nearest chair. Would she have married Collins? He shuddered and again tore at the constricting neckcloth, managing to loosen it a bit, not that it helped. A tiny part of his brain not throbbing with pain admitted that his aunt’s logic was sound.
And aren’t you the King of Logic?
The thought was laced with bitter irony. Look where logic had gotten him. The woman he loved –
Fine! I said it! I love Elizabeth Bennet!
– was probably married to that man and beyond his reach.
He snatched the papers off the floor. He had to know. It may well kill him, but he had to know. Rapidly he scanned the sentences. His aunt’s words had never in his life elicited such a welter of emotions. In a matter of minutes he ran the gamut from despair to giddy relief, finally emitting a whoop of joy.
It was Charlotte Lucas who married the imbecile! Elizabeth had refused him! The day after the Netherfield Ball, in fact.
The question hit him square in the chest. Dare he hope that she had refused Collins for more than just that the man was ridiculous? Might she have been thinking of me? Granted their interactions didn’t precisely fall under what anyone would consider courtship-like, but he knew she enjoyed debating with him. Surely that meant something. Besides, he had far more to offer her than Collins! Refusing that man’s proposal only increased her worth in his eyes.
As quickly as it came the pain eased.
I love her
. Strangely, it was remarkably easy to say. The fight was gone. The search was over. The debates were done.
“I love Elizabeth Bennet,” he said aloud and did not feel at all silly in doing so.
He jumped up from the chair invigorated. Plans would be made once back in London. For now he just wanted to leave Derby and get closer to Hertfordshire. Closer to her. He smiled brightly and started gathering his belongings. And, yes, he was whistling.
Last Edit: March 28, 2012, 08:39:16 PM by Sharon Lathan
Happily ever after comes true
Re: Part 5: Wintertime Events all over England
Reply #4 on:
March 28, 2012, 08:48:09 PM »
Caroline Bingley Schemes to Catch Darcy
by C. Allyn Pierson
Caroline tapped her quill against her tightly pursed lips as she contemplated the dilemma before her. So far, her plans to dazzle Mr. Darcy with her wit and elegance had not yielded the matrimonial fruit which she had hoped to cultivate. But…all was not yet lost. Now that their party had retreated to London and the abominable Bennets were no longer flaunting their milkmaid prettiness in front of Bingley and Darcy, perhaps she could divert Darcy’s mind enough from her brother’s stupid infatuation to focus on her availability (and eligibility).
Perhaps Georgiana could help her…oh, not knowingly, of course. The dear girl would not say boo to a goose, let alone try to manipulate her revered elder brother. But…Charles was spending most of his free hours with Darcy, hanging around at their stupid club, shooting at Mantons, or riding in Hyde Park. Certainly, she could shake out her riding habit and start showing her face in the park, but it would probably be more effective to arrange some outings with Georgiana.
She turned to her daybook and perused the next two weeks. They were already engaged to dine with the Darcys in two days. Perhaps Georgiana would enjoy a visit to the British Museum. It would be devastatingly boring, but would likely impress Darcy with her affection for his sister and show him what a good sister-in-law she would be. Of course, any time spent with Georgiana would also allow her a closer relationship with Charles…surely he would forget Miss Bennet with such a superior young lady in his company!
She felt an urge to write down a list of her plans, but knew that that would give too much appearance of planning if it fell into the wrong hands, so she just wrote a quick invitation to Georgiana and sent it off with a footman.
He soon came back with an acceptance, and the next day she stopped at the Darcy townhouse and picked up Georgiana.
“How delightful you look this morning, Miss Darcy! Are you ready for our outing?”
“Yes Miss Bingley. I am looking forward to visiting the museum. Do you suppose there is any chance that Lord Elgin’s marbles will be purchased by the museum so we can see them whenever we want?”
“We can only hope, my dear Miss Darcy”
They spent two hours in the museum, most of it in the Egyptian Hall. Georgiana showed a quite gruesome interest in the disgusting mummies.
“Ugh! How CAN you bear to look at those hideous things, my dear Miss Darcy? They are nasty!”
“Oh Miss Bingley! How can you say that! Just think…these are the mortal remains of real people from one of the greatest ancient civilizations! Does it not give you the chills to think about what grandeur and history these people saw?”
Miss Bingley shuddered. “All I can think about is their disgusting current appearance, which does, indeed give me chills.”
Miss Darcy’s shoulders slumped a little and she moved on to the next room, giving a glance back at the mummies before she did so. Miss Bingley thought she should put this outing on a more interesting level.
“My dear Miss Darcy, shall we find a cup of tea to refresh us before we go home? My brother tells me that we will be seeing you tomorrow evening for the theatre.”
“Yes, my brother told me about it. I am looking forward to it.”
Later, when Caroline reached home, she gave a sigh of relief. What an exhausting day! Hopefully, the opera would be more stimulating. Perhaps she should go to the lending library and find out more about the opera and the composer. She had no interest in such things, but Darcy certainly had an ear for music and she must convince him that she was worthy of his interest.
Her hopes were destined to be dashed. Darcy and Georgiana both kept their eyes on the stage for the entire performance and had their heads together talking about it during the interval. Miss Bingley tried to enter their discussion, but found herself overwhelmed by their talk of the staging, the sets and the costumes, as well as the story and music. Who in the world cares about such things! Their late supper was no better. Caroline managed to seat herself next to Georgiana, but Darcy, whom she thought was directly behind her, somehow ended up across the table between Charles and Louisa. Damn his over developed courtesy! Georgiana was still taken up with the opera, which she talked about
, and Caroline was stymied.
Later that night, she sat up in bed, contemplating her hunt for Darcy, but she was too exhausted to come up with another plan of attack. Tomorrow she would begin anew, she resolved as she blew out the candle.
Miss de Bourgh's Expectations
by Diana Birchall
Lady Catherine prided herself on her deportment, which consisted in a magnificently upright carriage, and a way of moving that might be called an arrogant glide. To display a need for haste, would be deserving of contempt; a lady did not hurry-skurry like a schoolgirl. Yet on this morning, Lady Catherine did enter the small summer breakfast-parlour at Rosings with such unwonted rapidity that Miss de Bourgh and Mrs. Jenkinson looked up startled from their work.
It was only March, yet the ladies liked to sit in this room of a morning because it had good light for stitching, and was in its way more comfortable than many of the grander rooms. Anne, who hated to walk before noon, liked to sit and sew, and look out of window. She was engaged in making yet another garment for her trousseau, which had been her self-assigned daily task for many years. Almost since she was a little girl sewing her sampler, had she worked on the embroidered linens and night-dresses for her marriage to Mr. Darcy. She seldom accomplished more than one or perhaps two stitches a minute, but fortunately Mrs. Jenkinson had worked more steadily and great piles of fine Irish cloth and delicate laced muslins were put up in lavender in the massive cedar-lined chests, waiting in the great store-rooms of Rosings for the happy day.
“My dear!” trumpeted Lady Catherine. “Here is news, tremendous news.”
“Oh!” Mrs. Jenkinson exclaimed, “is it something that must be broke to her in stages, Lady Catherine? Anne is delicate. You know we are always saying that she is not at all strong. Shall I fetch some water?”
“No, no,” impatiently returned Lady Catherine, “it is good news – the very best.”
Anne’s eyes grew wide and a pink colour mounted in her sallow face as she sat forward in her seat. In no other way did she betray her expectations, but they were no less than that the letter her mother so excitedly flapped, should contain a proposal from Mr. Darcy.
“Only think!” Lady Catherine cried. “Darcy is coming! He will soon be here!”
Anne made an impatient gesture with her needle and a satin flounce. “Why, yes, Mama. We know that. He always said he would come in the spring – perhaps with Fitzwilliam, to make their yearly tour of inspection. But is that all the news?”
“No, it is not all. Stay and you shall hear. Darcy will be here as early as next week. Yes! He will be at Rosings for Easter. And you know what that means, Anne!”
Anne rose to her feet, her face scarlet. “Has it come? So soon!”
“Soon, you call it!” Lady Catherine made a “tsk” noise of impatience. “My dear girl, you are eight and twenty years old. Darcy has not been at all forward in settling your marriage, indeed I have at times been almost cross with him for being so – not reluctant precisely, but – Naturally I could never be truly cross with dear Darcy, but you will allow that he has not been expeditious.”
“Oh, but Lady Catherine,” protested Mrs. Jenkinson. “So much as Mr. Darcy has to do! With running the Pemberley estate, and the house in town, and overseeing Miss Georgiana’s education – he never meant to marry until his sister was a young lady in society herself, I am sure. Now she is out, and will be a perfect companion for Miss Anne, when Mr. Darcy brings her home to Pemberley.”
“Does he – does he say anything about that, Mama?” Anne ventured.
“Well, no, not directly. He would hardly do so in a letter. Darcy was always the very soul of delicacy and discretion. But, depend upon it, he will make his declaration in form when he is here. A springtime engagement! Only think! That is what he has been waiting for, I know.”
“So romantic!” simpered Mrs. Jenkinson. “All the little sheep and lambs, and the primroses too.”
“But we are hardly prepared,” Lady Catherine bethought herself, drawing her heavy eyebrows together.
Mrs. Jenkinson lifted her hands with a wordless sigh. “Oh, Lady Catherine! Not prepared! Why, we have been sewing Miss Anne’s trousseau for these twenty years at least! The bed-sheets alone – the Mechlin lace – oh! She will be the envy of many a Duchess.”
“That is not what I mean,” said Lady Catherine, frowning. “I am talking of Anne’s own person, her own tout ensemble.”
“Why, she has as many pretty gowns as any young lady in the kingdom, surely, Madam. Any one would be sufficient to invite the proposal.”
“Her clothes are well enough,” returned Lady Catherine shortly.
“Mama, you don’t mean – do you not think Mr. Darcy will be pleased with me? Will he not think me handsome enough? Perhaps there are other young women of his acquaintance who are – showier.”
“Certainly not, Anne,” snapped Lady Catherine, in a manner that betrayed it was exactly what she meant. “You are handsomer than the very handsomest girls, because you have so decidedly the aristocrat in your lineage. No, no, the lines of your nose, the bearing of your head…”
Anne felt comfortable again. “That is true,” she said complacently, “I don’t suppose Darcy can have been associating with any girls of such antecedents as mine. Our own family is the noblest of all, even more than those of higher rank. And what sort of people can he have met in traveling lately, in Hertfordshire, with his friend Bingley?”
“Yes, very common people there,” Lady Catherine sniffed agreement. “Assembly balls and things of that sort, where you might meet anyone. And Darcy has not lost his sense of what he owes the family. He has the proper Darcy pride, and would never forget himself.”
“Oh, Lady Catherine!” sighed Mrs. Jenkinson. “I am sure he would be the very last young man to do that.”
“Very true. Still, he has been seeing a great deal of the world, and so I think it expedient – that is, it cannot do any harm, for Anne to look her very best for the meeting.”
“Why, what more can I do?” asked Anne perplexed. “I did think I would wear my green sarsanet – it is my best gown this season, and cost seventeen pounds, you know. And Helene is well schooled in all the best Parisian ways of curling my hair. Ringlets, you know, are all the style, and you see they become me so well.” She shook her curls so they bounced, like a dozen brown mice.
“Green!” Lady Catherine fell back in her chair, momentarily lost for words. “My child, no woman ever received a proposal in that unfortunate colour. And your figure – “ She looked her daughter up and down, and her expression grew grave.
Anne regarded her parent with astonishment. “Why, mother, you have always said my figure was the perfect size for true elegance! It is not fleshy, but rather more aerial.”
“The truth is, I am afraid you may be too thin,” muttered Lady Catherine. “What if Darcy’s taste is for a fleshpot, a tall, full-figured woman.”
“Not in a wife, surely!” ejaculated Mrs. Jenkinson with horror.
Anne had regained her poise. “Really, Mama, where did you get such an extraordinary notion? Mr. Darcy could not wish his wife to look like a milkmaid. He will want her to be a person of refinement, and ton, and of course, related to him in an advantageous way.”
“And the promise was made when the children were still in their cradles, do not forget that,” reminded Mrs. Jenkinson.
“Yes. Why, you have always promised me that I would marry Mr. Darcy. Mama, how can you forget?”
“It ought to be so,” said Lady Catherine, troubled.
“And I will take your advice in one thing, and wear my pink India muslin. That will give my complexion a rosy hue.”
“You will look like an angel on a cloud,” enthused Mrs. Jenkinson breathlessly, “a pink cloud.”
“Perhaps you are right,” said Lady Catherine, still with some air of doubt.
“Of course I am right, Mama. Never fear.” Anne got up and went to the beveled mirror above the sideboard, and regarded herself with her head on one side, again shaking her new-fangled ringlets, a style which in truth did little for her mouse-coloured hair and pallid skin. “I think I am most uncommon looking, with all the tints of real refinement.”
“She is like a painting, an oil painting,” nodded Mrs. Jenkinson in ecstacy. “I have always said so. Or perhaps a really elegant water-colour.”
“And Mr. Darcy will assuredly honour his obligations in the course of this visit. He has the reputation of being the very pattern of honour. And it is high time! He must know that I do not want to be a bride at thirty.”
“I only hope he has not been forming any new attachments, that is all,” said Lady Catherine thoughtfully. “It would explain his dilatoriness. But no, no, I know that to be impossible. Darcy is far too proud to lower himself to such nonsense.”
“Proud! Of course he is. And I have a very good pride of my own,” cried Anne. “We are so alike, it is quite ridiculous. I laugh about it to myself all the time.”
“And,” Mrs. Jenkinson reminded them, turning back to her stitchery, “remember, no matter how many girls he has known, he has remained single-minded, and pure. He has been saving his heart for no one but Anne.”
“So sweet a notion,” Anne sighed. “But you will say, Mama, that we are being too romantic. Even in a prudential sense, then, remember all that Darcy gains in marrying me.”
“True,” Lady Catherine agreed. “Not many girls have such a fortune.” Then she remembered something. “Girls – yes. I had forgot that the Collinses are here almost every night. We must put a stop to that.”
“Why ever bother?” asked Anne. “Darcy surely will not pay any attentions to Mr. and Mrs. Collins, so common and dull as they are. He will converse with us, and on the first night I will say – “ She swirled the satin material about her and did a little dance in her thin slippers. “Shall we not take a turn, I will ask him? That young lady friend of Mrs. Collins can play the pianoforte well enough for an accompaniment, and we shall dance.”
Lady Catherine and Mrs. Jenkinson’s eyes met and there was apprehension in each. They were both thinking about the contrast the pretty Miss Bennet might make with Anne, and they acknowledged their mutual thought, without any words.
“Oh, no,” said Lady Catherine decidedly, “we won’t want them here.”
“Certainly not. Do you wish me to write a note, Lady Catherine?”
“That won’t be necessary. The invitations shall simply cease, until, of course, every thing is settled – or not.”
“It will be settled,” Anne assured her complacently, fluffing up her ringlets. “Don’t worry, Mama. Have not you always said that Darcy and I are the perfect match?”
Caroline Bingley Schemes to Catch Darcy, Reprise
by C. Allyn Pierson
Drat that man! All her efforts had not, thus far, made the slightest dent in his reserve, in spite of their removal to London! Miss Bingley had been positive that their little conspiracy to separate Charles from that Bennet chit would bring her together with Darcy in a more intimate way. She had certainly had opportunities to ingratiate herself with Miss Darcy, but one could only do so much with praise for her musical talents and crawling at a snail’s pace around dusty old museums. It was becoming intolerable!
Before she had resolved all her annoyance over these issues, the Hurst’s butler entered and announced, of all people, Miss Bennet! Louisa, who had been plying her embroidery needle in a desultory fashion and pouting over her boredom while Caroline mumbled angrily to herself, brightened up at the thought of a visitor…any visitor. Her sister, however, was on her feet immediately, greeting Miss Bennet coolly and apologizing for the fact that they were on their way out.
“I am so sorry Jane, since it is so lovely to see you again, that we have an engagement we must go to very soon. Won’t you please sit down, though, for just a moment and tell us what brings you to London? I was certain that you would not be able to get away from Hertfordshire .”
“My aunt and uncle most kindly invited me to stay with them for a few weeks and enjoy some of the pleasures of the city. Did you not receive my letters?”
“How…lovely, but no I have not received any letters from you in…oh, quite some time. Are any of your other sisters with you?”
“No. Lizzy will be visiting Mrs. Collins in the Spring, however, and we will travel back to Longbourn together.”
“Oh, so you will be here some months, I take it.”
“Yes, I very likely will.”
“How delightful! I must pop by for a visit. Your aunt and uncle live in Cheapside, do they not?” Caroline could hardly bear to say the name of such a low neighborhood.
“They do. Here is my direction, should you be able to visit.”
Caroline suddenly remembered that Charles would be home soon, and abruptly stood. “Well, it is lovely seeing you, dearest Jane, and I hope we meet often. Do you go to the theatre much?”
“Occasionally, when my uncle has time away from his business to escort us.”
“Wonderful, perhaps we will see you there as well…oh, dear! We must be going, Louisa. Ring for the footman please.”
Louisa complied and Miss Bennet was hustled out with kind expressions of happiness.
Afterwords, Caroline thought over the risks of having Miss Bennet in London and an idea occurred to her. Perhaps she cold use this event to her advantage. She immediately sat down at her writing desk and wrote a note to Darcy requesting that he come see her (when Charles was not at home) to discuss a disastrous difficulty regarding the previously considered unfortunate friendship of her brother’s. Fortunately, Charles was engaged to dine with some friends from Cambridge and would be out all evening. After reading through the letter to make sure there were no errors of spelling or penmanship, she sent it off with Louisa’s second footman. Within an hour the messenger returned with Mr. Darcy’s response: “I will come at nine of the clock.”
Caroline smiled delightedly. Now she must get rid of the Hursts, which should be not at all difficult since they were to attend a concert and late supper with friends.
When it was but a half hour to their departure for the evening, Louisa was summoned to Caroline’s room by her abigail and came bustling in. “I really must hurry if I am not to be too late, Caroline. What do you want?”
Miss Bingley was lying on her bed with a cloth saturated with lavender water on her forehead. She weakly lifted her hand to her sister. “I am so sorry Louisa. I came up to dress for dinner but I suddenly developed the most ghastly headache.”
“Headache! You are never ill Caroline!”
“I know, I know. Perhaps that is why it is so bad. It has taken a severe illness to bring me down.”
Louisa looked alarmed. “Do you wish me to summon the doctor, my dear? Perhaps I should cancel our engagement and stay home with you.”
“NO!” Caroline gasped. “No, no, my dear, I am sure it will go away if I lie quietly here with my vinaigrette for the evening. Even the healthiest must occasionally be brought low and I am sure it is nothing serious and I will feel much restored in the morning.”
“Well…if you are sure. We will go to the Clarkes’ concert, then, and your abigail can immediately send for us if you should feel worse.”
Caroline relaxed back on her pillow. “Yes. Enjoy yourself Louisa, quiet is all I need.”
As soon as her maid confirmed that the Hursts had departed, Caroline jumped up from her bed and instructed the maid to bring her a dinner tray and to make sure her pomona silk gown was in order…no, perhaps not the pomona…green might not be the most flattering colour in the dim light she had planned. “The claret silk, that will be the best. Elegant, and it will give color to my cheeks. Also, it looks sufficiently serious for the cause…I do not want to look like I am on my way to a ball!”
At five minutes before nine Caroline was waiting in the best drawing-room after dismissing all the unnecessary servants with orders to go to bed early as (she told them sternly) she was planning to retire immediately and did not want to be disturbed by their talking and stomping around when she was not feeling well. They looked surprised and uneasy at these odd instructions, but, except for a few inquisitive glances, they had too much respect for Miss Bingley’s temper to question her orders.
She heard the bell ring and the footman, an elderly servant who was almost blind and deaf, came slowly up the stairs and announced Darcy. She had arranged for the drawing-room to have a lovely warm fire and several branches of candles to make it bright and inviting, and she immediately rose and held out her hands, nodding to the footman to go. “I’m sorry to make such a to do over this, Mr. Darcy, but I do not want Charles to find out that Miss Bennet is in London. She will be visiting her aunt and uncle in Cheapside for, probably, several months! We must do something to insure that he does not see her or all is lost!” While saying this she had guided him in front of the sofa, where it would be virtually impossible to avoid sitting next to her, and waited for his answer with every appearance of concern.
He managed to not see her hands reaching for him and awkwardly nodded at her greeting, his eyes showing white like a nervous horse. To Caroline’s annoyance he turned and began pacing the room, his hands clasped behind his back as he showed a face deep in thought. Finally, after a few laps around the room, he cleared his throat and opened his lips to attempt responding to her questions, when the drawing-room door opened and Louisa plunged into the room, saying petulantly, ” Mr. Darcy! Withern said you had just arrived…how delightful it is to see you, especially as our evening has been a complete disaster! So annoying! Lisette Clarke decided to develop the measles, of all things! It is too bad of her!”
Caroline blew out her bedside candle and tried to compose herself for sleep. How stupid Louisa was! All that planning gone to waste and now Mr. Darcy would be suspicious if she tried compromising him again. She had had everything arranged to perfection…her maid was going to give her fifteen minutes to settle Darcy on the couch with her and lure him close with her frantic whispers, then ‘accidentally’ burst in on them and discover them unchaperoned in the virtually empty house. Even if Darcy was suspicious of the circumstances he could not know if he had been set up and his sense of honor would force him to marry her to protect her good name. But no…Louisa had come blundering in like the cow she was and ruined everything! All her hopes turned to dust…
But then…he was not married yet, so perhaps her chance would yet come. Miss Bingley smiled to herself and closed her eyes.
Last Edit: March 28, 2012, 08:51:42 PM by Sharon Lathan
The Writer's Block
Teatime with Austen
Part 5: Wintertime Events all over England
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