Posted on Sunday, 14 February 1999
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a thing that is meant to be, will come about one way or another.
"Father," said Jane Bennet one day. "Did you hear that Netherfield Park is let at last?"
"I had not," replied he.
"Well it is," said his wife, "for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it, and I wish that she hadn't!"
"Why is that, my dear? I thought that you were longing for Netherfield Park to be let to someone. You said that it was not respectable for such a fine house to stand empty for so long, when it would do very well for anybody with an income of five or six thousand a year."
"Well, so I did, but I did not intend it to end in this. Oh Jane, what is to become of us?"
"Oh, mama, I am sure the Wilsons are very nice people. They take possession within the next month, papa, and they have three daughters," said Jane.
"See, see?" cried Mrs. Bennet. "What good are three daughters to us? It had much better have been three sons, there may have been a husband for one of you among them. As it is, I want nothing to do with them!"
"You forget, mama, that they come from London, and may very well have a large acquaintance who will come and visit them here. Do not worry so much about us getting husbands, for I am sure that we shall find one somewhere," Jane said soothingly.
"What else is there for me to think about? A woman with five unmarried daughters should think of marrying them off, especially when their prospects are as bad as yours. That odious cousin of Mr. Bennet's shall throw us all out before he is cold in his grave, and then what shall we do if none of you are married?"
"My dear, let us not dwell on such gloomy thoughts now. Let us return to- the Wilsons, was it?"
"No, let us not, for it breaks my heart to think of that house standing there, with three daughters having the run of the place. Oh, it is worse than if it were empty! You are not to call on them, Mr. Bennet, nor you Jane. We shall have nothing to do with them!"
Mr. Bennet rose, bored with his sport. He had no greater joy than baiting his wife, for an unwise marriage had soon ceased to hold any other pleasures for him. His wife could not understand his character- hers was much simpler. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.
"How could you betray your own five daughters so, Mr. Bennet? I shall never speak to you again!" cried his wife furiously.
"What a pity," he replied.
While their mother sat speechless with anger, her daughters took the opportunity to question their father about the new arrivals.
"What are they like? Are they jolly? Shall we see them at the assembly on Friday?" asked Lydia.
"Do any of them play?" asked Mary, the third daughter, who in consequence of being the only plain one in the family had devoted herself to music.
Mr. Bennet replied that yes, they were most likely to come to the assembly, and no, he had not seen a pianoforte and could but assume none of them played. Mary had no interest in anyone that didn't play, and retreated into her book.
"The eldest is about your age, Lizzy," Mr. Bennet continued, "and the next is about Kitty's age. The youngest I did not see, but I believe she is only thirteen years old."
"Only thirteen? She poses no threat to us then. We must get early to the assembly on Friday, otherwise the Wilsons may grab all the eligible young men, and you will have no-one to dance with," said Mrs. Bennet.
"I am sure they shall not, mama," replied Jane.
"I am not afraid in any case," said Lydia. "I have never been without a partner yet at an assembly, and I won't start now, merely because there are some new people in town."
The evening continued in a similar manner, and all looked forward to the ball the following night.
Charlotte, Lizzy and Jane sat in the corner discussing the additions to the neighbourhood. Charlotte had met them the previous day, as she had gone with her father when he called upon them. She pronounced them pleasant girls of understanding and taste, as far as she could ascertain from their brief encounter. It was not long before the objects of their conversation arrived, and they were all introduced. The father was a retired General, and he and his wife appeared good natured and sensible. Miss Wilson was a tall, quiet girl, whose personality and temper seemed similar to Jane's. Alice Wilson was short and vivacious, and she soon fell into company with Lydia, Kitty, and Charlotte's younger sister Maria. The older girls sat talking until it was time for the dancing to begin.
The music was good, the company was pleasant, and the only problem was the lack of partners. There was not a sufficient number that all the Lucases, Bennets and Wilsons could dance at once, and so it happened that Lizzy found herself talking to Miss Wilson for a number of sets.
"I do wish there were more partners. Poor Mary has not danced a single dance yet, and Kitty and Lydia will tease her unmercifully when we get home if she does not dance at all," sighed Lizzy.
"You are more thoughtful than I could ever be," replied Miss Wilson. "Your concern for your sister does you credit. I did hear, however, that there is to be a company of militia stationed here for the winter. I heard from my father, who, though retired, still retains many of his old contacts. They shall arrive shortly, and will provide us with a diversion for the winter."
The dance had just ended, and Lydia came up just in time to hear Miss Wilson's last sentence.
"Who shall arrive?" she asked.
"The -shire militia," answered Miss Wilson. "They are coming here for the winter."
"Oh what a lark! There will be two officers each for us to dance with- why, even Mary may get a partner!" Lydia shrieked with laughter.
"Lydia, keep your voice down. You should not be so unkind to your own sister," cautioned Lizzy.
Mary was sitting alone, with bright red cheeks. It was not pleasant to be plain when all your sisters were legendary beauties. The only thing she was famous for was her piano playing. At least these Wilson girls were not musical! Her reputation as Meryton's best musician remained intact.
At the end of the evening the families parted with promises to meet the next day to talk over the ball. The Bennets returned home to be greeted by Mr. Bennet, who was anxious to hear his wife's account of the Wilsons, who he had liked.
"They seem amiable enough, though the daughters are little to look at. You need not fear too much competition from that quarter, Jane. The ball was nothing out of the ordinary. Oh, we have something to look forward to my dear! Mrs. Wilson told me that there is to be a company of militia stationed here for the winter. What a fine thing for our girls! A handsome Colonel, with four or five thousand a year, would be just the thing for Lizzy, though Jane could expect something a little better, with her looks. Oh, I can hardly wait!"
Mrs. Bennet did not have long to wait. The militia arrived, and the officers invited to a party at the Lucases, all within a month of the Wilson's first assembly at Meryton.
The officers were discovered to have most charming manners. Kitty and Lydia were especially taken with them. The Colonel of the regiment was a recently married man, whose wife became Lydia's most particular friend, and under the guise of visiting Mrs. Forster, the young girls managed to see the soldiers nearly every day. The weeks went by with the usual rounds of balls and parties, but little of real note occurring. Lizzy and Jane were not, of course, as carried away by the officers as their younger sisters, and their mother played the matchmaker in vain.
One day in mid- November, about a month after the arrival of the officers, Mr. Bennet produced a letter at the breakfast table.
"I hope, my dear," he said to his wife, "that you have ordered a substantial dinner today, for I have reason to expect an addition to our party."
"Whoever can you mean, sir?" asked his lady. A gentleman and a stranger, he replied. Lydia and Kitty were sure it must be Captain Carter or Lieutenant Denny, two of their most particular friends amongst the officers, but Mr. Bennet said not.
"It is my cousin, Mr. Collins, who when I am gone may throw you out of this house as soon as he chuses."
"That horrible man! Tell him he shall not be welcome in this house. I want nothing to do with him!!!"
"Wait until you hear his letter, you may change your mind."
The letter was obsequious, fawning, and wordy. Mrs. Bennet was delighted with it.
"Oh, he sounds a delightful man! He expresses himself well, too and if he wishes to make amends with our daughters I will not be the one to stop him."
Lizzy and her father rolled their eyes at each other. They expected him to be a little different to what Mrs. Bennet was expecting.
Mr. Collins duly arrived that afternoon. His looks were not disappointing to Mr. Bennet- he was a tall, oily looking man of about five and twenty. His air was grave and stately, and his manners were very formal. He was not at all shy and did not have any tendencies to silence. He planned to make amends to his poor cousins by marrying one of them, and seeing Miss Bennet was beautiful and pleasant, he decided that she would be the object of his desire.
The next day, Mr. Collins asked if his dear cousins would like to walk in to Meryton. Mary was not inclined to walk, but the others agreed and so they all set off, Lydia and Kitty ahead, Elizabeth, Jane and Mr. Collins behind. When they reached the village Kitty and Lydia eagerly looked for Captain Carter and Lieutenant Denny, and they were not disappointed. They were standing on the other side of the road with another man in civilian dress. When they perceived the girls they made their way over.
"Ladies, what a fortunate encounter! We were wanting to introduce you to our new acquaintance, Mr. Wickham. George, this is Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Miss Catherine Bennet and Miss Lydia Bennet, and- I don't believe I know your companion?"
Elizabeth, seeing that Lydia and Kitty were not interested in replying, answered Mr. Denny.
"Sir, this is our cousin, Mr. Collins, who is visiting us from Kent."
"I am so fortunate," Mr. Collins interrupted, "as to have the notice of a most noble lady, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She has given me the living of Hunsford, and..."
"What are you doing in Meryton, Mr. Wickham?" asked Lydia, not interested by her cousin's ramblings.
Mr. Wickham, who had been looking bemused at Mr. Collins' speech, replied that he had got a commission and was to join the regiment. The younger girls were pleased with this news, and instantly invited him to their Aunt Phillip's that night. He appeared to have some scruples at first, but Lydia ad Kitty insisted and he finally accepted their invitation. After this the party broke up as the gentlemen had to return to their quarters. The others looked at the shops for a while and then returned home.
That night the Bennets, the Wilsons, the Lucases and some of the officers congregated at the Phillips' house in Meryton. Mrs. Phillips was the sister of Mrs. Bennet, and similar to her in many ways. Mr. Phillips was the attorney at Meryton, and was a sensible sort of man who had married his superior's daughter in order to better himself, and now paid more attention to the bottle than his wife. Mr. Collins was very attentive to Jane, but after comparing the room to one at Rosings Park he entered Mrs. Phillips' good books and was invited to join in a game of whist. He left them dutifully, and some of the others at the table began a game of Commerce. Wickham was in between Lydia and Elizabeth, but as Lydia was more interested in the game than conversation, they could talk in relative privacy.
"I was amused to hear your cousin speak of Lady Catherine de Bourgh this afternoon," he began. "I have had the honour of meeting her on several occasions. She certainly seems to have bestowed her notice on a most worthy recipient."
"Indeed, she could not have chosen a more grateful object. But how did you come to be acquainted with her? She sounds to me to be the sort of person who would not notice anyone she did not wish to, and, pardon my impudence, you do not seem "worthy" of her notice, being a rational sort of man."
"Yes," he said laughing, "there you have summed up her character entirely." He then lowered his voice, and added in a more serious tone- "She did not notice me, as such- she was the sister-in-law of the man who, as I had lost my own father at an early age, was as close to me as father could ever be to a son. A number of times a accompanied him and his son to Rosings, where I met Lady Catherine. And it is his son, a Mr. Darcy, who was the cause of my ruination and the reason I am here today."
"Really?" said Elizabeth, intrigued. "Whatever could this man have done to lead you here?"
"I don't know if I should tell you here," he said, looking over his shoulder. "You know I would not wish to ruin this man's reputation."
"What is the likelihood of any of us ever meeting him? You are quite safe here."
"Very well, I shall tell you. The elder Mr. Darcy, as I have said, was as close to me as any true father. When he died he wished to give me a living, as soon as it became vacant. However, when it did so, his son refused to honour his father's wishes. I was turned away with no money, and eventually found myself in the situation you now see me. He did not break the law, you understand, there was ambiguity enough that there was nothing I could do. But, on the whole, I find myself in quite a pleasant position at present. The company is as good as I have ever known. You have no reason to feel sorry for me."
"This is quite shocking indeed. But…" Elizabeth was interrupted by Miss Wilson, who was also tired of cards. She was kept apart from Wickham from the rest of the night, and had no chance of finishing her question that night.
Elizabeth kept what Wickham had told her to herself, for, though it was very tempting, she did not think that such malicious rumours should be perpetuated without a little confirmation. The lack of discretion shown by the gentleman in telling her such things further induced her to silence. 'He seems such a pleasant, honest gentleman,' she thought to herself, 'but what sort of person tells such tales to a perfect stranger? I shall keep quiet on the subject until I can form a better judgment of his character. In this case, it would seem silence would be prudent.'
Elizabeth, therefore, kept fairly quiet when talking over the evening with Jane in the shrubbery. They discussed the new arrivals to the neighbourhood, and despaired at their sisters' behaviour towards the officers. As they were speaking, the very objects of their discourse walked up the drive. Lydia and Kitty ran to meet Carter, Denny, Wickham, and Colonel Forster. Soon the whole family, excepting Mr. Bennet, was grouped in the drawing room with the officers.
"You see, ma'am," said the Colonel, "we have endured such teazing from your younger daughters" (Jane and Lizzy cringed) "about a ball that we felt we simply must have one, and we have come in person to invite you all. That includes you, Mr. Collins," he added, nodding to the gentleman concerned.
Lydia and her mother clapped their hands with delight, and indeed no-one present denied them their joy. The prospect of a ball was pleasant to all. Lydia and Kitty were looking forward to dancing with all the officers, particularly Mr. Wickham. Lizzy was likewise planning on dancing half the night with that gentleman. Jane, as always, felt happy for her sisters, and even Mary was not disinclined to attend, as a ball was an opportunity to exhibit her talent. Mr. Collins was properly humbled at the attention given, and took the opportunity to engage his fair cousin Jane's hand for the first two dances. She, of course, accepted with a proper measure of civility, to her younger sisters' disgust. The company then broke up into smaller groups, Wickham sitting next to Lizzy and following Mr. Collins' example by asking her for the first two dances, which she accepted happily. Kitty and Lydia looked put out that he had not asked them, but were mollified when Carter and Denny, respectively, immediately did likewise for them. The rest of the visit was spent improving their acquaintance. Once again Lizzy was not given a chance to question Wickham, but as he talked almost exclusively to her throughout the visit, and was most agreeable, by the time of the gentlemen's departure, she was disposed to think very well of him indeed.
After they returned to the house after farewelling the officers, Mrs. Bennet was quite frivolous in her self-congratulations.
"Why, all four of you already engaged for the first dances! I have never had a prouder moment as a mother!" she declared. "We must make special preparations at once!"
It rained for the remainder of the week leading up to the officer's ball, allowing no contact with any of their acquaintance. Lydia and Kitty did not make the trip to Meryton even once. Being isolated at Longbourn with Mr. Collins was almost more than the girls could bear, even Jane's easy temper being tried more than once. Only the prospect of a ball on the Monday could make such a weekend tolerable.
The Bennets aimed to be at the ball fairly early. However, there was an incident with Mr. Collins and Lydia that required half an hour of placating Mr. Collins. So it came about that the hall was already quite crowded when they arrived.
Lizzy sought out Wickham with her eyes as soon as she entered the room. Her chest became tight when she could not see him anywhere. He had not come? After all his promises? Lizzy waved to Charlotte Lucas and Rebecca Wilson who were standing together in a corner, and was about to make her way over to them when she was tapped lightly on her shoulder. She jumped, startled, and turned around to see Wickham's broadly smiling face.
"Mr. Wickham!" she said delightedly. "I was almost afraid you weren't coming!"
"What, and miss my dance with you? Wild horses couldn't drag me away. I've been looking forward to the first two dances for a week!"
Elizabeth couldn't help a wide smile spreading over her face.
"Sir, you flatter me, I…"
At this point the music began, and the dancers took their place, Lizzy and Wickham at the head of the dance, Mr. Collins and Jane making up the two couple set required. The dance began well enough, but as soon as Mr. Collins took his first step it became clear that he was not a dancer. He moved the wrong way without realising it, he stood on Jane's dress and nearly tore it, and his manners were all the while pompous and inattentive. Elizabeth shot sympathetic glances at her sister as she went down the dance, but her partner was all that could be wished for. He was courteous and charming, and a very fine dancer as well. Sir William Lucas himself stopped them when they were resting to compliment them on their marvelous performance. They spoke of many things, discovering to their delight that they both read the same authors and liked the same music. In short, Lizzy was in all ways having a most wonderful evening, except in the growing concern she felt for Jane and the attentions she was receiving from their cousin.
For the next dance, Elizabeth managed to avoid Mr. Collins, and danced with another officer instead, with who she had the pleasure of talking of Wickham, and hearing that he was universally liked. The gentleman himself danced with Miss Wilson, but made frequent glances in Lizzy's direction, and held her hand especially tightly when they passed each other in the dance.
At the first opportunity, Elizabeth took Jane aside to speak with her on a delicate subject.
"Jane," she said. "I cannot help but notice that our cousin, Mr. Collins, has been very attentive to you since he arrived, and this evening in particular. He will speak to almost no one else, and I cannot help but fear that he intends to ask you for your hand."
Jane shook her head and laughed softly. "Oh, Lizzy, you worry unnecessarily. I am sure he thinks nothing of me. But you need not fear in any case, rest assured that I will do the right thing." Seeing her mother beckoning to her, Jane excused herself and left.
"That is what I was afraid of," whispered Lizzy to herself.
The rest of the evening was spent quite pleasantly enough- Lizzy danced two more dances with Wickham, and only one set with her odious cousin. There was some embarrassment when Mary insisted on singing three songs over the supper, and sang them very ill indeed- but these were small concerns, and any pain felt was soon washed away with the officers' promise to attend the Lucas' annual Christmas party in a fortnight's time.
"Lizzy, I have need of you upstairs," declared Mrs. Bennet authoritatively. "Mr. Collins desires a word with your sister."
Lizzy, suspicious of what was about to happen, was unwilling to desert her sister.
"Mama, don't make me go. Mr. Collins has no secrets from us. He can have nothing to say to Jane that I could not hear!"
"I think Jane should be the best judge of that, my dear!" snapped her mother.
"Go, Lizzy," said Jane softly. "Trust me."
Lizzy was still doubtful, but she made eye contact with her sister, and followed her mother out of the room. Of course, they did not go upstairs, but listened at the door.
"Move over, Lizzy, I can't hear a thing!" whispered Mrs. Bennet. Of course, Elizabeth couldn't either, and they completely missed the first words, and much of the rest, as they fought over the keyhole.
"… no doubt as to what I have to say," Mr. Collins was saying. "Lady Catherine has long desired me… mumble mumble… and secondly, I believe… mumble mumble… any man in my position should set the example… I planned to chuse one of your father's daughters, and as the eldest… beautiful and charming… make me the happiest of men…"
Lizzy's head started nodding as the drone of Mr. Collins' voice went on. She jerked as her sister's reply came loud and clear…
Chapter 8 Continued
"Mr. Collins, I thank you most sincerely for your attentions, however I must ask for a little time to consider your most kind offer. I must reflect on the situation before I can make my final answer."
Mr. Collins was shocked that anyone would have to consider becoming his dearest wife. "I am await your… positive response with great pleasure, my dear cousin, and though I do not see your need to wait, I understand that it is the custom of delicate females to keep a man on edge, in the hope of increasing their love. Rest assured, madam, that my love grows stronger every day, and delaying the inevitable will only make it all the more strong when we finally become man and wife."
Lizzy snorted, and despite her mother's protestations entered the room to see Jane blushing.
"Lizzy!" Jane said in surprise.
"Oh, I'm so sorry to have interrupted!" said Lizzy. "I will go away directly if you wish."
"No, don't go. We had finished our conversation, I believe Mr. Collins?" said Jane, raising her voice slightly.
Mr. Collins bowed sanctimoniously, and with a slimy smile left the room.
"Why my dear Jane!" exclaimed Mrs. Bennet. "A proposal of marriage! He is a fine fellow if ever I saw one. But what possessed you to delay your answer? For you know you will say yes. Indeed, you must say yes. I command you to say yes!"
"Reflect, mama, that it is Jane's happiness, and not your own, which is to be decided by her answer either way. I do not think you should attempt influence her," advised Lizzy, who had every intention of influencing her in the reverse at the first opportunity.
"Of course, you are right, my dear. Jane, at least, can be depended on to do the right thing for her family. Oh, a daughter married at last! I must go into Meryton directly, to tell my sister Phillips!"
Mrs. Bennet hurried out of the room, calling for Hill, and Lizzy looked Jane in the eye.
"Jane, why ever did you not refuse him at once? How can you even consider marrying that odious, despicable man?"
"Lizzy, not everyone is the same. Though I should like to marry for love, there are other considerations. Our family, once father dies, will be very poor, and I feel that it may be prudent to accept him to secure our fortunes. My prospects are not very bright, Lizzy, with such a small inheritance, and I am nearly three and twenty. Besides, he is a good man, Lizzy, he means well, and I think perhaps I may be able to respect him, at least."
"Respect him? What kind of a basis for a relationship is that? You will grow to respect him less every day that you live with him. I only hope you can live with yourself if you accept him!"
She turned and walked out of the room, leaving Jane sitting in the middle with a hapless look on her face.
Jane spent much of the rest of the day in her father's study, or in her own room. At length, Lizzy knocked quietly on her door to apologise for her earlier behaviour.
"Oh, Lizzy," said Jane. "You need not apologise to me. I understand that you had only my best interests at heart. Besides, I have concluded that you, and father, who counseled me likewise, are correct. My happiness is the most important thing, and I shall not sacrifice it by marrying Mr. Collins."
Lizzy was most pleased. "Oh, Jane, I am so happy for you!"
"Isn't that supposed to be said when one becomes engaged, not when one refuses a proposal?" asked Jane, and they both laughed.
"I had better break the news to Mr. Collins," sighed Jane. "Say what you will, I must feel a little sorry for the man."
"Feel sorry for him all you like," declared her sister. "Just take care that you will not feel so sorry for him you inadvertently accept him."
"Stay with me, if you wish," suggested Jane. "I have no objections."
Lizzy accepted Jane's offer and was present in the drawing room when Mr. Collins came in to hear his acceptance.
"Oh, Cousin Elizabeth," he smirked. "I believe your mother wants you upstairs."
"I'll be there in a minute. I just have to help Jane with something first…"
Jane interrupted. "Mr. Collins, what I have to say can be said in front of my sister. I am afraid, as much as I respect you, that I am unable to accept your most kind offer of marriage."
The gentleman was speechless, but managed to talk anyway. "You cannot be serious!" he exclaimed.
"Of course she's serious," retorted Lizzy.
"Lizzy," cautioned Jane. "Mr. Collins, I am sorry to pain you so, but it is for your own good. You would not want to be married to a woman who didn't love you heart and soul, and I fear that I cannot love you in the way you deserve to be loved."
Mr. Collins was gratified. "Might I not- hope?" he asked.
Jane shook her head. "I am afraid not."
He let out a breath. "Normally, I would think you were stringing me along, in the delightful manner of young ladies. But there is too much sadness in your countenance, at having to refuse me- I must believe what you say. My poor, fragile Cousin Jane! You feel it most keenly. And I, I am sorry, indeed, that I may not have the honour of bringing one of my dear cousins before Lady Catherine as my bride, and thus righting the wrong of my inheritance, but…"
Lizzy interrupted. "Indeed, sir, it is a pity indeed that none of us would wish to be related to you more closely, but as it is…"
"Aha, you are jealous I see, my dear cousin Eliza! But it would not do to marry you, or indeed, any of your sisters, with the lovely Jane as yet unmarried. Lady Catherine is sensitive to all that is proper, and I fear that she would disapprove of such a match. I am sorry to pain you so, my dear, but there it is."
Elizabeth was tempted to reply rudely, but restrained herself. "You are too kind, sir," she replied, biting on her lower lip to keep from laughing. Mr. Collins bowed sympathetically and left the room. Jane and Elizabeth fell on the couch in laughter.
"Oh, Lizzy," Jane said when she had regained her breath. "This I would not have exchanged for all the romantic proposals in the world!"
"I'm glad he took it so well," remarked Elizabeth. "No throwing himself into lakes in the manner of normal rejected suitors."
"Lizzy," Jane said. "I am sure he feels it very keenly, and disguises his pain, for surely no man could be so unfeeling as to propose to someone purely for the motives he expressed."
"Oh, Jane, Jane," sighed Elizabeth with a twinkle in her eye. "Do not overestimate mankind!"
"Elizabeth! Jane!" yelled Lydia from the house.
They looked up as she came running towards them, her messy hair flying behind her.
"What is it, Lydia?" queried Jane.
"You will never guess!" she cried. "Mr. Collins… has made an offer of marriage to Charlotte Lucas, who has accepted him!"
"I can't believe this," said Jane in shock. "Mr. Collins and Charlotte Lucas? When only yesterday he…"
"I can sooner believe it of that man than of Charlotte. My goodness… she knows what he is, yet will marry him anyway? I am in a state of complete shock!" said Lizzy.
Neither Jane or Lizzy would believe what Lydia had told them until they spoke with Charlotte herself. Alas, it was true. Charlotte had come across Mr. Collins in the lane and invited him to Lucas Lodge- the rest followed naturally.
"I know that you must be incredulous," said Charlotte softly. "But you know I was never as romantic as you two, and Mr. Collins will suit me well enough. I shall be comfortable, at least, and he is a good sort of man."
Jane nodded sympathetically, but Lizzy was still skeptical as to her friends chances of happiness. They returned home to the ire of Mrs. Bennet, who could not believe what Jane had done.
"Given him up so that he could run away will that artful Miss Lucas! I will have no more to do with you Jane. How could you do such a thing?" and other like sentiments were expressed by Mrs. Bennet throughout the course of the evening, and indeed the rest of the week.
Mr. Collins departed that Saturday, so early in the morning that he made his farewells on the Friday night.
"You are most welcome to come again any time that you chuse," said Mr. Bennet, who felt no such sentiment.
"I thank you, sir, I may take you up on that offer sooner than you think. I wish to spend a little more time with my fiancee, before we are married."
Mrs. Bennet was distraught at the allusion to the dreaded event, and Mr. Bennet was no less discomfited at the expressed desire to return. However, Mr. Collins was to leave the next morning, and that was enough for now.
The events of the next few weeks shall be summarized briefly, for it tires my pen to dwell on these sad events. Mr. Collins returned to Hertfordshire a mere two weeks after quitting it- he stayed at Longbourn, to the annoyance of all the inhabitants, save Mary, but was hardly noticed as he spent most of his time at Lucas Lodge in the company of his darling Charlotte. He had been the only topic of conversation in the Bennet and Lucas households, from the time when he left until the time he returned. Mrs. Bennet snubbed her old friend Lady Lucas, would not speak to Jane for a week, and spent most of her time with her sister, Mrs. Phillips. Elizabeth and Charlotte were not as close as previously, but they still spent a lot of time together with Jane and Rebecca Wilson.
Miss Wilson left for London halfway through Mr. Collins' second visit, to spend some time with some of her old friends. Her absence made a considerable hole in the social circle with Charlotte spending and increasing amount of time with wedding preparations, even when Mr. Collins returned to Kent with the arrival of Saturday.
Lydia and Kitty spent as much time with the officers as ever, and managed to avoid most of the tempest over Mr. Collins. Lizzy, however, spent less and less time in the company of a certain Mr. Wickham, who, after doing some investigation, had decided he preferred the company of Miss Alice Wilson. Besides having a father in a position to further Wickham's career, she would, on her marriage, receive a sum quite ten times that of Elizabeth Bennet. Lizzy's heart was not too broken over the matter, although she had been very flattered by his attentions and was well in a way to return them, she had originally felt that perhaps he was not a man who was very credible or discreet.
Mr. Collins' company was soon replaced by that of some much more welcome visitors- Mrs. Bennet's brother, Mr. Gardiner, and his wife. They came every year to spend Christmas at Longbourn, and the eldest two girls in particular often returned the visits and spent a few weeks in London. Despite being in trade, Mr. Gardiner was a very respectable, gentleman-like man, who was superior to his sister in every way. His wife was cheerful, intelligent and refined woman, who was quite intimate with Jane and Elizabeth. After distributing all the presents, and telling of the latest London fashions, she was told all the local news by Mrs. Bennet, who in great length described the ill use she had received from her neighbours.
"Jane I shall never forgive for throwing away Mr. Collins, only to have him picked up by those artful Lucases. But Lizzy would have had Mr. Wickham if she could, it is not her fault that it was seen fit to deprive my daughters of this estate, and therefore she has no money. Alice Wilson indeed! But, ah, you shall see them all for yourself at the Christmas party at our sister's tomorrow night, and see if you don't think them quite undeserving young ladies!"
"I may not be personally acquainted with the Darcys," she said privately to Lizzy, "but I do not believe the son of the late Mr. Darcy could ever act in such a manner. His father was a most excellent man, and, though I recollect hearing him called proud, I believe that the current Mr. Darcy cannot be as bad as Wickham says."
Elizabeth herself was not sure what to think of either gentleman, and resolved to worry about them no more, for fear she talk herself into being heartbroken at Wickham's defection. Despite no longer actively pursuing her, he retained his chivalry, manners and charm, and it was very difficult to know what to think.
During the Christmas week, the elder Miss Bennets received a number of invitations to travel in the new year. Mrs. Gardiner, seeing Mrs. Bennet's cool treatment of the daughter formerly her favourite, resolved to take Jane to London when they departed on the day before New Year's Eve. Lizzy was to travel the Lakes with them in summer, and she also accepted a fervent invitation from Charlotte to visit her in Kent when her father and sister did in March. She knew poor Charlotte would be in want of some intelligent conversation by this time, and thought she could put up with Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her cousin for the sake of her friend's sanity.
Duly, the next Monday Jane and the Gardiners departed for London, promising to write often to Lizzy. Soon after they left Mr. Collins once again came to Hertfordshire, his wedding was but a week off. This time, however, he stayed at Lucas Lodge, and did not affect Mrs. Bennet, so that she was actually heard to wish the couple happiness.
Jane wrote often from London, but she had very little news to report. She went to the theatre with her aunt and uncle, took tea with Rebecca Wilson once or twice. The first noteworthy letter arrived a month after she had been in town, just before Lizzy set off for Hunsford.
My dear sister,
Things have been much the same as ever here at Gracechurch Street. Our cousins are all well, and are very good at entertaining me. Dear Emily has been learning to play the piano and I think she shows great promise. Thomas has been tormenting her unmercifully- but then he is a boy, and their purpose in life, I believe, is to make their sisters' lives a misery! Remember how Charlotte used to complain about her brothers?
I went again with my aunt to visit Rebecca Wilson yesterday. You will recall I mentioned meeting her good friend, a Colonel Fitzwilliam? He was there again yesterday and they seem very close. I would not be surprised if another of our friends soon announces their engagement! I discovered, through his conversation with our aunt, that he is the cousin of Mr. Darcy, who supposedly treated Wickham so badly. I did not wish to mention the incident, as it seemed inappropriate, but the Colonel seems to think very highly of his cousin.
Tomorrow we will attend the opera in a large party including Mr. Darcy and another friend of the Colonel's, a Mr. Bingham or something like that. I will tell you about it when I see you in four days time- there is little point continuing this letter any further. I hope you have a pleasant journey, and I will see you soon.
Your loving sister,
Elizabeth was intrigued by her sister's letter. Jane was to meet the famous Mr. Darcy! Well, by now, she realized, she already would have. She wondered what he was really like. Wickham's judgment was no longer wholly trustworthy. As Jane had foreseen, one of the Wilson sisters had announced her engagement. Unfortunately, it was not the elder, but Alice Wilson, and the engagement was to Lieutenant Wickham. Lizzy thought long and hard about it in her room that night. She wanted to believe Jane and her aunt when they said that perhaps Wickham was not to be trusted, but a little part of her could not help but feel that, were it not for her lack of fortune, she would happily be the one announcing her engagement, rather than Alice. His genial manners and partiality to her could not help but recommend him in her eyes. She thought of little else as the final preparations were made for her visit to Hunsford, and had not resolved upon anything when she departed the day after receiving Jane's letter.
She spent a day in London with the Lucases, the Gardiners and Jane. As soon as she could, she questioned Jane about her meeting with Mr. Darcy. But Jane had little to say about him. All she could speak of was the wonderful Mr. Bingley, who was the third gentleman at the opera.
"He is so kind, Lizzy," she said, "and well informed, and charming! I have never met with such an agreeable young man."
"Is he handsome?" inquired Lizzy.
"I would say so," replied Jane, blushing slightly.
"And from what you say I can tell that he is partial to you, though you are to modest to say it... yes, I think he will suit you very well indeed. I give you permission to like him. But what of his friend Mr. Darcy? Is he as terrible as we have been led to believe?"
Jane sighed. "Well, he certainly did not say a lot, but I cannot believe that Mr. Bingley would have anyone dreadful as a good friend. He did not say anything so bad…"
"Tell me Jane. What did he say? He obviously said something to you that was not the mark of a true gentleman."
"Well," said Jane unwillingly, "he did mutter something about Cheapside. But he is very rich indeed, and is not to know the sentimental value our aunt places on their old house. He was in other respects a most agreeable gentleman."
Lizzy took this to mean that Jane's good nature had blinded her to Darcy's true character, and said no more on the subject. She heard Jane describe the Colonel as a most entertaining man, and then go into raptures over Mr. Bingley once more. It was not long before it was time to retire for the night, for they were to leave for Hunsford early the next morning. There was no more said between the sisters on the subject of any of the three gentlemen.
The parsonage was a pleasant, ivy covered building that was surrounded by a well-kept garden. Mr. Collins took them on a tour of the house, and pointed out all the improvements that Lady Catherine had suggested, and would not rest until he had received excessive praise for his patroness. Finally he got round to showing his guests their rooms. Elizabeth's was most happily situated, with a view of the beehives in the back garden, and shelves in the closet (Lady Catherine's idea of course). After unpacking, she joined her friend in the parlour where Mrs. Collins said she spent most of her time. Elizabeth expressed surprise at the choice of room, but Charlotte soon had her mind at ease, telling her how being at the opposite end of the house was most convenient for his frequent trips to Rosings.
"So some days you hardly see each other at all? I believe you have most excellent arrangements, after all," said Lizzy laughingly.
Lizzy, Maria and Sir William got to see Rosings Park themselves the day after their arrival. It was a grand house, but Mr. Collins insisted on telling Sir William and the girls about the cost of the windows, and the number of staircases. They were met at the door by a haughty servant and led into a dark, imposing room. On a high-backed, ornate chair sat one who could only be Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She was a tall woman who might once have been handsome, but time had given her a penetrating look and a sour mouth. Her daughter sat on a lounge beside her, and looked a pale, sickly creature. Next to her was her companion, Mrs. Jennings, a subservient woman who acquiesced with all her mistress's strange requests. The visit was amusing to Elizabeth, but the second visit was not quite so, and the third was quite dull indeed. Lady Catherine was a domineering, self-indulgent hostess, questioning Lizzy incessantly and giving little favours with the air of a saint. Elizabeth could see the weeks stretching ahead with little amusement.
One morning about two weeks after their arrival at Hunsford, Mr. Collins produced a letter at the breakfast table.
"We have been most highly honoured indeed. Can you guess what this letter is? Hmm, now? Well, it is an invitation from Lady Catherine herself. We are all to take tea with her this evening at five o'clock precisely. And she has visitors too; her nephews are staying with her, Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam. This is indeed the highest honour."
Maria and Sir William both seemed to share Mr. Collins' jubilation, but all that Elizabeth felt was a mild curiosity to see the famous Lady Catherine, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy.
Duly that evening they set out punctually for Rosings Park. Opposite Anne De Bourgh's usual seat sat two men. One was tall and dark, with a look of boredom at his aunt's talking. The other was shorter, and appeared more cheerful. Lizzy could see in neither of them anything of the Mr. Darcy Wickham had described to her, but decided from what Jane had said that he must be the taller one. She was proved correct. His manners were abrupt but not entirely arrogant- rather shy. Colonel Fitzwilliam was all politeness and gentility. It was he that made the visit bearable for Elizabeth.